Can you imagine making money by selling computers?
The average computer is now a commodity product. IT managers view most brands as exactly the same. They simply purchase the cheapest option at the time.
The real money for IT companies is in solution selling. They will make far more money on installation, service contracts and in workflow management.
Are you seeing some parallels with the print industry here?
Printing companies will make more money selling solutions rather than print. The average print product is now treated as a commodity rather than a value item. It is now easy to source all standard print items online. At this point the cheapest price wins.
If printing companies want to create a better profit margin from their customers then they have to offer more than print. They have to offer a business solution.
Printing companies that offer business solutions start to change the relationship with their clients.
Instead of being manufacturing suppliers, they become partners. These companies also find that they have more control over the customer journey. Their clients tend to be loyal for longer. The printer has a better overview of how their client is going to work with them. That makes it far easier to achieve the company goals and sales targets.
Printing companies that stick to selling commodity print are going to find it far harder to achieve their goals. They will tend to have far less loyal customers. Customers will often move as soon as they find a cheaper price. There is no true relationship: the printer is simply a commodity supplier.
Let’s be clear: standard print items are nearly always bought on price; If you are selling brochures and leaflets, the only way to make money is to be extremely efficient. The manufacturing price for all standard print items continues, and will continue, to decline. The only way to compete on price and still be able to make a profit is to be more efficient than your competitors.
Unfortunately, many of the printing companies that lead in this marketplace have already invested in extremely advanced workflows. Jobs will be planned and scheduled to ensure the minimum of changes at make ready time. They have the latest presses that are specified to give the best performance from today’s steadily declining print runs. Their finishing departments will be highly automated.
If you do not already have this level of investment you are going to struggle to compete against these companies. You have a far better opportunity to make profit by offering complete solutions to your prospects and customers.
So how do you create solution sales?
An effective solution offering has to solve a business challenge rather than a manufacturing requirement. It also involves an end-to-end solution. Traditionally printing companies have only been part of the supply chain. A good business solution offers the entire supply chain for a particular process.
Solution selling will often focus around a number of the following offerings:
• Multi-channel communications
• Digital asset management
• Online order management
• Stock management and kitting services
If you are serious about solution selling you will need to offer at least some of these services:
Is it too costly to invest in solution offerings like these?
Many of the offerings that we have just discussed will involve investment. To start with, there is the upfront cost in equipment, facilities, software and workflows. Just as importantly, you need to think about the skills element of this. You will have to invest in recruiting or training up the right skill sets. In addition, it may be necessary to increase headcount to offer these services. But there is some good news!
Remember, you do not necessarily have to invest in these offerings yourself. A far simpler way to create the right relationships with strategic outsourced partners. They already have the right resources, workflows and skill sets. They are also often able to suggest solution opportunities that you may not have thought of.
Solution selling is often about creating the right network, rather than investing in new activities yourself.
Here’s an example of a solution sale
Let’s look at catalogue fulfilment and brochure fulfilment services. Traditionally, the printer has offered brochure printing. In addition, they may have carried out the mailing. Today, these are regarded as commodity, manufacturing services.
Now let’s imagine a solution that offers a company real value. A solution built around this mindset could offer some, or all, of the following elements:
• The design of the catalogue or brochure
• The management of all the artwork elements for a brochure. This can be especially useful for retail or travel products were a lot of different products are switched in and out of different editions of the brochure
• The print
• List management. The supplier could offer full subscription and returns management. Alternatively, they could manage orders from different branches of the business
• Stock management and more complex logistics options to suit more complex distribution campaigns
This completely changes the value of the offering for the customer
An offering like this is no longer about the cheapest manufacturing price. It is about how a solution can be tailored to adapt to the needs of the client’s business. It is about creating an offering that solves the client’s business needs and allows them to grow as a business.
There are a large number of advantages for the client. Firstly, they require a lot less resource to manage such a project. Many of the administration elements, such as list management, are taken over by the supplier. In addition, the client only has one supplier to manage, so supply chain management time is greatly reduced. They can now focus on key business priorities rather than production and management.
However, a solution like this is not only about cost reduction. It is also about helping the client grow their business. List management can be developed to create more advanced marketing to different target segments. Distribution and fulfilment can become more cost efficient, more reactive to changing business requirements and less wasteful. The right solution can even involve adapting the end product to be more suited to different segments of the user base. The client may even end up requiring more print!
How do you put solution selling into practice?
Here are three action points to help you start visualising the solution offerings that you might create for your business:
1. List your top clients. Pick three that you feel may be open to adapting to a more solutions-based offering
2. Have a quick meeting with everyone involved with these accounts. Can you start to brainstorm some solutions that might be specifically suited to them?
3. Use this series of case studies developed by Mail Workshop for inspiration
It’s time to move away from commodity sales
Stop thinking as if you were selling computer hardware. Start thinking as if you were an IT solutions company.
P.S. Here’s a useful case study based around catalogue distribution and fulfilment.
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