If you are an owner of a print business, do a little exercise for me right now. Simply take out some paper and write down the top three things you are currently focusing on.




Now review that list and tell me, of those three things, which ones are internally focused (e.g. your print manufacturing process, your equipment, or your people)? How many items on that list are focused on your customer’s experience of doing business with you?

It takes a conscious effort to see beyond everything that is right in front of you, that finishing equipment that’s causing problems, that pre-press manager who is not performing, or that shipping software that isn’t integrated properly. There is a sense of urgency and a good dose of rational thinking that drives our behavior to keep drinking from the fire hose, work hard on solving what makes the most noise right in front of us.

Then there is the bigger picture, like a movie when the camera pulls away the focus and you see the environment you’re operating in. The troublesome finishing gear takes its rightful place as a tactical problem that someone on your team should be addressing, not you. The bigger picture isn’t actually about your business at all, the bigger picture is about your customers. I wish every print business owner could be provided a pair of glasses that allowed them to experience their business through the eyes of their customers. Your focus would change immediately, I’m sure of it.

Get your head out of your press.

Yes, for the last several decades, your head belonged in the press because being a successful printer was all about understanding the manufacturing process and investing in the latest press technology. Today, keeping your head (as the leader of the company) in the press will be your demise. The customer doesn’t care about the manufacturing process, they take that for granted, I know, I know it’s frustrating but it’s true. You still have to create a great printed product but you have to do a lot more on behalf of your customer to remain relevant in the digital world.

The customer cares about their business, not yours. The customer cares about their job. The customer cares about what their boss thinks of them. The customer cares about the results they are being held accountable to. The customers care about themselves. Your product/service is part of a much larger context in which the customer operates.

If you want to create loyal long-term relationships with your customers, you need to step out of your internal perspective and step into the broader context of your customer’s business. What does this mean? When you print a job for a customer do you know what business results they are trying to achieve with the printed piece? I’m not talking about a generic goal like, ‘grow their business’, I’m talking about specifics like, we are doing this direct mail campaign with the goal of generating $3.5 million in new business with a 2.5% conversion rate. Have you ever asked that question?

We are obsessed with getting the exact print specifications about every print job, yet most of us fail to ask the most crucially important aspect of the job from your customer’s perspective “what are you trying to achieve?” When we operate in this manner, we are vendors who are forced to compete for every job – a transactional relationship with no loyalty. This path is difficult, produces razor thin margins and lots of stress because the only thing predictable about your business is it could change drastically any minute in the wrong direction.

Your focus has to move from your business to your customer’s business. If the last forty years was about your print manufacturing business, the future is about the impact you can have on your customer’s business. If you want to impact your customer’s business, you cannot continue to be a vendor who is primarily focused on your business. You have to get your head out of your press. You have to get out of your plant; you have to understand the broader context that your products and services are playing in at your customers.

If I asked you to make the list again and only include externally facing priorities, the kinds of things that would engage you deeper into your customer’s business or make your customer’s experience of working with you easier? Here are some examples:

1. Launching a self-service portal for my customers to easily re-order from me, so I can save my customers time.

2. Adding a step in our sales process that asks the question, “what is the customer’s desired business result with this job/project?” So I can understand my customer’s business and then potentially recommend how we can better help them achieve those goals.

3. Proactively e-mailing my customers shipping status with embedded tracking numbers, so I can save my customers time.

What might happen if you started moving your focus off the production floor and towards your customer’s perspective? How might your day proceed differently? Customers don’t want vendors; customers want partners who can help them achieve their business results. It’s not about you. It’s not about your equipment. It’s not even particularly about your people. It’s about what you, your equipment, and your people can do to make your customer successful.

Statements that drive me crazy:

What I hear printers say… “My customer isn’t asking to order online.”

How my brain translates…. “You are not interested in saving your customers time or making it easier for your customer’s to do business with you.”

What I hear printers say… “I don’t want to show my customer how much they spend with me or make it easy for them to get data about their spending with me.”

How my brain translates…”You actually believe the customer isn’t keeping track and if they were, they might stop spending that much with you. If they aren’t keeping track, because it’s too hard, they eventually will, probably with a vendor that makes it very easy to see their full order history, run customer facing reports – someone who is focused on their success.” You aren’t interested in helping your customers manage their budgets.

What I hear printers say… “I don’t get any business online, so why should I invest time and effort on my website?”

How my brain translates… “I don’t believe anyone is looking for me online, I’m going to keep conducting business as if I don’t see that every single person I interact with when I get out of my plant is staring at an online device almost all day every day. “

It’s not about you. It’s about your customer. They are online, they are busy (would love to save time), they are under pressure to reduce budgets (would love to save money), and they are under pressure to innovate in their business (find solutions). Loyal long-term relationships that produce predictable revenue are based on your focus moving off your production floor and onto saving your customers time/money and helping them innovate in their business.