Three questions you should ask your print supplier (they’re not what you think!)

Posted by Matthew Parker

I love it when people start talking to me.  That’s when I really get to know them.

Before I met my wife, I went out on a few dates.  And I wanted to get to know the women I was dating.  I wanted to learn all about them.  I wanted to get them to tell me all about themselves.

Choosing a printer is a bit like dating

Matthew Parker of Profitable Print Relationships explains the questions from print buyers that print suppliers and print management companies should expect to answer

Asking the right questions can lead to a beautiful relationship between print supplier and client

You want to learn all about the printer.  You want the printer to tell you all about themselves.

The trouble is that many questions that buyers ask are focussed on basic information about the printer.  They aren’t designed to get the printer to open up to you.  They aren’t designed to get the printer to tell you what doing business with them is really like.

Asking about machinery and quality and delivery doesn’t tell enough about the culture of a printer.  It’s a difficult area to encourage a supplier to talk about.

So here are three questions that get printers to talk about themselves

Buyers who ask these questions from their printers can expect to create better partnerships.  This is because they will know more about the printer.  And this knowledge means that they will be more in control of the relationship.  And achieve more from it.

Buyers who don’t use these questions won’t achieve as much from their printers.  They are more likely to be wondering what went wrong.  This is because they won’t have the right information to control the relationship.  And ultimately, the relationship will not be a strong partnership.  Both sides risk being frustrated with each other.

So here are the three questions that avoid these frustrations:

Question 1:  What makes you different?

This is a great question to immediately separate the printers with something different to say from everybody else.  98% of printers will reply along the lines of price, service and quality.
Of course all these issues are important.  But these days, printers are expected to offer competitive pricing.  And good service.  And good quality.  So there has to be a great reason for them to mention these issues.  And I would want to see a specific example of why they mention any of these three issues.

A few printers will avoid these issues altogether.  They will come up with something that genuinely does make them different.  In one example a printer told me about unusual mail packs that they had developed.

Your printer may come up with something that really is different (and of use to your business).  Then it’s time to move onto question 2.

Question 2:  How do you add value to your clients?

This question is designed to make the printer show exactly what they can achieve for you.  This is their chance to show that they can be more than just a manufacturer.

Ideally a printer should be able to provide with a great case study.  But you may need to tell them you want a case study.  The case study needs to prove that they can do one of the following things:

1.    Reduce buying costs, by helping the client to become more efficient
2.    Reduce print costs through more effective specification, more efficient production or reducing costs such as post
3.    Increase the client’s results from print.  This can be done by using different finishes, improving quality, introducing personalisation or multi-channel opportunities or by suggesting more appropriate products.

A good supplier will understand that this is not a question about price.  This may even be a question which shows why a buyer should pay more.

The printer with the mail packs was able to show me the value of them.  They showed me how they reduced postal costs.  And they showed me how they increased responses from client mailings.  At that point I wasn’t looking for the cheapest print price.  I saw that I had a potential partner that could reduce a client’s costs and increase returns from their mailings.  That was worth a lot to me.

If the supplier can come up with some good case studies you have one more question to ask them.

Question 3:  Why did you approach me?

Many printers approach everyone they can.  But they give little thought as to why they are doing it.  That can be bad news for clients.

Do you want to be just another standard client?  Or would you sooner be part of a market sector that a supplier is focussing on.  Wouldn’t that make you feel more valued?

You want to be the client of a printer that has specialist market knowledge of your sector.  Or where you fit a client profile that the printer is actively looking for?  Then you can be sure that you have the opportunity for a good relationship.  One where the printer will want to continue to develop a partnership with you.

The printer with the mailpacks was targeting companies with a very similar profile to my client.  I was confident that they would want to continue working with my client.  And I was confident that they would try and come up with more great ideas for them.

These three questions had made the printer work to prove their worth.

But these questions won’t tell you the basics about printers

Don’t forget to ask a series of other questions as well.  You need a checklist of questions that you need to cover.  We’ll talk more about this in my next piece.

So the three questions should not be asked on their own.  If a printer answers the three questions well, then you need to have your follow-up checklist.  But using the checklist without these three questions doesn’t give you the complete picture.  You need the three questions as well.

Here are three action points to help you put these questions into practice

1.    Write the three questions down
2.    Make sure that you ask them to every new printer who approaches you
3.    Score their answers.  And make sure you write down a reason for your score

You’ll find that these questions will reveal an awful lot more about a supplier.

You never know, they could lead to the start of a beautiful relationship

Or they could be the signs that you should be courting someone else.
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This article was originally published on the Print & Procurement website here

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