Do Vendors Know Anything?


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Do Vendors Know Anything?
Get smarter by asking questions

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Long story short, the CEO of a company I know (not a client) related how a customer was costing him serious dollars. He ran the problem past one of his vendors who suggested a solution that required playing hardball with the customer, and not being intimidated. So he and his customer had a meeting. He presented the process and financial sides of the problem from his side of the table, letting the customer know this was a make-or-break moment. The coffee got cold. The customer, who was expecting to play his own version of hardball, was rocked back on his heels. This was not what he expected. He caved.

The CEO is part of an association of privately owned transactional and direct mail service bureaus in the U.S. Among them, they crank out something like ten billion mail pieces a year. All have full-color toner and inkjet presses and massage a lot of data. They’ve been at it a while and are some of the smartest print providers I know, at least in terms of print and mail. Still, things come up that leave them flat-footed, which is one of the reasons the groups’ member talk with each other regularly and meet as a group a couple times a year. Sharing info, ideas and best practices is part of the ethos of their association. The best and brightest encourage openness with vendors supplying their equipment and software.

Such candor has tangible value. The twenty-odd big-name vendors supporting this group have seen just about every problem, configuration, or challenge imaginable and found ways of resolving the weak spots. Hearing members’ experience with equipment and software suppliers over the years tells me it may be in your best interest to seek vendors’ input about issues for which you may not have a good answer. As my CEO friend found, their knowledge is not limited to the technology on your shop floor.

So here’s the thing
Vendors, while you pay them for technology and support, want to see you succeed. This is in their best interest because they really don’t want to pull a couple of presses out of your shop. They know word of dissatisfaction gets around and can put a damper on pending and future sales in your area. So tap their knowledge. Knowing what shops like yours deal with on a daily basis, they can often help you work smarter and more efficiently. They know approaches to equipment, software, business, sales and marketing you may not have considered. They assume you will remember who helped in an awkward situation, especially when it’s time to upgrade their technology.

So always ask for advice. Chances are one or more suppliers have an answer you can use or modify, even if it wanders a bit outside your comfort zone. Your entry point is probably the sales rep but s/he’ll likely kick it up to a manager or VP with more experience. When an answer comes back, often in a call or meeting with the person whose desk your problem landed on, you’ll be hit with more questions before any suggestions are provided. This way you are more likely to hear a feasible solution or two.

The vendor-provided answer may not be practical in your estimation. That’s OK. Now that you have one answer, keep it under advisement and get input from a businessperson whom you trust and respect, your accountant, and another vendor. Also, most print shops these days have print engines from multiple vendors, so get input on the same issue from more than one. The best solution may be a combination of the input from two or more firms. Garnering multiple answers is a good approach, because as I was told in business school and seen over and again in the real world, there is no ideal answer to any problem. Even if you don’t get a great solution, you may be smarter than you were before.


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