Are We Complicating the Simple … Again?

This guest blog was contributed by Greg Walters | 9/17/13
Back in my IKON daze (pun intended), one of the best sales managers I ever worked with told me, “Sometimes we overcomplicate things. It’s just copiers.” He was referring to an inability to close any deal that included EDM in less than 90 days. He was right. We often did overcomplicate transactions beyond lease payments and cost per image in an effort to branch out into more “sophisticated” imaging subject matter, adding value and becoming a “trusted advisor.”

Did the discussion of document management enhance our ability to close a five-person church? No.

Did talking about moving from printed pick-lists to digital images elevate the discussion, enhance our position and add 120 days to the selling cycle? You betcha.  

But the point still held. Overcomplicating transactions by inserting what we believe to be a value-add may be doing more harm than good. How effective is that super-duper document management system when your prospects still scratch their heads each time they try to stop printing on both sides?

Today, I think we are in jeopardy of doing the same with workflow. Don’t get me wrong, workflow can be intricate and the results of a successful project deeply positive. And just like the EDM sales of yesterday, workflow projects should pull hardware placements. It just won’t happen in 30 days – maybe not even for another 120, which is enough to drive revenue-driven sales managers crazy. For them, it’s easier to check the number of cold calls, appointments and proposals generated than is it to understand a solution, develop a meaningful value proposition that does not include price and teach “a bunch of copier reps” how to sell at a higher level.

What’s the point?

Everybody believes they serve the customer first and do “what’s right for the client.” We’ve all said this. Heck, some of us even mean it. More likely, adding “as long as it serves my quota” at the end of each statement may be a bit more truthful:

“We serve our customers first” … as long as it serves my quota.

“We do what’s right for our customers” … as long as it serves my quota.

“We are customer-centric” … as long as it serves my quota.

You get the point.

Perhaps we should boil all service down to a SKU. Maybe then we won’t need to find salespeople with any level of business acumen or worry about strategic sales, complex solutions and doing “what’s right for the customer.” Once we SKU or block service, we can set quotas and use spiffs to motivate. 

Oh, the joy! (#Sarcasm)

I know a bunch of you are agreeing with the above statements – bully for you. I guess if you’re comfortable in your toasty pot of water, why change? Okay, fine. I’m crying “uncle” – I give. Here are three suggestions to make your workflow selling simpler and keep your transaction time shorter:

Keep it simple with your prospect.

Management, bring simple workflow to market.

Start with an easy-to-digest service, get a few in the field and grow from there.

Prospects, stay simple

Sometimes a copier is just a copier. Sometimes a printer on every desk is the best option. Go with it. Reduce your prospects’ monthly payment, understate their monthly volume and crank up the overage. It’s simple, and ultimately, it’s what your customers want anyway.

If your clients believe that their scan-to-Windows file structure is an ECM system, let them. If they “don’t understand the cloud,” smile, nod and agree. Try not to use words like “workflow,” “process” or “optimization.” All you’ll get is alienation as your clients start to think you’re really smart – smarter than them. Instead, offer to save them time by creating a “computerized folder for your stuff,” for example.

Management, design an easy-to-understand solution

“Culture crushes strategy.”

I am all about elevating the conversation beyond copiers and printers, and I’m a big proponent of talking about business process and acumen. But again, sometimes a copier is just a copier. If you’re a sales manager, you know the difference between document management, managed services and workflow, but this doesn’t mean your sales team does. Unless you have the time, the budget and the access to a high-dollar psychoanalyst, all those pre-existing, 30-day patterns will extinguish every hope of selling and supporting a full-blown workflow solution. Period.

Don’t fight it – move with it by talking with your staff, one on one, about business acumen, not clouds and metadata. You’ll find plenty of challenges simply defining the difference between accounts payable and receivable, but you’ll get the message across.

These are simple conversations – no PowerPoint, handouts or outside experts needed. This is something you can talk about after a call at Starbucks (not Dunkin’ Donuts) or between appointments on ride-along days. Don’t go any deeper than your sales team can handle.

Start with an easy-to-digest service, get a few in the field and grow from there

Some call this “packaging.” I guess it’s a better word than “commoditizing,” but what do I know?  

Workflow solutions require more days to close, but this doesn’t mean all workflow deals require 30 days. Develop a service as a product, something that can be touched. I’ve not completely given up on copier representatives making the shift into more profound offerings, but for now, let’s give them something they can believe in – a “thing” that can be leased, paid for over time and commissioned immediately.  

For instance, before finalizing a proposal, throw in a 90-day trial on one of your workflow offerings. Include the software or 10 hours of phone support for free. Positioning a service as a “try-this-out” option included in a lease payment is simple to understand and even easier to explain – or not explain.   

This is easier than it sounds. The idea is to package workflow as though it were a large-capacity paper tray or duplex unit – something that can be embedded (hidden) into a lease payment with minimum impact on the monthly payment that introduces, albeit in a limited manner, both your clients and salespeople to workflow.

Finding balance is difficult – and it’s something that most sales managers are not paid to understand. But if you’re looking to be more than a copier rep, searching for this balance is paramount in your personal growth and mental well-being. 

Each dealer/provider is different, so determining your exact offering is up to you, and you alone. Good luck.

Greg Walters is president of Walters & Shutwell, the mobility, communications and transformation consultancy as well as the president of the Managed Print Services Association. During an IT sales and services career that has spanned a quarter century, he helped turn a large West Coast VAR’s struggling managed print services practice into a highly profitable business. Walters started his imaging career in 1999, working with Oce, Panasonic and IKON. A prolific writer and frequent speaker at industry events, Walters considers himself a “Contrarian Technologist”; someone with a unique and provocative view of technology and how to sell it in the 21st century. Contact him at or visit