By Barbara Pellow June 28, 2006 -- The typical graphic communications service provider is a sales-driven, reactive organization that places action and "getting an order" in front of marketing and business planning. Client acquisition activities are praised, whereas client retention activities are starved or ignored. However, in our highly competitive market, where graphic communications service providers are trying to differentiate themselves based on value add, high quality marketing strategies, marketing programs and marketing tactics are required. Guerilla Marketing Golden Rule #14: It is easier to achieve a healthy share of market if you first obtain a healthy share of mind. First, Marketing is NOT SELLING The selling function is a key for graphic communications service providers and must always be staffed by the best people the firm can afford. Solutions marketing activities are designed to assist the sales force in being more productive. Marketing is about making your company be "top of mind" when the customer has a business problem. Jay Conrad Levinson, in his book Guerilla Marketing Excellence, did a good job at summing up the value of marketing in reaching a target audience. The role of marketing is building the right level of awareness to generate sufficient numbers of high quality prospects for the sales force to meet its revenue target. Prospect quality and prospect quantity are the key measures of the success of marketing activities. Effective marketing complements a skilled sales force. It provides information while creating a desire to buy the solutions and services that you sell. Sales people who are backed by a strong marketing program have an easier time generating prospective clients and experience shorter overall selling cycles for complex solutions. With good marketing, the customer is aware of the offering and value proposition before the sales person walks in the door. This means that every call does not necessarily feel like a cold call. Most importantly, sales people who are properly backed up by effective marketing programs experience greater success in turning competitive situations into noncompetitive situations. As a consequence, sales people achieve higher margins and better profits. Marketing is not selling. Marketing happens before and after the sale. It is designed to support the acquisition of new customers and the retention of existing ones. With good marketing, the customer is aware of the offering and value proposition before the sales person walks in the door. A recent survey conducted as part of the InfoTrends Business Development Strategies Service revealed that graphic communications service providers are starting to dedicate resources to effectively communicate a marketing message. Of 182 graphic communications service providers surveyed, 54.9 percent had an identified marketing resource in place. Do you have one? Solutions Selling Requires Solutions Awareness Building awareness and preconditioning the market for the sales force through advertising has not been widely adopted or well executed in the graphic communications business. It is not always clear what capabilities a graphic communications firm wants to be known for. In the emerging solutions-oriented market, prospective purchasers need to understand your solution value proposition. Of 182 graphic communications service providers surveyed, 54.9 percent had an identified marketing resource in place. Do you have one? There are some graphic communications service providers, though, that are staking claim to market positions in key vertical and horizontal segments. They are reaching out to build awareness with end users to drive demand for their sales forces. This past week I received my copy of Publishing Executive, a magazine designed to provide vital information to the publishing and production professional. The content addresses technology, trends and issues of interest to buyers of custom publishing solutions, content management, digital asset management, printing and prepress. As I scanned the magazine I saw advertising by companies that were trying to reach the publishing executive responsible for magazine production. Banta positioned its message on the back cover of the magazine with the following advertisement. The advertisement from Banta emphasized its capabilities as a service organization. It focused on the unique problems related to the integration of print and electronic media and the requirement the publishing executive has to satisfy the needs of readers and advertisers. The ad was placed in a vertically oriented publication. It stayed away from the price discussions that generate a commodity view of print. It marketed service, support and consultative capabilities in a niche market where Banta clearly explained how it could address the prospect's unique problems. Aggressive graphic communications service providers are also reaching out to the marketing executive with a strong message about how print can deliver ROI. Several service providers are using Target Marketing Magazine as a mechanism to communicate the value they deliver. Target Marketing is the authoritative source direct marketers turn to for hands-on, how-to, nuts 'n bolts information about campaign management. The publication covers all direct response media, including direct mail, telemarketing, space advertising, the Web and direct response TV, and gives readers insight into such subjects as using databases and lists effectively, acquiring new customers, up selling and cross-selling existing customers and fulfillment strategies. Aggressive graphic communications service providers are also reaching out to the marketing executive with a strong message about how print can deliver ROI. Reaching to the CMO Graphic communications advertisers, large and small, are using this publication to communicate solutions-oriented messages that resonate with the CMO. The CMO's life is filled with internal and external challenges. It's a results-driven age and the pressures exerted by the CEO, boards, shareholders and consumers are high. As a key face to the customer, top marketers must deliver value to customers in addition to quantifiable, bottom line results. Quebecor is addressing the business problems of the CMO and establishing its ability to drive business performance with effective direct marketing in its advertising. This ad communicates that Quebecor is the partner that helps build better direct mail campaigns that correlate directly into growth and profitability for the CMO. Hookset, New Hampshire, based Polaris Direct specializes in high-volume direct mail processing for Fortune 500 companies and direct marketing agencies. Polaris wants to communicate to the CMO that it understands the critical nature of direct mail campaigns. Return on investment is essential. Response rates are key. This advertisement is designed to tell prospects that the partner they select plays an important role in determining their ability to connect with customers. Traditionally, because of a lack of attention to marketing strategy and a differentiated solutions-oriented value proposition, sales people have resorted to price competition in highly competitive graphic communications markets. If we have learned anything from the last few years, it is that you cannot survive on the level of margins that are generated from the sale of print alone. From a marketing strategy perspective, value oriented graphic communications service providers must begin to effectively market their capabilities as service organizations and stay away from commoditizing print and price competition. Value oriented providers must market their service, support, training and consulting capabilities, or they might as well close their doors. Pre-Conditioning the Market Successful value added graphic communications service providers develop and deliver marketing messages at two different levels. First, they establish an overall positioning for their business. Second, they develop a strong vertical or horizontal market message that supports the overall positioning for the business. Vertical and horizontal programs are focused programs that concentrate on communicating industry expertise to potential clients so that the value add will be "valued" by the client by the time the sales force makes a call. These programs acquire new prospects for the sales force and are also targeted at retaining the installed base. Value oriented graphic communications service providers must begin to effectively market their capabilities as service organizations and stay away from commoditizing print and price competition. From a corporate positioning perspective, Quebecor World tells clients it provides the best solutions for printing needs. The company also communicates that it understands the challenges clients face in a competitive and fluid business environment and that its global capacity and geographic reach help prospects and customers expand business into new markets and print closer to the end user. The messages in Target Marketingarticulate how these companies add value to solutions specifically designed for the CMO. Banta wants to be known for providing single source solutions for supply chain management and the capture, management and distribution of printed and digital information. In the Publishing Executivead, Banta created awareness about how these concepts could be uniquely deployed in the publication market. The Business of Solutions Selling Good solutions marketing initiatives typically result in the generation of new leads and prospects. Solutions' marketing is a process that requires creativity, consistency and discipline. If you begin the process of strengthening your marketing program tomorrow, results will not appear for six months to one year. But in the end, you stand to achieve top of mind awareness to support the efforts of your direct sales reps through your commitment to a marketing communications strategy and your comprehension of the power of repetition. The combination of strategically getting your message across through events, advertising and direct mail will move prospects from apathy to purchase readiness and accelerate solutions selling. Gaining market share is directly linked to gaining mind share. And gaining mind share requires an effective marketing program.