Beginning a beautiful relationship


In the current trading climate most printers spend more time fretting about retaining their existing customer base than focusing on winning new customers. However, it’s a harsh commercial reality that over time every business will experience some degree of customer churn.

Some long-standing customers may go out of business, others might reduce their print spend and some may well end up having their head turned by rival printers offering cheaper or better quality print.

As a result, it’s vitally important that companies constantly refresh their customer base and don’t become overly reliant on a small roster of clients.

But what’s the best way of finding new customers? And when you’ve identified them how can you reel them in?

There are a number of different approaches to identifying potential new customers. One sensible option is to look at your existing customer base and decide “who is good – and bad – for you in that mix, then understand why – in detail – and define it clearly,” advises James Buffoni, managing director at York-based Ryedale Group. “That creates a specific target [customer] to hunt for. And it may also define customers who are not good for your business.”

Another straightforward tactic is to look at what businesses are active in your local area. “On my way to work if I see a van I will take a picture of the telephone number or memorise the name of the company and I will call them and say ‘you’ve got a great eye-catching logo, I saw it on your van – any chance we can win your next order of print’?” says Amanda Mullins, director of sales and marketing at Shrewsbury-based Battlefield Printing Group.

Mullins is also an avid user of social media and says it’s a good way to identify leads and pick up business. “We get at least one order a day from Twitter, whether it’s just a poster or a pack of business cards,” she says. “People like the personal service. If someone sends you a direct message for a quick quote and you direct message them back quickly – and I’m 24/7 on my phone anyway – then people really appreciate it and you can win new orders.”

Anthony Donnelly, commercial manager at Penrith-based H&H Reeds, also uses social media to identify new customers as well as monitoring local press and attending networking events, as he says word of mouth plays a strong role in customers finding the business.

“We try to have a visible presence in both Penrith and Carlisle, through advertising, sponsorship, networking and community events,” says Donnelly. It’s a similar situation at Burnley-based Peter Scott Printers, where Joanne Hindley, commercial director at the company, says she uses a mix of networking, advertising, social media, direct mail and event sponsorship to reach out to potential new clients.

Sponsoring local business events enables the business to reach a wide audience and showcase its services. “There are event programmes and associated print items produced – all with our company details on and all in the hands of the right people,” says Hindley. “With these events there are also linked networking and social media opportunities to enable us to connect with potential buyers and illustrate our services.”

She adds that wherever possible the company tries to link its marketing material directly with the range of services it offers so it can show potential customers what it is capable of producing.

“For example, in the business magazine publications we print, we run adverts saying ‘want to see a sample of our work? You’re holding it’,” says Hindley. “We know the magazines are going to the decision makers and it’s a brilliant way to get our message across and show them the quality of our work. It practically acts as a testimonial – i.e. the people that produce this publication trust us to print it and so should you.”

Next steps

Of course identifying potential new customers is only half the battle. After pinpointing them you then have to convince them to place work with your business. There are a number of different ways that you can go about this. Donnelly prefers a more sophisticated approach than giving customers the hard sell. He says the company aims to “build trust and display expertise to ensure potential clients want the business to produce “their” printed products.

“One way we achieve this is we market ourselves as a solution provider from design through manufacture and dispatch,” explains Donnelly. “Often a client wants one solution, i.e. just design, and while we are happy to provide that we aim to make sure that when they have completed their first project with us they are aware that we print litho, digital and wide-format and that we produce signs, create and host websites and offer the full ‘graphics’ package. This is achieved by having staff that are knowledgeable across the entire spectrum of what we offer, supported by experts in their specific fields.”

He admits that identifying and then winning potential new customers isn’t easy, but it helps significantly if companies can offer a unique sales proposition (USP). “USPs are always an interesting talking point and we review to see what ours are constantly,” says Donnelly. “Feedback from clients tells us that they like the one-stop shop that we offer while still offering high quality and expertise across all aspects of what we do. Our heritage is another strong point for us and we aim to use our geographical location, often seen as a negative, as a plus point.”

Another way of creating a USP or competitive advantage over rival printers is by adding more value relative to the price, says Buffoni. “This depends on what your customers deem to be of value,” he explains. “It also depends on what your competitors offer. If you can offer something that you know customers really value in a different way to a competitor – not just faster, cheaper, etc –then you start to create something that is more compelling. This is the ‘juice’ for brands.”

The best way of creating a point of difference from rival printers is showing what you’re capable of. Hindley says her company often sends samples out to potential customers to showcase its capabilities.

“Our direct mail items are most effective when we produce [them] to an unusual format and there are several of our own marketing mailer formats that have been utilised by clients for their own marketing purposes,” she says. “If we send a die-cut, complicated folded, special stock, unusual finish or personalised item, not only does it showcase what we are capable of, but it engages the customer to interact with it and they remember receiving it when we subsequently follow up with them.”

Name dropping

An even more simple and equally effective trick is to send customers branded material that they can use in their office. “Desk pads, wall planners and calendars are still one of the easiest ways for us to gain new clients,” says Hindley. “Leaving branded pads with a potential new client is great. Your details are sat on their desks as a constant reminder of your services and how to get in touch so that when the need arises your details are already to hand.”

When it comes to engaging with customers there is no one size fits all approach. Some may prefer the strategy deployed by the likes of Hindley, but it may not work with other businesses. Donnelly says that one thing his company does after it has identified a potential new client is it looks at how the business engages with its own clients. Then H&H Reeds tries to mirror this approach.

“A significant social media presence will often lead to an approach through similar channels,” says Donnelly. “If they network frequently we would tend to approach through those channels. We strongly believe that people buy from people and so we aim for a more personal touch wherever possible – the telephone and face to face are still invaluable tools.”

It’s a view shared by Battlefield’s Mullins who says she’s become pretty good at cold calling potential customers. “Not everybody likes somebody ringing out of the blue and saying ‘can we discuss printing’, but a lot of people are receptive. It all depends on the time of day, their mood and how their day is going. If they say ‘no’ I always call them back. I might give them a week, or a month, or I ask them to give me a date to call them back when it would be more convenient for them to chat to me.”

There is an even more simple way of ensuring you engage with customers in the most effective manner possible that’s espoused by Buffoni. “Ask them [how they would like you to communicate with them]. Or find out where they are spending their time and looking for information and put your offering in those places,” he says.

Regardless of how you go about identifying potential new customers and how you approach these targets that one thing certain in the current market is businesses can’t afford to rest on their laurels. Competition is fierce and it’s those printing companies that constantly look to refresh and add to their existing roster of customers that are more likely to prosper.

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