By Harvey Hirsch Like the Samurai warrior, you should understand how to use the technology available July 26, 2004 -- In the early eighteenth century, a clan chief named Yamamoto Tsunetomo wrote a doctrine encompassing the true meaning of Bushido, the warrior’s code. He stated that the life of a Samurai belonged to his employer and he was to follow orders without question--to obey any command from his superior without hesitation, even if it meant his death. Failure to do so brought shame and sepukku (suicide). Anybody starting their day cold calling on the telephone can relate to the “Death of a Thousand Cuts" syndrome. The discipline necessary to pick up the phone and dial strangers who could care less about you, your product or service and your company is very similar to Bushido. Sales people must hone their skills and strengthen their resolve if they are to cut a swath through the sword-swinging suspects to find a prospect. More importantly, today’s sales people must work with their marketing counterparts (unless of course you do both) to create new and dynamic ways to generate new business. Just like the Samurai warrior, you should understand how to use the technology available and the new selling skills if you want to draw blood. Here’s why. Trolling for Answers I recently attended a trade show that had 250 booths of marketing related services. Of the 250, 150 were list brokers (one third of the direct mail triad), about 50 were printers, a few were "creative marketers" and the rest were the usual suspects of accounting firms and boutique support shops. My purpose of attending was to case out the joint to see if I wanted to exhibit next year, so I felt it would be prudent to ask a few of the attendees and exhibitors what they thought of the show. I look at a trade show as a fishing contest. Everybody is in a boat hoping to catch fish. Some have chummed the water by pre-mailing an invitation or special offer to encourage visitors to reach their booth, some had show specials that encouraged a potential fence sitter to move, and some had the "trout look," no idea what their purpose was in being there, but they were in the fray none the less. I managed to stop at about fifty booths and speak with the sales people manning the turrets. Every printer extolled personal service, quality printing and quick turnaround, to a man. A few had other weapons such as data merging for personalization or on-demand book making. Three specialized in intricate pop-ups or multi-dimensional products (of which I am highly intrigued) and one or two with interactive media. Ninety percent of the sales or marketing people I spoke with said the show was okay and they might be back next year. Many showed me business cards they had wrested out of the hands of attendees and a few were licking their wounds and swearing off this show for the near future. What's a Samurai to Do? On-demand printing is not going to go away and if you can’t afford the half a million dollar system, partner with a company that has one. What does this have to do with being a Samurai Salesperson? Well, for them, they were fighting for market share with the weapons their superiors gave them, and some were just not well-armed. Most of these sales people, however, had no weapons. Their superiors did not understand the competition or the industry’s direction, or they decided that if they can’t print it, they won’t offer it, even at the peril of losing current accounts. This amounts to mass suicide. On-demand printing is not going to go away and if you can’t afford the half a million dollar system, partner with a company that has one. Not only will you be able to offer options to your clients that may help them generate new business, you should train with this powerful weapon until you are proficient, even using it as a prospecting tool to generate new sales for offset products. It’s not rocket science anymore. In fact, in the hands of a trained Samurai, on demand personalized printing can be the deciding factor in many a battle. For instance, even though I am primarily selling digital on-demand personalized products, I still offer a lot of offset printing products. Wearing my printing broker hat, it is my duty to recommend the most cost-efficient products to my clients. If they don’t realize a profit from the project, I didn’t do my job well. The same should apply to offset printers. Can you really afford to let your customer find out from a competitor that personalized on-demand printing can solve some intricate marketing communications projects in a very cost effective way? Do you really want your customer to switch completely to on-demand or would a planned phase-in work in your behalf? If you polled your clients would you learn they would like to use variable data digital printing to the point where you might be able to afford a smaller “green button” system? The Battle is Joined Sending in the sales force and demanding that they sell on quality instead of versatility is suicide when they go up against a competent digital printer. Printers today, whether they like it or not, are engaged in a battle for market share in a steadily shrinking market. Just sending in the sales force and demanding that they sell on quality instead of versatility is suicide when they go up against a competent digital printer. It’s time to take a realistic view of where marketing communications is going and put yourself in its future. Or maybe hari kiri appeals to you more. I have consulted with many printing sales people and print shop owners over the past year and the consensus is just about no one is having a good time of it. The sales force is frustrated, the owners are nervous, and the clients seem to be spending as little as possible. The big projects are being out-sourced to foreign shops who compete more on price than delivery times, but even that can be planned for in the program. Is there a solution? Yes! Is it for everyone? No. While the industry information indicates that printers close their doors at a rate of almost 20% a year, and the print runs have diminished, their customers still need to communicate or they will cease to function. It seems customers are seeking something to help them market more efficiently and cost-effectively. In most cases they go to a creative firm to have the material designed and written professionally. Most design firms and ad agencies need to be educated as to the proper mix of variable data digital and offset materials, and that can be your opportunity. I have had amazing success in learning how to marry the technologies and if you understand each technology’s place in the communications package, you will reap your fair share of new business while keeping your current customers happy. Do not ponder--strike now, the present is pregnant with the future, and it’s yours. Kashiko Marimashita.