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Commentary & Analysis

What Can You Do to Save Your Customers Money?

A printer e-mailed me recently and said, “the Vice President of Procurement at our biggest customer is open to a meeting but she wants to know what I can do to save her money.” Of course she does, she’s always wanted her vendors to engage with her in a way that solves her business challenges and makes her look good.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: July 9, 2014

A printer e-mailed me recently and said, “the Vice President of Procurement at our biggest customer is open to a meeting but she wants to know what I can do to save her money.” Of course she does, she’s always wanted her vendors to engage with her in a way that solves her business challenges and makes her look good. The difference today is that she’s no longer taking worthless vendor meetings anymore by setting the expectations upfront – she wants solutions not sales pitches. She’s doing you a big favor; she’s training you how to sell to her.

So how can a printer save the VP of Procurement money without decreasing the prices of your printed products and services?

This is one of the main questions the print industry needs to grapple with because it forces us out of our print product mentality and into a services mentality. How can you be of service to the VP of Procurement or the CMO for that matter? Service implies solutions. As a procurement executive, you know what she’s judged on: her ability to save the company money. This does not mean you’re only option is to drop your product prices; in fact I think this should be your last option.

Your ability to respond to this opportunity will be directly proportional to how much you know about this customer’s business. If you know nothing other than the stock and quantity they print each month – you’re in trouble. If you understand their business, have discussed the purpose of the materials you’re printing for them, and see trends in their utilization based on their business cycles – you’ll be more likely to know where you are uniquely qualified to add value, provide solutions, and expand your share of this customer’s overall spend.

Let’s talk a little about the procurement department in general – it’s gone from a place they demote below average performers into, to a strategic sourcing department. Companies have figured out that they can add directly to their bottom line if they simply buy things more efficiently. The software vendors have been busy providing tools to make that buying more manageable by less people with a complete audit trail to keep everyone honest.

As a printer what do you have to offer the procurement department? I think the number one thing that is often dismissed by printers is your ability to source printed products on behalf of your customers. Yes, I’m suggesting you actually look for products and services that your customers need that you do not manufacture yourself (the word everyone likes to avoid for no good reason – “broker”).

What’s the most difficult part of sales? Establishing the relationship, once you have the relationship why wouldn’t you provide as many services as possible through that relationship? Most printers do some spot sourcing for projects where they lack one component (e.g. die-cutting). But the majority of printers stop there, thinking they are best served by chasing the slices of their customer’s business that perfectly matches their manufacturing capabilities. What a wasted opportunity! You invest heavily in building a relationship with a company, you service them well as a manufacturer, you develop their trust yet you fail to gather up all the other print business just because you don’t own the equipment required to run it. Stop acting within your manufacturing limitations and start acting like the global print provider anyone can be – you can print anything, anywhere, for anyone. You know there is nothing but excess capacity in our industry, go find it on behalf of your customers.

Back to the question, “how can this printer save the VP of Procurement money?”

Here’s my pitch to the VP of Procurement:

There are two kinds of print procurement; self-service and full-service. Print that is well-defined, repeating, or templated can and should be procured through a self-service platform (most web-to-print systems). Self-service print procurement can be monitored, tracked, and very efficient if it is done on a centralized system that is integrated into the business processes (e.g. authentication and purchasing) of the company. The majority of print is full-service; one-time custom orders of unique content which require collaboration and project management with a printer that results in a procurement event. Full-service print procurement can be labor intensive, inefficient, and hard to track because it’s typically done via isolated systems (e-mail, phone, FTP).

I would like to evaluate your entire print spend based on this full-service vs. self-service model. I feel I could save the company money by centralizing all the self-service print procurement through a single self-service platform that is manufacturing agnostic. In doing this I will give you (the VP of Procurement) one view into all the self-service print spend no matter how many different suppliers are actually fulfilling through the solution.

For the full-service print I would like to move this activity from e-mail, phone, spreadsheets, and FTP into a platform that can be tracked, monitored, and administered by either fewer people in your organization or by us as a service to your organization. I know we can manage your print spend more effectively because we have both the specific software tools required and the print knowledge from a manufacturers standpoint.  I believe we could carve out a savings of at least 20% of your overall spend by simply making sure that self-service and full-service print are properly implemented on platforms that optimize and track all associated procurement activities.

