Sales Solve Most Problems

Tactics to Strengthen Business in 2019

Johannes Gutenberg may have invented the printing press in the 1450s and Alois Senefelder invented lithography in 1796,  but it’s a sure bet they had no idea how the printing industry would change so dynamically into what is now, the most competitive ‘global’ marketplace the world has ever seen – wherein our customers minds, products, services and solutions, are more the same than they are different. There is also plenty of evidence that even printing experts as recently as the 1980s and 90s could not have predicted what psychologists call the ‘Systems-of-Influence’ that have come to bear on the industry.

Systems-of-Influence present in ways like the impact of electronic media and other technological changes [digital substitution].  E-book formats from Barnes and Noble and Kindle from Amazon, have become increasingly popular replacements for printed books, especially for Millennials. Traditional revenue sources for the print industry are also being challenged by digital E-zines and blogs for tablet-computers and smartphones.

If that wasn’t enough, environmentalists are quick to point out that more than 40% of trees harvested by timber companies are used to make paper. Moreover, they continue to lobby governments to reduce/eliminate most printing inks being used today because they have petroleum-based ingredients, containing high concentrations of VOCs, [volatile organic compounds] – known carcinogens. They rail against the contemporary paper treatment process that uses bleaching agents expressly designed to give a whiter, brighter colour to standard printer paper. Add to that, printers today must follow stringent government regulations that dictate the limited ways in which they can dispose of waste products.

On the surface, it looks like the printing industry can’t catch a break!

Before anyone starts crying Argentina, as bad as it is for the printing industry, they are not alone. They are in good company with the office equipment industry who, over the last two decades, have been battling many of the same technological changes faced by the printing industry. I personally sold on the frontlines in the 1980s & 90s for two of the biggest office equipment manufacturers. I witnessed firsthand what unfortunately for me and others, became a fact of life … Technology has leveled the playing field!  The delta between what a printer can do and what can now be done in-house or individually, has demonstrably narrowed!

It used to make me a little angry – and maybe a little scared – but today I smile when I look at the multifunctional, plain paper, colour printer [MFP] beside my desk and marvel at what it can do for a couple hundred dollars. I am still awed by the fact that a machine back in the mid-1990s, that can do what it does would have cost in excess of $150,000. Suffice to say, I am no longer in that business, for good reason. That segment of the industry doesn’t exist anymore. As international speaker and business guru Peter de Jager would say, “That industry marketing model reached its vapour point!” Just like the ice-man in the early 1950s when GE invented the first affordable home refrigerator. The marketing segment didn’t go away. Its fundamental marketing model transformed.

So where did the low-end printing business go? You’ll find it on shelves in any Staples store or online at Amazon. In less than 48 hours, I can have a state-of-the-art, multifunctional printer in my office… and with my computer, I’m instantly in the printing business! Sadly, that’s one of the biggest problems printing companies are faced with today. There’s no mystery to the fact that ‘sales’ solve most problems. So, what can be done to drive new sales?

Q: Is the Way you’re selling… the Reason you’re not selling?

At the risk of sounding glib, if you’re happy with your current sales, then keep doing what you’re doing. Norman Vincent Peale once posited that to change your current situation/outcome you must change what you’re currently doing. You can start by asking yourself a number of questions, like: What is your company’s unique value-add compared to the competition? What areas of the business are you not good at? Why? What are customers saying is the reason they come back to you? What is the reason/s customers leave you? What is the one product or service you are best at? Why are you best at that? How, When, Where, etc. does this make a positive impact on your bottom line and for whom? I could go on, but it is important to any business plan to look introspectively and honestly to find the answers you seek. As motivational sales expert Zig Ziglar used to say, “Questions… are the Answer!”

What you don’t ever want to do is to compete on price! I have long maintained: “Discount selling is the first and final refuge of the unskilled seller and the company that’s going out of business.” Unfortunately, too many small to mid-sized companies fall into this trap and pay the ultimate price – bankruptcy. Embolden yourself with the notion that people ‘will’ pay more for something they value. Your job is to find out what each of your customers value most. Is it speed, quality, reliability, flexibility, creativity? Once you have established their express needs and expectations, you can build on that in your discussions with them, with your marketing material and your professional ‘sales-pitch’. It is understood in the selling business that customers often need us to remind them of what they want and desire and how it is our unique products and services that meet their needs.

Have you tried offering ‘customer incentives’? Incentives can come in many forms: volume discounts, referrals, loyalty rewards, advanced creative/design services – the possibilities are endless. Incentives need not be the same across the board. In an article I wrote entitled, “The Incentive Dilemma” that appeared in a past issue of this magazine, I said, “Any incentive campaign designed to fit everyone, in the end, fits no one.” Go back to the last paragraph where I advocate the importance of finding out what each customer’s express needs and expectations are and build a marketing strategy that addresses it/them. Incentive programmes follow a similar stratagem. Simply, what motivates one customer may not be a motivating factor for another. Whatever your incentive is, it should be of value to ‘that’ customer or it’s valueless.

