When I was a kid, I built a lot of model airplanes. From about 4th Grade to 6th Grade, I built everything from WWII fighters to Cold-War era jets. They knew me by name at the model store in the town where I grew up. These days I don’t build models, but I do build from them, because modeling is a very good way to maximize your sales efforts.

Modeling customers
The most obvious application for modeling is in the earliest stages of prospecting, and that relates directly to something I’ve written before: that your next good customer will probably look a lot like a current good customer. To put that another way, there’s something about each of your current customers that creates a need for the kind of printing you sell. There’s also something about them that creates an incentive to buy it from you. That may be as basic as the convenience of having you nearby. But it may be as complex as a specific need for a product or service that they think only you can provide. Either way, it’s important to analyze and understand why they buy from you. Once you understand that, you can go looking for other companies or organizations that share the same circumstance.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. It’s been pretty well established that associations make good customers for printing companies. On the surface, the reason for that is relatively straightforward – because they tend to buy a lot of printing! But why is that? If you think below the surface, you might realize that most of the printing they buy is connected with members – communicating with current members and trying to develop new ones. So the bottom line is that associations are good prospects because they’re all about members.

So who else has members? And probably wants more? How about health clubs and country clubs and motorcycle clubs and basketball leagues and even churches? Very few printers and printing salespeople seem to know exactly who they should be calling on or marketing to. The result of that is usually a broad-based “shotgun” effort that hopes to hit something/anything and just bring in some orders. I think it makes a lot more sense to target the best prospects, and I think that starts with a serious analysis of your current customer list. In other words, model your current customers and go looking for more who fit that model.

Modeling marketing programs
The next most obvious application for modeling is in doing more of what works in terms of marketing. That starts with your own marketing, and it requires an understanding of whether what you’re doing is working or not! I know a lot of printers who use direct mail to market their businesses. I know very few who can prove to me that it’s working. And of those, I know even fewer who know why it’s working.

Here’s a model you might find useful. One of my clients bought a digital T-shirt printer a couple of years ago, but he was never very happy with the volume it generated. My recommendation was to incorporate printed T-shirts into his overall marketing efforts. He has a really cool logo, so we printed up a quantity of T-shirts featuring that logo, and we offered them as a response incentive on his next direct mail program. “Tell us about your printing needs and we’ll give you a free ABC Printing T-shirt!”

The direct response rate on this mailing was approximately 4%, and the secondary response gained from follow-up phone calls raised that to almost 11%. Basically, he gave away 44 T-shirts in return for 44 appointments, and I think you’ll agree that this was a successful marketing program.

From a modeling perspective, here’s what he learned:
1. A value-added response incentive can increase the response rate.
2. Printed T-shirts have a high perceived value, even if the printing is an advertisement for the seller.
3. The follow-up phone calls had a significant impact on the overall success of the program, nearly tripling the response rate.

All this becomes a lot more important, by the way, if you’re trying to make the transition from printer to marketing services provider. Your marketing services customers will expect you to guide them toward strategies that will work, and the best way to do that will probably be to model them on strategies and programs that have been successful for your other customers.