Heck, yes. Absolutely. Without-a-doubt.
Have I been brainwashed? Maybe-a-little bit. Ok, maybe a lot. Living in the Bay Area I’m super close to the mecca of tech start-ups, massive amounts of money and brilliant 15 year-old entrepreneurs.
When I started in the print industry, it never occurred to me to sell paper products. I never learned to spec-a-form or identify paper stocks. That wasn’t how my brain worked. I wanted to build systems that ran no matter where I was or what I was doing. I wanted to sell systems that solved major problems.
And sell systems is just what I did (and still do). I studied my competitors to learn where their technology was lacking. I interviewed buyers in a variety of industries looking for prospective clients. I worked with my team to make modifications to our 3rd party portal system so it was better than our competitors (thinking outside the box is an understatement for some of things we did).
Once our print portal system was ready, I immediately targeted companies with a print budget of at least $500,000 that had complex buying needs, multiple locations and lots of end users that needed to order print materials.
The first client I signed was a $1MM account. This client was a west coast restaurant chain with 200+ locations. They were having a problem with franchisees ordering materials that were not relevant for their stores. For instance, a southern California store would order a coupon that was only valid in the northern California market. Angry customers was the result. I showed the restaurant’s marketing and operations teams how our print portal could limit user access to categories and items. We would build a unique profile for each franchisee so he/she would only see the items that pertained to his/her market.
I attribute our system to saving this restaurant over $250,000 in wasted materials and food/gift cards that did not need to be given away to upset customers.
My second client signed a $500,000 account. They were a California- based restaurant chain with 30 locations. Their restaurants were large and had a merchandise component. Their franchise and corporate store managers were spending up to 20 hours-a-month per location placing orders from different vendors. Placing orders from 15 different vendors in a week was not uncommon. Think about all the time involved – calling, emailing an order, creating a PO, following up, processing the invoice, paying the invoices; all of this equates to lost time. I designed an online portal solution that would provide all types of items and materials. Their store managers could login, order everything in 1 shopping cart and checkout in less than 5 minutes. The corporate stores had budgets set so one couldn’t spend more than a predetermined amount and orders had multi-tiered approvals based on the item type. Marketing collateral items were routed to one approver while merchandise items were routed to another approver.
I attribute our system to saving this restaurant over 10,000 hours a year. Restaurant employees could now spend more time providing excellent customer service and focusing on profit-increasing activities like being involved in their local communities.
Technology is still my main focus and priority 12 years later. I leverage our portal system to get every single new client onboard. I constantly study national trends and new ecommerce software. I want to learn more about how people are using data to acquire and retain clients. It’s important to study what’s happening outside the print industry. It’s vital to understand the trends and technology that influence the industries we sell to.
Sure, you still need a great team, communication and planning to keep an account running, but, without technology, you won’t be considered in the first place. To compete today, you need to have a solid online technology solution.
If technology is not your focus, it should be. If your company doesn’t spend time, money and resources to provide the best technology solutions possible, the next brilliant 15-year-old neighbor will develop a b2b solution you can’t compete with. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to wait around for this to happen.
“I hate losing more than I like winning.” – Charles Barkley
This article first appeared in the Print Solutions