Sales and marketing efforts by print service providers have to do a great deal of heavy lifting these days, convincing customers to invest in physical media in an age of digitization. That said, the task is far from impossible. The printing business remains capable of delivering items that get results, and companies that invest in print products may find their own marketing and communications operations are drastically improved. Finding the right sales pitch for a printing company means developing a keen sense of what these potential customers want to see and hear.

The early months of a new year are a great time for printers to take a look at their own operations and determine whether they're on the right track. Sales and marketing shouldn't be exempt from this. Long-held assumptions about what consumers want to see or hear from print organizations may stand on shakier framework than in the past, and where change is needed, it's time to commit.

Ditch the traditional pitch?
There are a few constant elements in print service provider sales pitches, those all-important pieces of messaging designed to separate one potential partner from another. As Printing Impressions contributor Matthew Parker pointed out, the printing industry is absolutely laden with companies claiming their customer service and product quality are second to none. He estimated that when he was in the market for printing services, 98 percent of the pitches he received turned on a fulcrum of customer care and high-quality deliverables.

Parker then noted that the widespread focus on those two variables may represent a missed opportunity for printers. What if quality and service aren't the all-encompassing priorities for clients that they are for sellers? He added that it's rare to hear about a print shop closing its doors because of the quality of its products or service. While organizations are eager to state that they are the best at these two competencies – and their rivals are, by implication, worse at them – it appears most buyers are perfectly content with the care and deliverables they already receive.

Rather than just warning about the deficiencies in standard pitches, Parker gave a suggestion for a new approach: problem-solving. Every company considering print services is doing so because it wants something – better return on marketing investment, more effective communications or another internal goal. The best sales pitches may be those that anticipate and address common problems among the target audience of buyers. These could stand out in a field where most sellers are making competing claims about their service responsiveness and print resolution.

A new market
What kinds of differentiating factors can organizations muster when trying to resolve print customers' issues? WhatTheyThink contributor Richard Romano's start-of-year market summation listed a few items that could increase interest among potential buyers. For instance, short-run specialty printing could be a compelling addition. Furthermore, a web-to-print interface that makes buying products easier and smoother could change the way customers interact with a provider's offerings, changing the whole tone of the printing process.

Romano suggested that direct sales as a whole won't represent the whole picture of a printer's operations in 2018 and beyond. These businesses will allow themselves to be found by customers instead of always making direct, outbound approaches. When they do perform the traditional sales role, they'll have a new set of competencies to promote and display, with representatives able to reach out to clients and include specially customized items, rather than just the standard print collateral of years past.

Some providers will thrive on models that include these specialty applications. Turning from a paper-focused print shop into one capable of customizing a plethora of items, from garments to the types of small products given away at trade shows, could represent a profitable form of expansion and diversification. In the era of digital printing and workflows, such capabilities are closer to mainstream than they ever have been. Romano described such a boundary-pushing approach as "nimble and creative."

How different is different?
Companies that insist they are different from their competitors, but use similar sales pitches, may have a hard time breaking through to their potential customers. Instead of taking such an approach, it may be time for print service providers to vary their messaging, their products or both.

Potential clients who are constantly hearing about different approaches to customer service and print quality may be far more excited to learn about new solutions to their problems, or hear from providers who can deliver items that go beyond standard paper goods. With a new year just beginning, it may be a great time for print shops to ask internally whether these new models hold promise.