By John Giles With the right approach, a printing company can use the Internet to make themselves different from the printer down the street. May 10, 2004 -- Successful printers get out and sell. Successful companies usually have sales people who develop new demand for their existing capacity. These sales people aren't outside customer service representatives who just maintain their sales by managing existing customers buying the same printing over and over. They look for new customers or for new business from old customers. As soon as they find the new work, they turn it over to a customer service representative and go out and look for more. The Internet and web sites are helping sales people get more work out of existing customers and making it easier for new customers to buy printing. With the right approach, a printing company can use the Internet to make themselves different from the printer down the street. One technique is using portals to create a document library of jobs ordered on a regular basis by customers. The whole point is to streamline the ordering process for both the customer and the printer. A portal is a special password protected area within the printer's web site for the customer. At the portal, the printer posts PDF or images of all the repeating printing orders purchased by the customer. The printer can include the normal order quantities and the existing inventory of preprinted items. The customer selects what he needs, with the quantity and deliver instructions. The order request is sent to a customer's purchasing agent who gives permission to the printer to complete the order. It is a very simple system that has been available on packaged web solutions such as PrintersPresence.com. It can be combined with a business-ordering package that allows a customer to do his own typesetting in predetermined fields for such products as business cards and letterhead. The whole point is to streamline the ordering process for both the customer and the printer. Curiously, a number of printers have the ability to provide portals, but few are selling them. This gives printers with a real sales staff an advantage. A printer in the southeast (who wanted to remain nameless so not to give his competition any information) has built an entire marketing program around his portal system. It is making him look different from his competition. What the printer did was formalized his portal presentation. His sales staff uses the portal presentation as a tool to get new business from current customers and attract new customers. The company developed a “professional” presentation using Powerpoint and a projector to describe to customers how to use the portals and the benefits to the customer. His sales staff makes a formal presentation to the buyer and their bosses. By including more decision makers in the process, he is able to get a faster decision on using the program. Because it is a “formal” presentation, he finds it easier to get the decision makers to the meeting. “We took something very simple and made it special. It now plays a major role in building sales for our business.” What has he learned after doing more than 30 formal presentations to current customers and prospects? He found that most of the customers were familiar with portal-like ordering systems. Many of his customers were already using a portal-type of system to order products and services from other types of vendors. He said his local company quickly looked much bigger in the customer's eyes since the other vendors offering portal-like ordering were national firms. He also found that he was the first printer to offer the service, even though several of his competitors had the same capabilities. “We showed the decision makers what we were doing to make print buying easier for them,” said the printer. “They are very impressed by the whole concept and see us as a partner rather than just another provider.” If a customer is interested in using the portals, he has to commit to a long-term contract. “We're selling the entire account, not just individual printing jobs,” remarked the printer. “We took something very simple and made it special. It now plays a major role in building sales for our business.” Something simple can generate sales. Sometimes printers are too close to their products. They don't realize that “simple” things they see every day could cause a customer to say “wow” if we just showed them. Everyone is looking for ways to be different and printing companies need not assume that everyone runs their business like they do. Web sites, portals, file transfer programs, automatic PDF creation solutions and online proofing are common technological features available to printers. Many already have them but few are telling their customer about them. Look at your market and see if your simple solutions can be a major account program.