Back to Basics: How Customer Service, Connections, and the Right Investments Can Lead to Sales
According to the PRINTING United Alliance 2022-2023 State of the Industry Report sponsored by Canon U.S.A., 85% of respondents who identify as sign and display graphic providers are concerned with finding new sales and revenue sources. To not just survive but thrive in today’s printing world, print service providers (PSPs) need to consider what impacts sales, like customer service, automation, equipment investments, and getting in front of their target audiences. In this article, experts share ways print shops can approach sales and position themselves as client partners.
Customer Service is King
Among the laundry list of considerations PSPs have when running a business, bringing in sales and finding new revenue streams is at the top of everyone’s list. So, how can PSPs do this successfully?
Roger Gimbel, president of Gimbel & Associates, has decades of experience as a printer, and his consulting firm provides business development services and sales and marketing strategies to print providers. Seeing the good and the bad in the industry, he urges print shops to reevaluate and offer better services while they’re still growing.
This could be more responsive customer service, answering phones, and quick estimates and job proofing. Staying on top of these service elements can lead to repeat customers and word-of-mouth advertising, which can organically bring in more business. “The smaller print shop needs to be more nimble because as printers get larger, many become less efficient, opening areas of opportunity for smaller shops,” he continues.
This service-based approach is one that Steve Hews, owner of Des Moines, Iowa-based Christian Edwards Print + Graphics, credits his incoming sales to. The print and sign business has been able to grow organically into a $38 million per year operation, offering quality, reliable services to its customers.
Charity Jackson, owner of Visual Horizons Custom Signs, agrees that “stellar customer service” is a sales strategy on its own. For her shop, this means the basics listed above, plus working set business hours and handling issues quickly. She notes the print industry can be surprisingly flaky, and not working set business hours and “only when you want to” can hurt sales. From first interactions to having clients in the shop until the job is finished, Jackson says these fundamentals are critical.
Having this same set of standards for every job will result in repeat customers, which hits on the 80/20 rule: 80% of business comes from 20% of customers. Gimbel says getting “a bigger share” of a customer’s wallet can help PSPs expand. “Say I’m doing business with XXX company, and I’m doing 20% to 30% of what they do in print work. Rather than trying to find a new customer, I will try to expand the business I’m doing with my existing customers because you already have a relationship and the people you do business with can introduce you to other divisions or other people within those companies.”
Driving a Digital Presence Alongside In-Person Connections
Every business, print or not, needs a digital presence like a website and some form of social media. When it comes to sales, a business’s digital footprint can be make-or-break. First impressions are everything, and a well-done website with key business information, print capabilities, markets served, and even a gallery of photos can go a long way toward helping close a sale or scheduling a meeting.
“A professional and attractive website is the most important because that is the first place everyone looks,” Gimbel says. “Customers will search a business before agreeing to a sales call, and this is the first thing a potential client will do.”
As for social media, PSPs want to be where their target customer is spending time. Whether that’s X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or even TikTok, print shops need to find out the best way to showcase their projects and attract clients. “For instance, professional organizations will most likely respond to LinkedIn and X,” Gimbel explains. “Younger audiences are more attracted to Instagram and TikTok. And, of course, Facebook works for everyone.”
Whether via a company blog or regular posts on social media, PSPs can use their platforms to educate customers about printing, share details of recent projects, and really showcase how their capabilities solve problems for past and current customers. The saying, “Show don’t tell,” can go a long way in not coming off too salesy. “For instance, you can discuss graphic design and the various printing methods that enhance a customer’s project,” Gimbel explains. Additionally, Jackson suggests picking a few areas of business that see good profit margin and actively marketing those products on social media.
Outside of making an impact digitally, nothing compares to getting out in front of people. Whether it’s an open house, shop tour, client visit, or even company-wide community involvement, these initiatives can keep a print shop top of mind when customers need services. When Visual Horizons first started out, they participated in their local chamber of commerce and leads club, handed out brochures and coupons, got out in front of their community, and reconnected with existing customers.
Investing Back in Business
In addition to customer service being king and building a brand both digitally and in person, experts agree that investing back in business matters. From sales tools and new technologies to skilled labor, it all plays a part in revenue. As Hews puts it, “You gotta spend money, to make money.”
For print shops to take on more business and grow, they can’t get too comfortable. Gimbel stresses the investment into software that’s “not homegrown,” and taking advantage of industry resources that provide information on what’s in the marketplace.
Christian Edwards is a great example of that. Hews says a huge amount of its growth came with investing in new in-house technologies and diversifying into processes like wide-format printing, which he hopes to grow into a $3 million revenue stream next year. It’s currently implementing Pace Print MIS/ERP software, a more robust solution that should elevate operational efficiencies and maximize profits. While Hews understands not every PSP may have the luxury of expanding and investing, he says, “You always have to look at ways to be more efficient.”
At Visual Horizons, Jackson says the team has learned what’s most profitable, and diversified from there.
“We specialize in fleet graphics and wraps, but we also do a ton of laser engraved plates for solar contractors,” she says. “The rest of our business is balanced out with signs, decals, window graphics, and banners. By investing in new printers, we stay on top of the market and have equipment that is always working. By investing in a laser engraver, we opened up a market for our business that helps balance out where our income comes from. … We avoid projects that aren’t in our normal wheelhouse because we’re slower at them, and it takes us away from more profitable areas. So, investing our time wisely is super important to driving sales.”
Businesses without the means to invest can work on creating partnerships with other print businesses that offer services they don’t. Maybe there’s a reputable print business that does promo items, direct mail, or even design or consulting services. That’s where outsourcing to print partners can allow PSPs to say yes to jobs it would otherwise turn down.
And while a lot of the focus has been on building relationships outside the shop, PSPs can’t ignore what’s going on internally. Surprisingly, Gimbel says there’s a lack of sales training in the printing industry overall.
“All printers need to invest in professional sales training and have a process using software like Salesforce to track progress,” he advises. “Salespeople need projection growth goals to achieve on a quarterly and annual basis.”
Weathering an Economic Downturn
An economic slowdown is as good a time as any to look closely at key performance indicators. As much as Gimbel stresses training, he also stresses the importance of weekly sales meetings. Print shop owners need to know if salespeople are growing the business and making money rather than costing them money. Looking at metrics can uncover inefficiencies, and tell a business if change is necessary. In some cases, that might mean operating leaner, Hews says, and keeping your best employees happy and staffed.
High-quality customer service will play a large role in seeing a business through tough economic times. “Make sure that your customers are heavily satisfied and be concerned that there is always someone around the corner willing to take business away from you,” Gimbel says.