Why the most successful print companies tell their customers what to do – and why this makes them more profitable

Posted by Matthew Parker

Do you ever put together flat pack furniture?  I don’t know about you, but when I first look at all the bits I tend to find it rather scary.  There always seem to be all sorts of odd pieces and I’m not sure where to put them.

And then I read the instructions.  And suddenly everything falls into place.  Everything is simple.  But without the instructions I’d be totally lost.

Print customers are often in the same situation

Print customer instructions

Flat pack furniture needs to be assembled according to instructions. Print customers like clear instructions too.

They find things much easier if they have some instructions.

Printers who tell print buyers what to do will create better partnerships.  Their customers will respect them more.  But these printers will also have better control over bother their sales and production pipelines.  And they’ll find it easier to achieve their sales and production targets.

Print companies that don’t tell their customers what to do will struggle to achieve the same results.  They’ll be trying to work out what their customers want.  And that will slow down sales and production.  They won’t have the same control over their work.

To get the right level of control you need to tell your customers what to do.  Here are three things that you should tell them:

Tell your print customers what you want from them

I don’t mean that you should tell print buyers that you want more work from them.  They will understand that automatically.  But they will find it helpful if you tell them exactly what sort of work you do want.  Is there a particular project that you would like to work with them on?  Is there another stream of work for which you’ve never quoted?

If you can be direct with a print buyer about your wishes, they can be direct back.  Sometimes you’ll be asking for something that they’d never thought about.  And they may be willing to consider it.  Sometimes you may be asking for something that they are not prepared to consider.  But then it is better that you know this and are able to move on.

Hopefully, you will discover that there are new projects to talk about with your customer.  And then you need to give them their next set of instructions.

Tell your print customers what you want them to do

The end result of this instruction is that you want your customer to place the order with you.  But sometimes this needs to be broken down into smaller steps.  And you will need to tell your customer how to take those steps.  Here are some of the steps that you may need the customer to take:

  • Ensure that they have budget approval
  • Confirm run and pagination
  • Set you up as an approved supplier with the finance department
  • Give you the order form
  • Sign an order acknowledgement

And when you have the paperwork, surely that’s it?  All you need to do is to start putting ink on paper.

Actually there is one last set of instructions you should give your customer.

Tell your print customers how you want them to work

Many print relationships fall apart at the production stage.  And this is simply because the printer and the customer had different expectations of how they were going to work together.  To overcome this, it is worth creating a simple service level agreement for the customer.  This will tell them exactly what they need to do to get a job produced with you.  Here are some of the things that it will include:

  • How to set up pdfs that will work with your systems
  • What order details you need
  • How you manage proofing and approval
  • How you manage extra costs
  • How you deliver
  • Your file copy procedure
  • Your payment terms and bank details

Then you will have your print customers working in the way that you want.

But some print companies are unsure about giving their customers instructions like this.

Surely it’s not the printer’s place to tell the customer what to do?

Actually, many customers love to be told what to do.  Print can be very confusing for many people.  A clear set of instructions makes things much easier for them.  And many people also need guiding through the ordering process.

And this doesn’t just apply to less knowledgeable people.  I’m an experienced print buyer.  But I find it very useful when printers tell me what they want when we discuss how we might work together.

However, if you want to succeed at telling your customers what to do, you must remember one thing.

Make sure that you are really clear

Make all your instructions are as simple as possible.  Remember that most of your customers will not have the same print knowledge that you do.  They will not understand the language of the printer.

If you need to go through something technical, such as setting up pdfs correctly, be visual.  Put in diagrams or screenshots.

And then you’ll be well on the way to instructing your print customers effectively.  But you may want to start more simply.

Start off with some easy action points

  • Set yourself precise sales targets for individual customers.  Make sure the customers know that this is what you want.
  • Break down the purchasing process into simple steps.  And make sure you guide your customer along them.
  • Draft a customer service level agreement.  Ask two colleagues to comment on it.

Did you see that I told you what to do?  And I gave you a set of instructions?  You’ll soon find this process as easy as putting together flat pack furniture!
P.S.  Do you want more ideas on how to improve relations with your print customers?  Then you should subscribe to the Profitable Print Relationships newsletter.  You’ll also receive our free e-book “Ten Common Print Selling Errors and What To Do About Them”.  So sign up right now at http://profitableprintrelationships.com/e-book/


7 Responses to Why the most successful print companies tell their customers what to do – and why this makes them more profitable

  • Gerrard Moss says:

    Hi-it’s precise and professionally well documented and is something more printers should do, unfortunately, most printers just want to print and or survive and haven’t the resources, time or experience to do this, sad but true.

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Hello Gerard,

      Thank you for your comments. I fear that this is a correct view of many printers. However, it is important to find time to make changes such as these. They will generate their own time savings and extra profits.


  • Hal says:

    Several customers will respond better to an assertive style, especially if they are not sure of how the business can help them meet their needs. It’s something that is seen in several industries. Customers will sometimes hesitate to ask questions or get information that will allow them to be more successful.

    Some patrons like to be told what to do because it makes them feel like they are better cared for. I think it’s important to strike a balance, so that providers are directing or guiding the process without being overly pushy.

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Thank you Hal – it is a question of knowing how to communicate in the right way with your customer.


  • Pingback: Why the most successful print companies tell their customers what to do | Business and Software Strategy for Globalisation

  • Angela says:

    I think this is great advice. Sometimes all it takes to smooth out “creative differences” is a quick explanation of the process you use to do business. A little guidance at the right time can help turn potential issues into assets. It’s all a part of good customer service! Best, Angela

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