By John Giles More than 50 percent of the print buyers said that print suppliers were doing a fair to poor job communicating meaningful differentiation from their competitors. February 18, 2005 -- Asking customers what they want in a printer is one of the easiest things a sales person can do. What does the customer expect from a printer? What makes the customer happy with a printer? Printbuyers Online (www.printbuyersonline.com) recently reported that 69 percent of the print buyers they surveyed felt they knew more that the printing sales representative. In another survey, 88 percent of those surveyed said they wanted printers to bring new ideas to them. In yet another survey, more than 50 percent of the print buyers said that print suppliers were doing a fair to poor job communicating meaningful differentiation from their competitors. How about you? Do you know more about printing than your customers? Do you bring new ideas to them and let them know how you are different from the printer down the street? Printers have to realize that they can offer more value to the customer by becoming more of a partner rather than a vendor. Printing is competitive and printers have to become better communicators if they expect to profit. Print buying is about price, but there is always another reason that makes a print buyer select a printer. For instance, price will be less of a concern if the printer adds value by having product knowledge and the ability to bring new ideas to the customer. Printers have to realize that they can offer more value to the customer by becoming more of a partner rather than a vendor. Printers can start by demonstrating their knowledge. What is the print buyer's budget? What factors are going to affect the price of the print order? Does the customer know that the type of paper, run length, ink colors and finished size affect the price? Does the customer understand how to create digital files properly to avoid the additional cost of making the file print-ready? Too often, sales representatives assume the print buyer knows exactly what they want. What the print buyer wants is assistance and advice. Sales representatives assume the print buyer knows exactly what they want. What the print buyer wants is assistance and advice. The better printers open lines of communication with the customer. They are proactive and offer suggestions that will either help the customer control costs or make the printed order more effective. From the survey it seems that print buyers are dealing with order takers rather than sales people. These surveys show where printers can gain a competitive advantage. Better-educated sales representatives are the first step. Printing associations offer a variety of training material. Online resources can expand a sales representative's knowledge base. In today's printing market, knowing where to find the answer is as important as knowing the answers. Customers want their sales representatives to be a resource. The successful printer is the one who helps customers learn more about the printing process. Having an educated sales staff is one way to gain an advantage, but most printers still look alike to print buyers. So printing companies have to do something to make themselves stand out. One way is having an infrastructure that makes the print buying experience easier. Online ordering and proofing, email addresses for the sales staff, easy-to-use file transfer systems, automatic PDF-creation programs and web sites full of resources are a few ways that printers can begin to look different from the print shop down the street. Many printers already have a number of the elements, but they haven't trained their sales representatives how to use them. If the sales staff doesn't know they have ways to make buying easier, the customer will never know. Print buyers want to know more about printing. They want the print buying experience to be easy. According to the Print Buyers Online survey, printers are providing the education that print buyers want. The successful printer is going to be the one who helps the customer learn more about the printing process.