Focus is a very powerful word, it is where you direct your attention, where you prioritize the most valuable asset a business leader has – their time. Where is your focus? Are you primarily production focused or sales focused? Our focus tends to drift where we feel the most comfortable, so if you’ve come up the ranks to leadership through sales; chances are your focus is on sales. If you’ve come up through the production side of the business; chances are your focus drifts to your comfort zone, where you feel confident – the production side of your business.

For most of the print industry’s history, a production focus produced thriving print businesses. Your business depended on you investing in new equipment that allowed you to custom manufacture print better, faster, and cheaper. You could adequately compete with an internal focus by constantly improving your business operations.

The ecosystem that print competes in today absolutely requires a sales focus. Today print is competing with powerful digital communication alternatives, an internal focus won’t cut it anymore. A sales vs. production focused print business is easy to detect, as the leader is the one who sets the tone for the whole organization. Your team is following your lead and your focus turns into the culture of the organization.

I’ve worked with three very sales focused print business leaders over the last couple years; each one of them showed me a unique way of going about building successful print businesses. Steve was the leader of a global photo products business that he managed to invent in a remote and small geographical market. He was relentless in pushing for new products, new processes, new technology, and new global production locations – all in the service of the customer. His team would publically describe him as a “crazy visionary.” The team openly complained and then quickly followed up the complaints with, but Steve is the reason we all have jobs and we keep growing.

Brian built a niche business uniquely serving a national market; he dominates the market without a sales force. His relentless focus is on how he can improve his customer’s business, including suggestions that have temporarily dropped his profits in order to bring innovative cost-saving ideas to this customers. Every investment he’s made is constantly weighed against, how does this help my customer? Brian’s team would publically describe him as a crazy visionary. They openly complain and then quickly follow up the complaints with, but Brian continues to grow the business year over year, increasing his market dominance and employing more people.

Al has built a global print business, even though he’s located in a tiny local market. He never says no, he understands that web-to-print is all about making the customer’s lives and businesses better. Al understands that his success requires him to think bigger than his local market and he extends that to think globally on behalf of his customers. Al’s team would describe him as a crazy visionary. His team is often under the gun because of the “whatever it takes” motto of the entire company, you might hear them complain but quickly follow those complaints up with, “we’re the only print business in this area thriving and that’s all because of Al’s leadership.”

What are the characteristics of sales-focused leader in the print business? There is a “make it work” mentality and a “never say no” standard operating procedure. This business culture isn’t for everyone; the only thing predictable about these environments is its tendency to always be changing. The market is moving, customers are moving, when your leader is externally focused they drive the change inside the organization at the rate or faster than the changes happening in the market. The reason the teams at these companies describe their leaders as a bit crazy is because they are the messenger that brings the external rate of change into the business. A sales focused leader prioritizes the needs of customers over the comfort zone of their team. This undoubtedly causes tension.

Adopting a sales focus is all about a business getting comfortable with being uncomfortable.

How does a production vs. a sales focus impact your print software investments? Let’s look at three areas where you might invest in print software and compare how this investment differs when viewed through the lens of production focus vs. sales focus.

1. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) Software

Production Focused

Many business leaders invest in a CRM as a tool to manage their sales people. You are sick of underperformance so you buy a CRM thinking if you can track their activities, maybe you can improve results.

Sales Focused

A CRM should help you make the sales experience better on your prospects (soon to be customers). Everything about your CRM should be about improving your sales experience for your target customers.

2. Web-to-Print Software

Production Focused

Many printers shop for web-to-print on features that are important to the printer (imposition, automation, internal reports, etc.). The questions I hear over and over are how this will make my life (in production) easier. Web-to-print isn’t about you; it’s for your customer’s convenience.

Sales Focused

Web-to-print is a bridge to new customers; software can allow you to win customers you can’t win with a manual order entry process. Stop thinking customers want to talk to you, send you e-mails, or leave you voice mails (very inefficient order entry processes for you and your customers). Nobody has time for that anymore. Customers want self-service order entry, easy re-order, access to all the data about what they’ve bought from you, proactive job status, and shipment tracking. Focus on your customer’s needs – give your customers what they want.

3. Print MIS Software

Production Focused

A production focused Print MIS implementation is all about the internal operations. How to make the system work for all areas of your business: estimating/CSRs, pre-press, production, finishing/bindery, shipping, and accounting. This is the foundation of Print MIS, but even here a sales focus can help you extend the value proposition of Print MIS to your customers.

Sales Focused

When you have a true trusted system of record in your Print MIS, you have a superior competitive advantage in the marketplace. You know where a job is at all times. You are alerted when jobs are running late. You can track your profitability on a job by job basis. You can measure your labor utilization and efficiency. You are a data-driven organization. You can get estimates out faster (which have a huge impact on your win ration – first in wins a large percentage of the time).

What if you’re production focused and you want to become more sales focused to compete in today’s print market? What do you do? Start thinking about your business in terms of what’s good for your current customers and your target prospects. Start tracking your time between production and sales, start increasing your time on sales and start empowering your people to take on production issues without you. Shift your focus from production to sales, the results will be a greater focus on understanding your customer’s business, finding ways to make them more successful. This is the mindset of a sales focused leader.