Helping you help your customers

For the past several months we’ve been examining actual case histories of exceptional printers, companies and organizations going the extra mile to help their clients – and as a result, helped themselves. Many share some of the following characteristics:

  • They met with and assessed objectively the strengths and weaknesses of their core customers’ businesses – then found ways to partner moving forward.
  • They focused on the three key areas of strategic business planning – corporate, financial and marketing.
  • They reviewed their client list regularly, took the time to learn about their clients’ goals and objectives, and suggested bold new ways boost their bottom line.
  • They made sure their customers had a plan for the future and asked what they plan on going after tomorrow, one year and three years from now.

The last time I went to drupa was in 2008. Fourteen days at the world’s largest printing tradeshow is a lot of time on your feet. I needed a way to organize myself more efficiently, so I developed a simple framework of “Focus Areas.” I believe they’re worth sharing with you once again. They can be used as a filter to look at your customers’ business needs and goals – as well as to organize yourself more productively in your own business.

1. Strategy

This is all about where you are and where you want to go. It’s a reminder to take an objective step back and work ON your business – even though most of us typically spend each day working IN the business. Ask yourself: does the current direction align with where you want to be and with current customer and new customer needs? If so, how’s it going and where are the roadblocks? If not, why? What will it take to move in that direction?

2. Product/Service Offering

As an organization you DO something. This represents the products/services you offer to keep the customers you have and obtain new ones. What one product/service do you sell the most of? Does it lead to more profitable business? What is the least profitable and the most profitable product/service you offer? What are you doing to align your marketing to sell more of your most profitable products/services? If you could add any product or service not currently offered what would it be? Why? How does it align with current customer/new customer needs? What else does your customer need (and not know they need) that you could be offering?

3. Marketing

This represents the processes by which you identify what people want and let them know you have it. Do you actively identify and continue to find out what customers and prospects want? Do you follow a process as you do it? Is it measurable and repeatable? If you do, do you take the time to review and improve it? How do people who don’t know you or your shop hear about you? What are the perceptions of what you do for your customers? Have you considered using a marketing approach to review and help your customers with their businesses?

4. Sales

This is creating business transactions that give people/organizations what they want or didn’t know they could have. Do you have a sales process that is measurable and repeatable? Do you take the time to review and improve it? What is the most successful way you/your organization interacts with a customer for the first time? What ‘channel’ do you use (direct-mail, web-based, face-to-face, phone, etc.) and what do you say? How does this change as someone becomes a prospect and then a customer?

5. Workflow

This represents the people, processes and technology working together to enable profitable outcomes. This is how you create, develop, build and improve what it is that you DO for your customers. Do you have a process to identify the bottlenecks in your existing workflow? Why/why not? If you do, what do you do about it once you find them? What holds you back from doing more in less time at less cost? What could you spend (time and/or money) to be more efficient in the work you do? How can you use this thinking to help your customers? What would it take to make THEIR workflows better?

6. Finance

Represents the cost of doing business, the tracking of time, money and resources to make it happen as well as the ability to report on the profit/loss of the organization. How do you track the costs of operation, set pricing and budgets for each area of the business? Is there a documented process that’s measurable and repeatable? What, if any, investment is made in the development of future success?

Think of each as a framework for looking into your business and that of your core customers. Do all your employees think about all six of these even though they may only work in one of them? Share these and the initial findings of your research of their organization with your clients – it can change the way they perceive you and your organization.

The ideas here are just a reminder of where we can look to build a more profitable business. It’s in the tactics of acting on them that makes a business more successful. I know many of you benefitted from attending last year’s Printing Survivor event. Rest assured, I intend to continue to help you on your path to success and I look forward to seeing you September 20 in Toronto.