Print isn't dead – the products offered by your company and the industry in general are still valuable to customers. However, the continued robust performance of any print service provider relies on one constituency: its customers. The relationship between your shop and its clients is the most important element of your company from a financial perspective. Attrition and turnover among your clientele can be hugely damaging, and a loss of present business may sap the cash reserves you need to pursue new customers.

The trend is clear: When a print service provider can't hold an audience, it may suffer a serious decline in its production and revenue, one that's hard to make up. You can stop yourself going down this dangerous route if you learn how to manage relationships with the client base. This is challenging in the digital age, but far from impossible.

Strong bonds keep print alive
In an era when print is no longer the default mode of communication for the world, there are still strong bonds tying clients and printing businesses together. WhatTheyThink contributor John Hyde recently explained that when there is no "sticky" connection between a printer's services and its clients' needs, the relationship can fray in a hurry. Instead of just providing printed products for clients, you should be ready to act as a consultant and data manager.

Jobs with no continuity aren't conducive to long-term connections. If you provide a single print run of items for a client, there's no guarantee that customer will come back. Perhaps another firm will make a better offer, and the revenue will go elsewhere next time. This is why Hyde highlighted the importance of contracts that stretch over time. You can potentially perform analytics and other operations measuring the effectiveness of the campaigns you work on for that client. This is a value-added service that deepens the bond and shows buyers why it's worth continuing through multiple projects together.

Getting a "hook" between a printer and its clients has always been a critical process. Today, it can save a company. Hyde noted that even when there are problems in the working relationship between your company and its customers, you stand a better chance of negotiating future orders if you have long-term value-adding contracts. If you're simply printing documents or marketing collateral for a firm, that organization can move on in a heartbeat. If the agreement extends to a strategic level, there's much more value in sharing notes, improving conditions and continuing on to the next project.

Promises and projected outcomes
The relationship between client and company has to start somewhere. It's important to enforce a sales process that brings in the kind of prospects that will stick with you for years and between campaigns. The aforementioned outcome – printers and their clients coexisting over time – likely won't come to pass if you made the sale with the understanding that the buyer was only interested in a single campaign.

Printing Impressions contributor Thad Kubis recently explored the process of informing potential customers of your services and creating expectations that will lead to results over time. He explained that ideally, your company won't just come across as a print service provider that offers up solutions. Instead, you'll be a value-adding partner, one that uses its print solutions among other competencies to increase the client organization's performance. It's all about what the client can accomplish, with you as the enabling force.

The wishes of both print service provider and buyer combine in the sales process. Kubis noted that the sales process is a meeting of the minds. While part of the negotiation will involve pitching solutions that fit within your client's needs and buying cycle, that doesn't mean your business has no control over the direction of the conversation. The exact concepts you pitch can be tuned to lead to long-term contact and advanced projects over time.

Providing needed services
The printing industry today is all about creating partnerships between organizations that have marketing and communication needs and print service providers that can go beyond the basics. When you can't strike up these connections, you're at risk of losing business en masse. A series of meaningful alliances, based on strategic goals and ROI projections, can transform the nature of your organization while keeping print at the core of your identity.