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CEO Mark Sarpa's Advice on the Digital Transition

Published on September 20, 2011

CEO of Progressive Solutions Mark Sarpa chats with Cary Sherburne about the world of digital printing and offers his advice for those looking to enter the digital field.

Cary Sherburne: Hi, Cary Sherburne, Senior Editor at WhatTheyThink.com and I'm here with Mark Sarpa, who’s CEO of Progressive Solutions in northern California. And you started your manufacturing operation as completely digital, so you haven’t had to really make the analog to digital transition, per se, but maybe you could talk a little bit about what you see out in the industry and what you think people should be thinking about. What are their priorities now? Particularly if they haven’t made the digital transition or if they’re only using digital as, like in their offset press, which is ...

Mark Sarpa: Well, it’s an exciting time from my perspective in the printing industry, virtually all the printers left are great printers, whether they’re offset or digital. And now I think the challenge is keeping up with technology and how you’re going to differentiate yourself from your competitors and do something unique. And it’s exciting and it’s scary at the same time, but I think there’s lots of growth, especially in the digital side, and lots of potential opportunities.

Cary Sherburne: So if you think about a traditional or average, or whatever, commercial printing business, what are the top two people you think they should hire? What two disciplines?

Mark Sarpa: I think programming and IT are the top two disciplines and I think that’s the difference between success and failure in the future. Is the vision to do things better, more efficiently through the web. Doesn’t mean you get rid of customer service, you have to actually enhance customer service, but I think it’s absolutely critical to printer’s futures.

Cary Sherburne: And you must have a few of those folks on your staff.

Mark Sarpa: We do, and I’m a wannabe IT.

Cary Sherburne: Me, too.

Mark Sarpa: Don’t really know that much, but I like to play.

Cary Sherburne: I’m kind of a geek, you know, growing up in Silicon Valley, so, yeah. And what about marketing professionals?

Mark Sarpa: Absolutely. You know, we launched our personalized children’s line, which is, we think, the best in the marketplace. And still at the end of the day it comes down to marketing. And being as a printer, we don’t really think about marketing, and now that we have a consumer brand, we understand that it’s all about sales and marketing.

Cary Sherburne: Yeah, exactly. Well, that’s really good advice for folks because I think, you know, they’re being told, “Oh, we should become a marketing services provider,” but you can’t just sort of walk into your customer one day and say, “Hi, I’m your marketing expert,” if you don’t have one on staff.

Mark Sarpa: You need one on staff and the main thing is to actually do it yourself.

Cary Sherburne: Great advice.

Mark Sarpa: And really just dig in and it’s okay if you don’t do it right the first time and we’ve been explained by our customers some of our marketing efforts, which weren’t that—we had problems, let’s put it that way. But we keep doing it and figure we’ll get it right one of these days.

Cary Sherburne: So when the customers explained that you didn’t quite do it right, they were being supportive about that?

Mark Sarpa: Very supportive.

Cary Sherburne: Okay.

Mark Sarpa: It was actually a prospect and they engaged us because of our marketing efforts. So in that sense it worked, but she did want to tell us about all the things we did wrong, but we still got the customer. So in that sense, it definitely worked.

Cary Sherburne: You know, I guess it’s the old walking the talk thing. I mean, if you’re not eating your own dog food, to use another cliché, then, you know, you have to believe in it.

Mark Sarpa: We actually joke about maybe a plan to do bad marketing to marketing professionals, so they—what we really want, we don’t really want to do marketing for them, we want to do marketing services, and that’s a, we don’t want to show them that we’re better marketers than they are. So we let them explain to us wrong, maybe is a good strategy.

Cary Sherburne: There you go.

Mark Sarpa: I’m not recommending it.

Cary Sherburne: And you know, it’s a safer environment to experiment with your own campaign rather than a customer’s right?

Mark Sarpa: Right, absolutely.

Cary Sherburne: And the other thing I’ve heard people say is that it’s a great way to get your people engaged and understand what you’re trying to do.

Mark Sarpa: In the last year we’ve had a real transition from outbound marketing to inbound marketing, so through these programs you can drive people that are interested in you and that’s landed us quite a few customers in the last year, so we’re excited about that.

Cary Sherburne: So explain the difference, in your opinion, between outbound marketing and inbound marketing?

Mark Sarpa: Outbound marketing is a combination of direct mail and the sales effort, to cold calls and stuff like that. Inbound marketing could be the same program, but it’s driving them to a PERL or a landing page or to your website where they engage with you there and then you get a warm lead because you know they’re already interested.

Cary Sherburne: Okay.

Mark Sarpa: So that’s an easier conversation than, “Hello, I’m Mark from a printing company,” trying to call people.

Cary Sherburne: And are you using social media in your marketing efforts?

Mark Sarpa: We use social media a lot, especially in our consumer brand, that’s where we’re heavily invested; we’ve been doing that for a couple of years. We’re really starting to do it in our other side of the business, which we’re already seeing, believe it or not, I’ve landed customers—and way more than one—through Twitter.

Cary Sherburne: Really?

Mark Sarpa: Which is pretty surprising to most people.

Cary Sherburne: Yeah.

Mark Sarpa: And certainly through LinkedIn.

Cary Sherburne: So if we’re going to follow you on Twitter, what do we look for?

Mark Sarpa: Well, on Twitter I tweet as FreckleBox.

Cary Sherburne: FreckleBox, okay.

Mark Sarpa: And that has led to, FreckleBox customers certainly, but it’s also led to Progressive customers when they find out and start investigating who you are.

Cary Sherburne: That’s terrific. Well, that’s a great story and great advice, thank you.

Mark Sarpa: Thank you for having me.

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By Jason Pinto on Sep 20, 2011

Mark and Cary,
Very nice job on this video. I definitely pumped my fist a bit when I heard these two quotes, "At the end of the day, it still comes to down to marketing", and "you've got to do it yourself".

I absolutely agree that taking the time to run self-promotional campaigns is one of the best ways to get employees engaged and understanding what a company might be trying to do.

Thanks for taking the time to create and share this video,


By Kevin Keane on Sep 20, 2011

Hi Cary and Mark

I echo Jason Pinto's accolades, this was one of the best WTT video interviews ever, and it's nice to see it highlighted as the lead.

Mark's advice to hire more and lots more of the programming and IT geeks is spot on.

His quick analysis (compare/contrast) of inbound and outbound mktg ought to be printed on the wall of every print shop.

His embrace of social media mktg is way cool as well.

Over the weekend, I posted on a thread started by the awesome Mary Beth Smith on her Market Your Printing Company Linked In Group. I reacted to a post by Brandon Lee who had mentioned a new Facebook group for Print HQ, naturally I 'liked' the page. (It's another public personna for Progressive Solutions.)

And as soon as I heard Mark talk about Frecklebox (as a repeat grand-dad) I knew I needed to go find out more and 'liked' their page too. My family will soon know about the page as well:)

And since I often speak to printers groups about marketing or work on mktg projects with my print/legal clients, I can assure Mark, that his videos and FB pages will receive a wider audience on our IAPHC Facebook Group page, and via my Linked In Profile updates.

Great interview Cary, and snazzy shirt too Mark!


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