You have to step out of your limiting beliefs about selling only what you can manufacture. Once you have “won” the trust of your customers, it is critical to your success as a company to leverage that trust to expand the services you deliver. As a printer you know how to both sell and manufacture print, it’s not a stretch to also know how to buy it on behalf of your customers. This is a story that will get you the meeting with the VP of Procurement.

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.



By David Straub on Jul 09, 2014

I like it! Beacause "SERVICE" is the key focal point. Good article sir.


By Jennifer Matt on Jul 09, 2014

David - I agree "Service" is they key, how can you be "of service" and what "services" can you offer the customer. By the way - (not a sir).



By Jeffrey Becker on Jul 10, 2014

Distributor, Printer, Broker, Manufacturer.....
It sounds like almost everyone is morphing into a reseller and trying to become a single source provider whenever possible.


By Jennifer Matt on Jul 11, 2014

Jeffrey -
Doesn't it make sense? Once you have built the relationship, expanding it sure seems easier than creating many more relationships (you obviously have to do both).

Understanding how to manufacture print makes you and your team a knowledgeable buyer of print (with the right tools).



By Jeffrey Becker on Jul 11, 2014


Make perfect sense.

I was just commenting that with printers and other manufacturers also becoming brokers, it makes things even more competitive for those of us who don't manufacture.


By Bridget Holland on Jul 12, 2014

Jeffrey, you're right it makes it more competitive, but that's a fact of life. You just have to be sure of your advantage in the marketplace:
- you have relationships already. Not just with the customers, but also with all the other providers they might need to use. A printer who is just starting out doesn't have that network.
- you have, or should have, a wide knowledge of issues across all parts of the print industry - from design to finish to direct mail and beyond. Once again, printers who specialise in one area won't have this depth and breadth. I am continually amazed by how much the Xpadite print managers I work with know about all aspects of print and related services!
- you are also impartial and visibly impartial. A good printer/broker should be happy to pass on jobs to a different printer if the job is better done that way, but some will be swayed to keep it in-house. How is the customer going to know for sure.


By Jennifer Matt on Jul 13, 2014

Bridget and Jeffrey -

We are in a mature industry that is contracting so competition is a fact of life. The changes have happened very fast (technology disruption) and therefore many traditional players in our industry have yet to move enough to remain competitive. The ability to adapt is going to be the #1 factor to winning in the new reality where print competes with digital communication options.

I believe print has to get a whole lot easier to BUY. Its too hard to buy print today.



By Heath Cajandig on Jul 17, 2014

If you think about the typical department that is being required to use the internal procurement system, they are often most concerned with getting crappy products because a bean counter wanted to save a few pennies. Especially in large organizations.

Procurement officers are driven of course by cost savings, but they also want to be organizational heroes by choosing suppliers or partners that are provide quality, continuity, trustworthiness, and ease of doing business.

If you have a great solution, offering to pilot with a department to demonstrate value could get a foot in the door because it creates an internal champion (you better make sure it works).


By David Straub on Jul 17, 2014

Good points Heath, but probably quality, continuity, trustworthiness and ease of doing business are back burner compared to cost savings and being an organizational hero.

Service is just considered more or less to be a by-product. Ok if it is presented and still alright if it is of void.

This is felt where gain and profitabilty points can be realized, particularly into todays world. SERVICE, of the true nature. Not lip service.

Lack of SERVICE is present everywhere today, although oft times it is promoted as a key element in organizational mantra.

Those who do truly provide meaningful service, shall be the ones that will realize the best prosperity in the long haul and future.


By Jennifer Matt on Jul 17, 2014

I was visiting a printer recently and he said, "My ink sales person is irreplaceable because every time he walks in the door he teaches me something or brings me some other solution to help my business."

Customers of all types have more to do then they can get done - when vendors show up and offer to solve problems that they hadn't even given any consideration to - they build lasting relationships.

Not once did this printer talk about how much the ink was costing him - he just said that the sales experience was educational and he was beginning to rely on that advice. (all documented very well in the book The Challenger Sale).

Do you walk into sales experiences thinking about what's in it for you or do you walk into sales experiences thinking about what you can do for your customer? That might be the only piece of sales advice you ever need. If its all about you - good luck. If its all about the customer - you don't need luck because they will flock to you.



By David Straub on Jul 17, 2014

That ink sales person was an ink TECH and he SERVED what the customer needed.



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