A pie is a limited resource. There are a finite number of slices to go around.

If you’re walking around trying to push your products and services on potential customers, you’re asking them to give you a slice of their pie (their business). This is a hard sale because you’re dipping into a limited resource. Companies (people) protect their limited resources – saving it for themselves, prioritizing it carefully, and doling it out in crumb size pieces.

The whole business of fighting over the limited resource of the customer’s pie is nothing but a STRUGGLE.

I find a sense of liberation in the idea of bringing my own pie to the table. When you bring your own pie, guess what happens to the willingness of the customer to share a large slice with you? Its new pie, therefore there is no built up fortification (e.g. budgets), defenses (spending limits), or bureaucratic approval processes for sharing the pie – its right where you want to be.

When you bring a new pie, you’re benefits don’t end with the willingness to share, you’re given a seat at the table, while the vendors who are trying sneak pieces off the existing pie are like dogs under the table looking for scraps. Everyone wants to be a “partner” but you have to earn that distinction by bringing real value (pies) to the table.

I love business models that are built on the “bring your own pie” mantra. Companies that enter arrangements where the customer and the company share the new pie together (revenue share) or business process outsourcing (BPO) companies who share in the savings created by their efficiencies. Nothing creates a partnership more quickly than two organizations feeding from the same revenue/savings stream – you get automatic alignment to achieve shared results.

OK so it might be a silly analogy, it resonates with me because I’m convinced business doesn’t have to be so freaking hard. It’s hard to compete for the scraps, its miserable to be compared on price alone. It’s really about “giving” vs. “taking” – a vendor shows up and asks for pie, a partner shows up and makes the pie collection bigger.

How could printers bring pie to the table of their customers? I’ll give you a big clue, it’s not about printing (that’s your business), it’s about figuring out how you can bring real value to your customer’s business. That means you have to understand their business well enough to know what kind of pie to bring!

If you’re helping your customers communicate with their prospects/customers then you need to understand their business and their customers enough to increase the effectiveness of that communication. This isn’t a single event; it’s a long-term commitment to keep learning more about your customers business in order to figure out how you can continue to bring new value (pies) to the table – all the while carving out a large slice for you.

It’s so easy to focus on the downside; companies are cutting their marketing budget, companies are spending more online vs. on print, national players are commoditizing print, etc… This focus is ALL about competing for a single limited resource (the customer’s pie). The focus is also on conditions that are squarely out of your control.

Bringing a new pie puts you in the driver seat, if nothing else it improves your outlook and your sanity – who wants to be left to the whims of the market, customers, or competitors? When you are the driver of your business it creates a proactive approach to creating new value (bring new pies) vs. a reactive approach to battling it out for the limited value on the table.

In 2011 the choices are clear, unless you have a 100% automated factory that starts with 100% self service order entry (e-commerce), you can’t compete in the “existing pie print world.” Hence your direction has to be towards bringing new value to the table (pies) that are more likely to be shared based on value vs. price.

What kind of value could printers bring to their customers? The print industry focuses too much on the tools “the QR Code is going to revolutionize this or that…” please – it’s a tool and like a hammer put in the right hands it can create value, in the wrong hands it can cause a serious head injury. Value to the customers is about moving the needle at their company; you’re going to need a lot more than a QR Code to make that happen.

Some Ideas: (old, obvious, boring, not very technical or cool)

1.     Make it easier for your customers to work with you – review every single interaction a customer has with your company and figure out how to simplify it, streamline it, and most importantly make it easier on your customers.
(Saving your customers TIME is bringing new pies to the table)

2.     Save your customers money through job engineering, yes it might decrease revenues on that job but it builds trust and reminds the customer you’re the expert that can be relied upon.
Saving your customers MONEY is bringing new pies to the table)

3.     Solve/mitigate the complexities of using print as a communication method – the print manufacturing process has gotten easier, the design and content creation is still very hard. Look for ways to ease the access of your customers to high quality design and content. For example: Frecklebox.com or Tweak.com.
Providing your customers COMPELLING CONTENT is bringing new pies to the table)

4.     Challenge your business model – when people think “innovation” they assume technical or manufacturing processes. I think there is an opportunity for real innovation for the printer who is willing to deal outside the cost plus business model. Build a model that is truly a win-win for you and the customer, this means transparency (about costs and margins) and trust (about performance and metrics).

Are you proactively adding pies or sitting around hoping for crumbs?

My favorite part of thinking this way is that it FORCES you to proactively engage with your customers in order to find additional ways of providing value. Nothing but good can come out of that behavior!