Today’s printers must cultivate a shift in mindset to match the changing buyer. So, when the buying habits and tendencies change, so should you.

Once upon a time, printers defined themselves as product suppliers. They’d send salespeople to various customers to discuss what the printer could offer, formulate a bid, and wait. If the printer won the customer, it would deliver the products and hopefully develop a lasting relationship.

But that’s not how it works these days. Today’s printers believe that adding new capabilities and services – more clips in the chamber, if you will – helps keep them relevant.

Mark Steputis is still mesmerized by the scope of technology that continues to hit the print landscape. “Technology has evened the playing field as far as who’s a good printer,” says Steputis, president and CEO of Denver-based Vision Graphics, Inc. “It has neutralized any manufacturing superiority that people might have.”

And with the introduction of new software and techniques like G7 and digital proofing, among many other game-changers, quality is the difference maker for today’s printers. What makes you more valuable than the printer down the street is what you can deliver, how it is delivered and when. “The challenge is, if you continue to only supply components, the competition is fierce,” Steputis says. “The margins are tiny, and the expectations are as high as ever.”

Today’s printers must cultivate a shift in mindset to match the changing buyer. Why? More than anything else, the way consumers buy today continues to change. So, when the buying habits and tendencies change, so should you.

“I believe customers have grown wary of having eight printers they get prices from, receiving products from different vendors, and trying to coordinate it all,” Steputis says. “That requires staff on their end, too. That traditional sales model of having a salesperson get a quote and bring it back is becoming automated.”

Know your role
Sarah Scudder believes that every printer must have a deep understanding of today’s print client and know exactly what it is they want. Scudder is CEO of ProcureIt5, a print management company that specializes in print procurement and buys on behalf of clients. And from what she sees, the print client is an entirely different animal than it was in the past.

“Buyers are a lot younger now,” she says. “The typical buyer used to be a white man over the age of 50. But now the buyer can be potentially ethnic, female or a Millennial. The way they want to buy and the solution they want are very different than buyers of the past. More and more companies value procurement and supply chain, making significant investments to drive cost-saving and efficiency. It’s shifted the way companies buy. The buying decision was once made by one, maybe two people, but the average sale now has six to 10 buyers.”

And technology, as with so many other industries, has disrupted the way consumers shop around. “Buyers now do 80 percent of their research before even speaking to someone on the sales team,” Scudder says. “Millennials don’t want to talk to people. They want to do their research online.”

This means big changes for printers. Evolving sales teams. New technology. Dynamic marketing protocols. The transition is still difficult for some traditional printers to pull off.

Scudder has seen, firsthand, the potential push-back from more traditional industry peers. The scenario has played out more than she cares to admit. “I have experienced several situations and environments where it was a big change for people to consider new ways of thinking and working with a younger demographic,” she says.

“It has been very difficult to transition members of the sales team to a newer model,” Steputis explains. “It’s not what they know; it’s not what they were initially hired for. You have to stop wishing they were different and let them do what they do. Maybe that means we need to find different individuals with different ideas about how they want to engage with customers.”

Those “different ideas” Steputis references have a lot to do with the new procurement model both his company and ProcureIt5 have implemented. The B2B buying process not only demands a new selling recipe, but also a different level of discussion with clients. Steputis says the old sales model had printers talking about themselves, their reputations and their equipment list. But now, printers like Vision Graphics, Inc. are asking the clients more about their goals and any problems they’re experiencing.

Both Vision Graphics, Inc. and ProcureIt5 use their own proprietary software for print procurement. The objective of each piece of software is similar: to make the procurement process more automated, easier and more efficient. In turn, automated procurement allows these companies to provide clients with more complete solutions. By bringing the many needs of one client to a single printer, it allows that printer to fully serve the client and build stronger, more strategic partnerships.

“What we do hasn’t changed,” Steputis says of his company, which has been in business since 1952 (he has been there for 31 years). “What’s changed is how we interact with our customer, how we relate to that customer and how we obtain that customer.”

Instead of just delivering product and detaching themselves from the project, the new sales model suggests printers be more in-tune with their client’s goals. It’s all about finding an integrated solution. That’s why many printers have transitioned to marketing solutions providers (MSPs), even though the bulk of what they do – print – remains a prominent part of their resources.

So, while printers like Vision Graphics, Inc. and ProcureIt5 are not going to disappear into the sunset, they will continue to adapt to new landscape. “Eventually you reach a tipping point where you realize you’re having more success with the new model of client interaction,” Steputis says. “And you see how challenging and frustrating the old model is. In order to make a change like this, it has to be deliberate.”

Today, with new technology, new print procurement models and a number of new opportunities to engage with their customers, printers are moving into a new age of development. Scudder believes that companies are being smarter with dollars and resources and finding new ways to market to customers and involve print.

The key is to stop listening to those who proclaim that print is dead. “I don’t think it’s true,” Scudder says. “I think printing has changed and the way people use print is very different, but I don’t think print is dead. It’s not going away.”