Do You Know What Your Customers Are Thinking?


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Learn what drives their purchase decisions



By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

Do you really know what your customers want? How about what they need?

Not so long ago you could probably make a few assumptions and get by okay, but the nature of print buyers and influencers have changed along with the technology of print. Nowadays some customers send over an RFQ and you can’t submit a quote until you satisfactorily answer a bunch of questions. I know shops that simply don’t respond to RFQs, claiming it kills a few hours for a job you may not get. Been there, done that, can’t say I blame them.

To a certain extent completing an RFQs comes down to setting print buyer’s expectations. But how do you know what today’s print buyers want?

Knowing the buyers and what customers want is just one part of the story unveiled in new research conducted for Canon U.S.A. by Napco Research that spanned 240 different people in “print buying” roles in a mix of different types and sizes of businesses. The reports are provided in several white papers and I’ll be digging further into all of them over the next few months. You can get a start today with the first paper by learning how to identify and meet the needs of customers.

This research, by the way, is good stuff. I was not involved in the study, but in a previous life spent 12 years doing market research. I learned there is nothing like having solid info when developing a strategy for success. Let’s begin with a few highlights from the first part of this research, “Identifying and Meeting he Needs of Today’s Customers.” You can download the white paper that includes the detailed research data here. There’s a lot more in the study than I cover in this summary and it really needs your attention and thinking. And this is only the foundation for that data that comes up in the next five installments of the study.

Print Buyers: More Savvy and Sophisticated
Having spent a few years of my career buying print, I can appreciate the dilemma in which many print providers find themselves today. Back when I bought print it was a matter of getting the best price for putting ink on the page, and for running personalized letters with black toner. Today though, print providers must understand when print is the best option and when, how, and where it can add value. There is opportunity to add value by enhancing customer experiences and build loyalty while growing sales. But you have to know about it, see it, and know how to seize it.

Moreover, you have to do this while delivering the quality, service and price customers expect, along with having whatever certifications they ask for (HIPPA, SOC2, G7, FSI, FSC, ISO, etc.), being able to educate them on a host of digital, print production and delivery options, being sustainable, and even having the “right” mix of equipment to satisfy their needs. It’s no small task and puts a lot more on your plate than selling print.

Print Buyers are also Blurry
When buying print was part of my job description I was project director for a large automotive customer satisfaction program. The client and I had each other on speed dial. The sales guys from the printer and the mail house still thought of me as the print buyer. I was possibly an outlier then, but according to Canon research today’s print buyers can be C-level executives, product marketing and brand managers, and more. All have different needs, business interests and ask different questions because their roles and perspectives differ widely. As a print provider you must understand the varying needs of different buyers and have strategies that can help them make decisions that will keep their business coming to your shop.

The research shows that nearly two thirds of purchasers or influencers of print buying have six or more years’ experience. Although this is a positive point, it does not mean they are aware of all the options available or the even those your company can provide. This presents an educational opportunity for your business in a highly competitive market. Showing that you understand print buyers’ demands and expectations supports your customers’ sales, marketing, and technology investments. For instance, enhancing your customers’ sales and marketing messages speaks to real audience needs and requirements. You and your sales team need to keep asking questions like:

  • What matters most to your clients, their customers and prospects?
  • Do customers prefer certain printing processes or brands of equipment to print their work?
  • Are there any certifications you expect print providers to have?
  • How do they prefer to balance print and digital media?
All of this can be learned and your vendors can help, but the more you know the better. The research shows that majority of print providers meet buyers expectations with respect to printing processes but many print buyers have opportunities to expand customer education in areas such as the latest digital printing solutions (think both inkjet and toner), improving color quality and consistency (think G7 expertise and certification), file preparation, substrate selection, print embellishment, and integration of print and electronic communications campaigns.

Become a Resource
Print buyers say online information resources and social media sites are primary resources for learning about printing trends and technologies. Given the importance of such knowledge, print providers should focus on keeping their online presence current via ongoing updates to websites, having a steady presence on social media, writing blogs, issuing press releases, and participating in articles in publications that customers read. At the same time, your sales reps should be able to “talk technical” with customers. By positioning your company as a knowledge source you add value to each customer relationship and are better positioned to be their first choice.

Two key resources for for both you and your customers are equipment vendors and paper suppliers. And they are more than willing to help. All you usually have to do is ask. More than a-third of print buyers responding to the survey said equipment suppliers are a key resource for learning about printing trends and technologies. Similarly, paper suppliers commonly offer educational materials and stage events for printers and end-customers to tell them about print technologies and showcase the value of their product lines.

Meanwhile, about a third of respondents report attending webinars and live print provider customer events. I’ve been to dozens of these over the years and always come away with new ideas and knowledge. According to the study, print buyers in companies with 400 or more employees share a penchant for webinars. This underscores the importance of hosting virtual and in-person customer events, either as standalone events or in partnership with equipment and paper suppliers; these were key options regardless of the company size.

What Matters
So what is really important to print buyers? As you might expect, the top drivers are quality/reliability and pricing, with nearly a third seeking creativity and innovation. This latter requirement may reflect changes in buyer/seller relationships and the need for communication options beyond print. I thought some middle of the pack answers were also telling, especially as digital technology increasingly compliments printing. Offering a complete set of services, strong technical capabilities and ability to provide design, mailing and data handling seem to be growing in importance. A common theme is that that buyers expect print providers to be more than order-takers. They look to them for advice on the most effective, efficient, and engaging ways to leverage print.

Coming Next
The next episode of this series will be “Identifying Print’s Role in the New Communication Mix.” Stay tuned for insights that will confirm some of what you expect and provide some ideas for how you can do more for your customers. Over the next few months you can look at this research while learning more about the way your customers think and how you can keep them happy and coming back.

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You can evaluate what your customers are thinking by reaching them out or seeing the latest changes in the industry. Because customer intent can take you to the main idea about the intentions and purchasing value in their product choosing.


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