Pulling the Trigger on Print


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Pulling the Trigger on Print
Print in the eye of the buyer, Episode 5

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

I was lucky. Back in the day when I bought a lot of print I called the shots on a big project while getting superb advice from a great designer who kept me out of trouble. A few years later I was associate creative director at a small mar-comm agency where the print buyer did all the heavy lifting. She was top notch, ran stuff by me and the creative director, and we had outside art directors who did outstanding work. But those were unusual situations—decidedly not normal.

Print buyers today often have to wade through numerous policies and procedures while adhering to structured buying processes. It’s hardly fun and quality can suffer. For print providers, though, knowing the rules a company uses to commoditize print buying can help make sure you get a job so your competitor has to find another way to fill press time.

This is among the key findings in the fifth and final report “Navigating Customer Purchasing/Procurement Processes”, done in 2020 for Canon U.S.A. by NAPCO Research. As with the previous four reports, I was not involved with the research, but perused the data anyway, thinking back to when I was able to choose printers without some penny-pinching bean counter looking over my shoulder, trying to convince me matching a client’s brand color was irrelevant and if we could save three cents a piece on a run of 18,000 direct mail pieces.

Experienced & Interested
The 240 print buyers and influencers responding to this study are all print pros. About two-thirds have been buying, specifying or influencing print buys for half a dozen years or longer and most possess a deep interest in the technologies of print. Not only do they know print, they know how to navigate the nuances of print buying in their respective companies. Respondents also spanned several job titles: executives, brand owners, marketers, designers, and procurement staff. For simplicity, the report from Canon U.S. A. refers to them all as “print buyers.”

Not centralized
The range of job titles suggests that a print buying is not a centralized activity like buying office furniture. About half of respondents say print buying is often handled at the department level based on a department’s unique needs. This indicates that print purchasing for marketing materials may be handled differently than, say, printing for engineering or human resources. It also tells print providers that it is important to find out who makes the various print buying decisions in a customer’s departments. Remember too that in-plant print centers can be key influencers, so identifying whether a customer or prospect operates an in-plant is the first step toward becoming an outside print resource for the in-plant operation.

Some companies delegate print buying to a “procurement” department. These may or may not use cost as the deciding factor and it’s important to recognize that such groups may lack the experience needed to make sound print-related decisions. This can pose internal difficulties for print buyers, so it can be wise to identify the “real” customer so the person you work with can help influence the person making the decision. A generic buyer, for example, may not place much value on the accuracy of brand colors and look primarily at price, so the person who works with the end customer has to educate the all-purpose buyer about the importance of color accuracy.

The study showed that you may also encounter some “rules of engagement” when working with a procurement department. These may or may not have much to do with the work to be done, so try to learn in advance what the procurement department is looking for so you can put forth your best effort when responding to an incoming request or order. The full report provides more detail about who buys what and how purchasing responsibilities may be divided.

As noted in a previous report, print quality, better service, ability to meet tight turnaround times, and cost are primary criteria when selecting print providers. Be sure to ask what is important to any buyers you don’t know well and talk about the advantages your operation brings to the table when talking with print buyers. For instance, you may offer specialized skills that can influence the decision.

Another factor is having an online presence. Once an option, this now essential capability makes it easier for buyers who use the internet to research potential providers—often before picking up the phone. Over a third of print buyers cite “internet search” as a key way of identifying print providers and nearly as many say internet searches help them find print providers. Almost as many look to online advertising. Online or in person, print providers that clearly communicate how they can meet a potential client’s needs will be well positioned for gaining—and retaining—new business. This can range from a simplified job submission to G7® color management to handling complex finishing requirements.

The RFP Conundrum
There are companies that still rely on sending out an RFP—Request for Proposal— to contenders for any acquisition of goods or services. Some print providers refuse to respond to Requests for Proposal, considering them to be the first steps in a race to the lowest price. Others eagerly complete nearly every one that comes in. RFPs can be exactingly detailed, so whether or not to respond is your call, but some RFPs can open the door to revenue that might otherwise be missed and turn into lasting relationships. When responding always be sure to show the value your organization offers, especially if you can bring a unique capability that adds value to a job. For instance, if your shop can offer database management and mailing services and you can describe how this would be beneficial to the work in question, you may be viewed more favorably than a company that doesn’t offer, or fails to mention, this capability.

Getting to Yes
Understanding a prospect’s purchasing processes and criteria is a critical part of gaining new business. Identifying who makes print buying decisions, how an organization selects vendors, and what factors matter most to buyers and internal stakeholders are increasingly parts of winning jobs.

Of course, connecting with print buyers is part of the game plan. The landscape of print purchasing is changing, so print providers need use both online and in-person techniques, to make and maintain connections with prospects. Online, Zoom, telephone, and in person connections are all important and you should leverage each one you use.

Understanding a prospect’s needs is vital. Yet at the same time, for instance, some color may be critical, while other color may not be. Price nearly always matters, but knowing how a company thinks can help you, as a print provider, deliver what a customer needs and still keep to their budget. Many have a range of acceptability, and if you are in that range you can deliver, conform to their demands, and help ensure long term business. You get there by partnering with print buyers, maybe making the bean counters happier—while driving more business to your presses.


The Push To Be a More Versatile Printer
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As the printing industry continues to evolve, printers face the challenge of becoming more agile and responsive to meet fast-paced changes in technology and the increasingly varied demands.
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