The KISS Theory:

Most customers by nature are like electricity. They tend to take the path of least resistance, especially if there is a timeline to be met. That’s not to say they are lazy or untoward. In fact, just the opposite. Good customers look to simplicity to make things happen.  

Often, incentive programmes fail miserably because of innate complexities either in their accounting or in how rewards are won. If you put the customer in a position where they are forced to assess, “To get this, I first must buy this, plus these, and not these, and they must include these,” you are creating a recipe for confusion, frustration and failure. In the end, the incentive programme becomes a disincentive.  

The remedy? Printers must keep the programme sweet, simple and attainable. There can be no ambiguity. Anything less will result in a lack of interest, as well as a waste of time and money that can sometimes spill over into your employees whose task it is to administer and account. They can lose interest too.  


Edison may have invented the light bulb, but it never went anywhere until someone understood and conveyed its benefits and made the first sale… and probably sold a lamp to go with it!  

Incentive programmes don’t just sell themselves. Too often, expensive motivational programmes are overlooked in practice because employees either don’t understand their value and/or are unsure how to promote them. Many times, good campaigns are written off as having missed the target, when, they just weren’t rolled out and managed properly or to the right customer.  

Printers must take great care when designing motivational incentive programmes. Take a page out of the ‘Sales 101’ book that says, “Find out what they want, then give it to them!” But make sure to keep it simple, keep it clear, promote it properly, reward immediately and do not try to target everybody.


Do you belong to a chamber of commerce, board of trade [BOT] or any networking group? Outside of the fact that there is always networking possibilities in attending membership meetings and making contacts, have you thought about taking your networking strategy to a new level? For example, I belong to a BOT that gives me the privilege of attending any BOT or chamber meeting taking place in York Region. Each month our chapter meets in a corporate location hosted by one of our members. We have met in small insurance companies, real estate branches, credit unions, and yes, printing shops. In fact, this month’s meeting is hosted by a print shop member. It is free to get company owner/members to meet at your establishment. It creates an opportunity for you to showcase your products, services and your unique value-add. It gives you an opportunity to enlighten them on changes to the printing industry and highlight the fact you are on the leading edge of said changes. And, it gives you an incredible opportunity to roll out your newest incentive programme for ‘corporate members’ in a captive business setting. Is that worth a case of soda, a couple bottles of wine and a few cookies?

Know Who You Are:

As already stated, the printing industry is more competitive today than at any time in the past. With aggressive systems-of-influence at every turn, too many printers are lured into the seductive need to be all things to all people. Sage advice from Confucius posits that, “Man who chases two rabbits, catches none!”  Too often, printers feel the need to have all the newest in technology, which comes with a big price/investment. I’m not suggesting you shouldn’t remain current in contemporary technology. I am, however, promoting the logic that any financial investment must meet the strategic needs of your corporate ‘unique value-add’ and, the established needs of your larger loyal clientele. I am also not suggesting your products and services be limited in any way. It’s no secret that many smaller print shops are agents for higher-end or specialized enterprise printing solutions, already equipped with high-end systems. Logic again suggests part of the profit is always better than no profit – especially if someone else is doing the work. Knowing who you are and being equipped to do what you do best, sets you up for more profitable sales. Having an established relationship with specialized printers or design-houses allows you to offer a wider array of printing solutions, without financial investment and in which you remain in control of your customers’ relationship.

Customer Relationship:

One of the most under-rated and cost-effective tools available to printers that drives sales, is the relationship you have with your customers. Put more simply, it’s the ‘human factor’. Ask yourself, what business are you in? What are you selling? Is it paper and ink or, ease-of-mind through superior products and solutions? It’s not uncommon for business owners and employees to concentrate too much on what business expert Michael Gerber referred to in his Best-Selling book, “The E-Myth Revisited”- the ‘mechanics’ of the business operation. To only concentrate efforts on the operations of the business is to compromise the importance of good customer relationships – the lifeblood of your corporate success.

It’s important to remember that the printing business is still a tactile industry. The products themselves are naturally tactile but what I’m talking about is the tactile nature of the buyer/seller relationship. Simply put, that act of ‘glad-handing’ [Definition: “… greet or welcome warmly or with the appearance of warmth”]. To keep the customers you have and to get more, you must bring emotion to your marketing: the human factor. Understand that in this most competitive, changing industry, what hasn’t changed, is the human medium. Galvanize yourself to the fact that the quality of the relationship you have with your customers is something that you can still control, and ‘it’ becomes the dominating factor in your unique value-add stratagem that sets you apart from your competition. It engenders deep loyalty and drives greater sales – and it’s FREE!

