How stickiness creates more loyal print customers

Posted by Matthew Parker

The pdf is a curse for the modern print industry.

The very advantages of the pdf create problems for print companies.  A pdf is a small file that is easy to send.  It is portable and convenient.

That’s the problem

Stickiness is highly desirable for print customers, although not for shoes!

Stickiness is highly desirable for print customers, although not for shoes!

This means that it is very easy for me as a customer to change suppliers.  All I have to do is attach my pdf to an e-mail and send it to a new address.  I can change suppliers very easily in order to achieve a very small saving.

So it’s harder and harder to find loyal customers in this price focussed market.  That’s why print companies need to create sticky customers.

What are sticky customers?

Sticky customers are clients that find it hard to move from their print supplier.  This is because the supplier has made themselves a vital part of the client’s workflow.  Typically, this will be through linking their systems and the customer’s systems.

It means that a customer needs to do more than send a pdf to a new e-mail address.  They are going to have to unravel a working relationship and create a new one.  Doing this requires time, money and effort.

Here’s why sticky customers matter

Print companies that create sticky customers will not have to win so many new clients. So they will be more in control of their sales pipeline.  They will find it easier to achieve their sales targets.  They are more likely to be able to leave earlier on a Friday for a relaxing weekend.

Printers that do not have sticky customers are more likely to be working late into Friday night.  They will be fighting for new sales.  They won’t have the same control over their sales.  They will find it harder to achieve the results that they need.

Here are three ways to create sticky customers.

Web to print

Web to print is a great way to create sticky customers.  It means that you hold all your clients’ artwork templates for standard jobs.

If your client wants to print a job at another supplier the client has two options.  They either have to recreate the artwork or they need to ask you for a download. (You should charge a lot of money for the file download.)


If you can manage data for a client you are also in a strong position.  This means that you have to take responsibility for a list for a client.  Sorting a list supplied by a client for postal efficiency is not enough.

But imagine if you are managing all the personal data for a client.  Then you become a very important partner to them.

Some clients will demand instant availability of data if they want to use it elsewhere.  However, it is surprising the number of clients that do not require this sort of availability.


Warehousing and stock control is another way to create a sticky client.  If a client wants to move supplier they have to deal with transporting existing stock.  They have to manage requirements during the changeover.  And they have to handle data and reporting issues between two suppliers.

As a buyer, I am far less likely to move suppliers if I have to go through a complicated process just to make a small saving.  A new supplier has to offer me a very compelling reason to change.

If the reason is purely price related I will probably just see if I can get my current supplier to match the new price.  I may well be tempted to stay with them even if they don’t match the new price.

But, although creating sticky solutions is a very compelling strategy, some print sales people still have a problem.

Aren’t sticky solutions difficult to sell?

It’s tempting to stay in one’s comfort zone.  It’s tempting to keep selling ink on paper.  But, if you do this, you will remain a commodity supplier.

If you need more ideas on selling these solutions, have a look at this article on TPD strategy

Here are three action points to start you on the road to sticky customers

  1. Define the sticky solutions that you can offer
  2. Target customers you want to keep
  3. Brief your sales team on the solutions and make sure they are focussed on selling them

If you have sticky customers you will find life much easier

For one thing, you can stop worrying about how easy it is for me to send a pdf to a new customer.
P.S. Are you making any of these print sales errors?  Download a free copy of “Ten Common Print Selling Errors and What To Do About Them”.

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6 Responses to How stickiness creates more loyal print customers

  • Another brief, informative and compelling post Matthew. The term “sticky” was used in a meeting yesterday as it applied to web-to-print clients, this morning this arrived in my inbox. I sent the link off to the attendees. And my sales staff, naturally.

    Nice work, thanks.

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Neal, I’m delighted I timed the article so well for you. There will be a follow up piece next week.


  • Steve Wellman says:

    One of our more effective ways to make a “sticky” customer is to sell/lease equipment and printing supplies to them. Giving our customers the ability to print their work right at their office helps reduce the need for them to look outside for a printing solution. There is typically a contract involved with heavy penalties for terminating the contract, so they customer is less likely to break a contract. We also provide “overflow” printing options for them at a reduced cost. All these factors help paint us a solution for their needs. Why would a customer risk not getting the same level of help over what most likely would be a minimal cost savings at best?

  • Norma Machado says:

    I have been a print buyer for over 24 years and am surprised that this article (and responses) about customer retention does not mention customer service as part of the partnership. I have worked with a number of quality facilities around the country, both sheet-fed and web, with great ink-on-paper capabilities and pricing however, their lack of reliable customer service caused major difficulties. When one has to work twice as hard to get a job printed, no matter what the hard costs are, money is lost. And clients move on….

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Norma, you make a very fair point. However, many buyers expect and receive great service as standard these days. If you don’t provide it you are like to lose a customer. But great service on its own may not be enough to keep a customer.


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