What makes some small printers more successful than others?

In the twenty years I spent running my own Prontaprint centre, and in the seven years spent visiting customer’s print businesses, I have been fascinated by the difference in sales success between different business owners.

If a franchisor is involved, they will typically have a series of marketing programmes, designed to drive customers to the business. This is a valuable activity, but should only be part of a sales and marketing strategy.

Sales training for customer facing staff is essential, but this usually concentrates on disciplines such as sales call rates and the basics of sales and negotiation techniques.

There is a missing link between the marketing and the direct sales activities that I have noticed is usually present in the most successful small print businesses.

Networking. The old saying that “People prefer to buy from people they know” is as true now as it ever was. Networking can mean different things to different people. It can be anything from joining a local breakfast club or business club to networking in conjunction with a sport or hobby. I know one small printer who, having had some success with customers in a particular industry sector, joined the trade association (for an industry that he wasn’t actually part of) - and achieved great success supplying that industry!

Supporting local charities and sports teams etc. is always good for public relations, and getting involved with local organisations will also bring you into contact with other local businessmen, and can provide another kind of networking opportunity.

Of course, as a small businessman, with so many daily urgencies, it’s difficult to get everything right. All one can do is to employ the best technology and staff that one can afford in order to release as much time as possible for gaining good customers - and to be lucky!

On luck. “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity”
Seneca, 5BC - 65AD

On being welcome…

I was recently chatting with one of my customers. This is someone who has taken a failed print business and really turned it round, but he was having trouble arranging meetings with customers or prospects.

This fellow was finding it difficult to get appointments with his customers and prospects in order to develop relationships and increase sales. I had two questions for him:
How do you feel when a friend in business, or someone you feel will help your enterprise calls for an appointment? - or - How do you feel when you receive the same call from a sales rep?

Clearly, it depends on whether you think the appointment will really help your business. So what can you do to make your customers actually want to meet you?

Add value! One way of adding value to your customer relationships is to offer practical advice that will benefit their business. I used to offer free marketing advice to small businesses. As my business came to be perceived locally as successful, I was able to offer sales and marketing advice by giving examples of things that had worked for me. I found that I no longer had to sell to these customers. As we built their marketing campaigns together, I designed and printed whatever they needed!

So before you pick up the ’phone to call a customer, ask yourself about the value of the call for them.

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