The transitional status of the printing industry may be casting a pall over the way some look at the field, but that doesn't mean it has to affect your marketing or client relations efforts. The perception that print is struggling or dying is based on a few components of the vertical and, as a print provider, your job is simply to get on with making your clients' business lives easier. If you can accomplish that, it is still possible to find repeatable and ongoing success. If you're dealing in high-quality products and services, and selling them effectively, the results should follow.

What printers want most: Growth
A recent analysis of the print industry by Printing Impressions contributor Jeff Allen delved into what providers are most interested in accomplishing today. He referred to a study conducted by Epicomm, and the result is not so surprising, as it's something that's relevant in every field: Printers want to see their companies grow. This is possible, even in an industry that has lost some prestige in the digital revolution. It's all about how the company is managed and the content of its relationships with customers.

Allen went on to describe strategies that can lead to sustainable growth. Unsurprisingly, they largely have to do with mixing customer base expansion and retention. Can your print shop hold onto its present roster of clients while making a push into new markets? This is what separates a sustainable pace of growth from an overly aggressive model in which you burn through potential clients – and eventually end up with no one left to win over. According to Allen, striking the appropriate balance begins with loyalty.

The author specified that when a customer is truly committed to your printing business, you will see benefits. Loyal clients stick even when conditions are less than optimal, and they act as advocates for your product services. Allen noted that average rates of satisfaction don't necessarily indicate how deep the connection between a provider and its customer base is. He pointed to Bain and Company statistics that show the breakdown of a supplier relationship may occur even when the client firm would describe itself as "satisfied" or "very satisfied."

So, if straightforward satisfaction surveys don't yield useful data, what does? Allen suggested asking customers whether they would recommend the company to someone else. He explained that numerous factors will inform the answer, and that result will be highly indicative of how closely your client base will stick.

Then, once you've gathered that data, Allen recommended plugging it into your internal operations. Focusing on creating conditions that encourage clients to promote you to their coworkers and friends may represent a new and better era for your business. The author also specified that if you can tell which of your customers are at various levels of enthusiasm for your business and its products, you have a road map to dealing with those customers. Each one can receive a customized pitch. Holding onto them will be the first step to doing the one thing your business most likely wants to: grow.

Empathy with customers
A recent WhatTheyThink column by contributor Jennifer Matt delved into the relationships print providers need to build with their customers. This is critical to retention and growth, and fits in with the idea that you must retain your base – as well as the failure of surveys to accurately take the temperature of the bond between provider and clientele. The author noted that surveys of the client base typically ask about what solutions the partners are interested in, rather than what problems they are facing. The latter question is much better to ask if you want to deepen the relationship with users of your products.

Matt also specified that the sales department should be involved in setting up contracts, even when the offering in question is a user-driven web-to-print product. She emphasized that the features of a given web-to-print product are less important than the issues that it can solve. When the customer is the center of the equation, the one the whole strategy is based on, the connection will naturally improve. After all, clients want to stick with providers that can get them over their particular challenges. If you can do that, loyalty and growth may be the next steps.