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

Six tips for great customer care

Customer care is a top priority for any business. Your customers needs should be the of the highest priority. Creating a culture of great customer care is a challenge for any business. Here are some tips to help improve your relationships with this vital group of individuals.

Encourage a culture of care

Customers will only receive the level of care they expect if every member of your organisation understands that the needs of the customer should always be the top priority. Encouraging a culture of this kind can be a difficult task.
You should start by explaining to your staff why customer care matters. Every individual in your business should understand that the success of the firm (and, therefore, their own employment prospects) depend on the happiness of your customers.

2. Say what your’e going to do, and do what you said you would do

There is nothing more likely to incur the ire of a customer than a broken promise. Do not be tempted to make commitments that you cannot honour. Expectation management is really at the heart of good customer service; the customer wants to know exactly what they can expect, and then see it happen.

Unless customers are dealt with by a single member of staff, strong communication within your business is important if promises are to be kept.

3. Qualify the customer

Customers, especially business to business customers, are often not as easily impressed by shiny new products as one might think. Instead, they want to buy solutions to their problems and goods or services that fulfil their needs.

You can better care for your customers (and increase your sales) by considering their needs above all else. This might mean changing your offering – or it might be as simple as considering ways that you can make dealing with your business a more pleasant experience for customers.

4. The answer is… 'yes'

It is easy to underestimate the power of positivity. Wherever possible, your default position should be to say ‘yes’. Customers understandably react badly to negativity, but appreciate it when businesses actively try to solve their problems. So, you should make sure that you are as flexible as possible.

Remember, though, the dangers of promising too much. You need to strike a balance between flexibility and realism, and ensure that you only promise what you can deliver.

5. Learn how to apologise

No matter how great your customer service is, sometimes things will go wrong. In these inevitable instances, it is vital that everyone in your business knows how to apologise. From the outset, you should understand that the customer might not always be right – but that doesn’t mean they should not be accommodated. It is generally considered better to swallow your pride and take responsibility than to argue the toss.

Having apologised to a customer who has had a bad experience, you should then make sure that the same mistake does not happen again. Learn from past experience, and consider ways that you can avoid those outcomes in future.

6. Ask for, and listen to, feedback

No-one has as good a view of your customer care as your customers themselves – so you should make sure that you are listening to them. Consider ways that you can encourage feedback from customers. This could be as simple as asking for an opinion at the point of sale. You might also choose to leave comment cards on your premises, or follow up orders with an email asking how the customer thinks the transaction went.

Again, make sure that this feedback is followed up. There is little point in collecting the information unless you intend to act on it, so set aside a regular time in which you can go over the comments you receive and work out how you will incorporate them into your planning.

Your relationship with your customers is at the heart of your business; you ignore them at your peril. Think about ways that you can develop a good relationship with your customers and you will reap the rewards.

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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