Think about this: have you ever walked away from a company because you were unhappy with the way you were treated? My bet is yes. In the last 30 years, I have lived in different parts of greater Toronto, London, Ontario, Etobicoke, downtown Toronto, et al, and I still go to the same doctor, hair stylist and dentist. Why? Because they know me, treat me with kind respect – the human factor, to which I have alluded. They have earned my loyalty… and I freely give it … in some cases, despite the added inconvenience or added travel for me.

In a previous article I wrote for Graphic Arts Magazine, I pointed out that I drive past many printing providers, both large and small, to give my business to a print shop that has also earned my loyalty. They are not the cheapest, the largest or the fastest. They don’t have all the latest and greatest equipment. But they do have something the others don’t – an enjoyable, predictable, respectful, human-relationship, with me. They smile when I walk in. They greet me with my name: Hello, Mr. Shearstone! They ask me about my life, family, my company. I can’t emphasize enough, as a psychotherapist, I understand the importance and power ‘relationship’ has and its impact on customer loyalty and increased sales. Studies have empirically proven, the two sweetest words in any language are your first and last name. Remember the line from the sitcom Cheers: “[…] it’s nice to go where everybody knows your name”. My advice? Learn your customers’ names and use them. It makes them feel important and valued. It’s FREE and, it drives the sales that solve most problems!

There is another element to the quality of your printer/customer tactile relationship – education and authority. Appreciate that any customer that walks through your door looks to you for solutions to their needs. Seeing yourself as just a printing/service provider is to sell yourself short. You are an expert in your field, and you should look for opportunities to demonstrate that fact for the benefit of your customers. One way is to do for them, something that everybody wants – to save them money. How can you do that? By educating your customers on the facts and ways to save.

Looking at my own personal experience in the mid 1990s when affordable plain paper office printers were taking hold, I would hear many customers say, “We don’t need a bigger copier because we are getting new printers… so our monthly copier volume is going to go down.” Did that ever happen? Nope! Why? Because printers – at 7 cents per copy at the time – only made more originals to be copied at the copier at an average rate of an additional 2.5 cents per copy.

But there was another factor upon which you can capitalize, that went unnoticed at the time and is still a factor in today’s market. Average toner costs per copy were based on a 9-percent total coverage. To put that into perspective, the equivalent of 4 x 4-line paragraphs done on an IBM Selectric typewriter. That’s it! With new computer software programmes and before the introduction of colour, new originals c/w thick banners, corporate logos and pictures suddenly averaged 20-30 and even 50% toner coverage, which were then taken to the copier to be reproduced en masse.

My point here is that for nearly two decades, I rose to the top of my Fortune 500 Company by sitting down and educating my customers on the facts and costs, about which they were unaware. My competitors were not doing that and to this day, little has changed. Using this human, tactile strategy, I garnered the following:

  • Better customer relations and loyalty
  • More sales
  • Larger and more profitable sales

By establishing myself as an industry expert, by educating and recommending better, more efficient and cost-saving solutions, price was rarely an issue because profit from each deal came from savings – with savings to spare for the customer. I’d be willing to bet that if you surveyed your customers’ perception of why they often don’t bring printing projects to you is because they are under the misunderstanding that they can do it in-house more inexpensively. I can bet that company owners in particular, would be keenly interested in knowing the average cost-per-copy investment they are already paying and the average yearly savings you can provide if they bring/send the work to you. I can guarantee it!

The Bottom Line:

The printing industry has gone through many changes and will continue to evolve in ways that experts still haven’t imagined. While it’s no mystery that sales solve most problems… you must do everything it takes to get them! Don’t try to be all things to all people. Specialize in market segments that drive more sales by showcasing you as unique. Don’t talk about the service but rather the benefits. Create strategic incentive programmes designed to meet the express needs of each customer. Reintroduce the human tactility in every interaction with current and potential customers. Recognize the power you possess as an industry expert and demonstrate it in education, benefits and savings for your customers. Never forget the business you already have is yours to lose. Often, a simple smile, kind word or recognition, is all it takes to keep it… with new sales that solve most problems.

Paul Shearstone MACP, NLP/CCP, is a recognized expert in Sales and Persuasion. He is an International Speaker, twice Certified Life & Business Coaching Practitioner, Psychotherapeutic Counsellor, NLP Therapist and Author of several books including, “Up Your Income! Solution Selling for Profitability” and Amazon #1 Best Seller: “3X Sales Success! How to move your sales team to the Top 1%”.

To comment on this article or book Paul for your next successful event: 289-234-3544 / 833-285-3544