By Steve Sanker of Presstek There's a need to interact with customers on different levels to ensure you keep a step ahead of them and their needs. April 11, 2005 -- I recently read an article in Printing News that reviewed a unique open house held by Gator Media Group of West Caldwell NJ. The article began by saying, "Some printing firms might be leery about bringing together all of their clients, prospects, and vendors in the same room--afraid that talk might turn to missed deadlines, botched jobs, or unpaid bills." In Gator Media Group's case, Richard Bitetti and Charles J. Stuto, president and vice president/chief financial officer, respectively, of the company, which had been in business for only seven months at the time of the article, gathered approximately 75 buyers, potential customers, suppliers, and guests for the successful event. The primary purpose of the open house was to showcase the firm's new KPG 5634 DI press, enabled with Presstek DI technology. The article started me thinking about how we, as printing professionals, routinely interact with our customers. If the open house is any indication of how Gator Media Group operates--blending employees, customers, prospects and suppliers into a complex web of interactions--it is quite unique for the industry. While all printers have employees, customers, prospects and suppliers, of course, it seems pretty rare to bring them all together in this way. The usual practice, in fact, keeps them fairly segmented from each other as printers work to protect their book of business in an extremely competitive environment. There are several aspects to this event that can be translated into new opportunities for the print service provider. It is critical that the business owner spend as much time as possible with the top segment of customers. First, there is the obvious need to interact with customers on a variety of different levels to ensure that you keep a step ahead of them, understand their emerging and unmet needs and take actions to address those in order to not only keep their business, but to grow your share of their business. All too often, the only interaction with customers is at the sales rep and CSR level as individual jobs are sold, produced and delivered. While these relationships are critical, it is even more critical that the business owner spend as much time as possible with the top segment of customers in a concerted effort to gain an in-depth understanding of their business issues and to craft unique and specialized offerings that can help to address those issues. This is the more strategic role that is all too often neglected in customer relationships. Second is the concept of partnering to provide a wider range of services than you could possibly hope to offer on your own. While printers have been outsourcing various activities since time immemorial--to trade binding shops, creative houses, and more--these have tended to be on a transactional, job-by-job basis rather than on a program basis. By "program," I mean providing services on a long-term contractual basis that lock in the customer and deliver an annuity revenue stream to the print service provider. In this scenario, your suppliers or vendors become business partners, engaged with you and your customers in delivering a total solution. While you or one of your partners may be the primary point of contact to simplify the arrangement for the customer, all parties are working toward the same goal--the provision of innovative, unique, bundled services on a contract basis that address real customer business needs well beyond the simple delivery of ink on paper. In today's digital world, this type of collaboration is easier than ever before and is often completely transparent to the customer. The concept of partnering is to provide a wider range of services than you could possibly hope to offer on your own. Finally, in hosting an event such as that put on by Gator Media Group, there is an opportunity to foster communication between happy customers and companies that might be considering your services. There is, of course, risk. The last thing you may think you want is to have customers and prospects sharing war stories about the inevitable "job that went wrong." But consider this: some of your best and most loyal customers are those that have had a problem that has been proactively resolved. If that type of proactive problem resolution is not an aggressive part of your business model, then it should be--and the war stories will have a happy ending that could do even more than your sales professionals to attract new business. This unique melding of stakeholders that are normally compartmented into a single interactive community is a very different way of doing business--but one that holds significant promise for the future. The end result is a broader, deeper, more profitable relationship with customers that leverages your strengths and those of key partners. And these types of relationships often spawn new customer opportunities both within the customer's organization and among peers with whom they might share their good experiences. Melding stakeholders that are normally compartmented is a way of doing business that holds significant promise. Pick up the phone today, and place a call to your most senior contact at your most important customer to find out what you might have been missing! And think about holding a broad-based open house such as the one conducted by Gator Media Group to kick off this new consultative and strategic approach. Many suppliers to the industry have tools and materials to help you easily put together such an event, including Presstek's Club DI (www.ClubDI.com) program. Stephen Sanker is Presstek's North American Marketing Director, DI Press Products. He is responsible for developing and supporting programs to further develop the Company's DI press business. Sanker has a strong sales and marketing background within the industry. Prior to joining Presstek, he held the position of Direct Imaging Sales Manager for six years at Heidelberg USA. Previous to Heidelberg he held various sales and account management positions with Scitex, Eastman Kodak, and Xerox.