During my 30-plus years of being employed in the printing industry, I have witnessed a great many changes. Many of those have been in the technological arena, such as desktop publishing, direct-to-plate and digital printing. Web-2-Print is gaining a strong foothold, and soon, printers without some kind of web ordering portal for pick ‘n’ pack or print-on-demand will be finding themselves squeezed out. Big companies like RR Donnelley are buying out other big companies like Consolidated (CGX), and smaller printers are merging together just to keep alive.
With all this change in the industry, we really haven’t paid too much attention to the most significant change that affects our industry: the print buyer. Years ago, a large company would have a person or small staff that was responsible for that company’s print procurement. Now, you often have marketing teams or design teams that are responsible for not just print, but all sources of media, including web, email marketing, social media and blogging. Print is only part of the marketing mix, and these individuals or teams divide their time dependent upon where the marketing focus of their company is. If print is 25% of their marketing mix, then they probably give only 25% of their time to it. The new print buyer, therefore, is not looking to be “sold” print, but is looking for a printer that can take things off their plate, make their job easier, and make them look good, both on the paper, and on the company’s ledger.
Now, I will be blunt and say that I’m biased about what the new print buyer should look for in a good print services provider, since I’ve been on that end. But I’ve also been in account management and sales, and have witnessed the needs of the buyer, and so I would like to take this time to give the new buyer three things that I think they should look for when partnering with a printer:
THEY PROVIDE EDUCATION
To a client, things that can help them understand more about print, without making them “experts”, can help them both in their current position, as well as future jobs. A printer providing things like tips on how to prep files, or paper sample swatch books, or links to online tutorials, or on-site or off-site seminars, educate the buyer, and enhance the perception of that buyer towards that printer. After all, if a sales representative calls to tell a prospect or client about an upcoming seminar on paper, or a new video posted to YouTube about InDesign tips and shortcuts, the prospect or client is not going to go “what are you trying to sell me now?” Instead, they see the sales representative as a resource – someone that is knowledgeable, or represents a knowledgeable company – and might be more inclined to award that company with their business. A printer’s marketing collateral needs to be designed with this fact in mind. So, first, be a source of knowledge for your prospect or client.
THEY PROVIDE QUALITY
Print has become viewed more as a commodity and less as a craft, yet it is still expected to be high quality for low pricing. Sure, printers can cut corners by decreasing the amount of paper they order to cover spoilage or various post-press operations. Sure, they can have a minimal management staff with no group of persons keeping an eye on quality and deadlines. Sure, they can keep the old press that cannot print solids well. In doing so, they can keep their prices low while still having decent profit margins. But the trade off is in the print quality. Granted, not all low-priced printers print poorly, and a big print shop with the newest press and top-notch press operators doesn’t guarantee quality. But from what I’ve seen, a majority of the time having those tools in place give the printer a better chance of meeting client expectations. Might it cost a bit more? Yes. But what happens if you pay say 20% less for something, get the job 2 days late for an important meeting (and have to run off copies from your desktop Epson printer), and then your brand color is not consistent throughout the run and there are issues with folding. You might kick yourself thinking that you may not have had these problems with the other printer who charged 2% more, but had procedures and presses in place to make sure those issues don’t occur.
THEY PROVIDE INTANGIBLES
Intangibles are those things you cannot put a finger or a dollar value on. Does the sales representative come to your office to show proofs, or do they send them via a courier? When you email your rep, do they respond, even if it’s just to say they’ll check on your request and get back to you? Do you get invoiced quickly, or do you get the invoice 10 days after the job’s delivered, and you are set at net 30? Do you get samples, specifically for you, and not just pulled from one of the boxes when the job delivers to you? Do you call your rep only to go through auto attendant hell? Does the driver delivering the job look like he could be from a “Walking Dead” episode? These are all things that don’t have a monetary value, but present to you something that you cannot place a value on, but are important to you. Yes, these factors might influence whether you wish to pay a bit more on a project, since you as the buyer see these attributes as things that make your job easier. And bottom line, isn’t that what you want?
So, before you award that $24,000 print job to the guy who’ll do it for $23,500, just think about what you really are saving, and the value you place on the print relationship.