If Jack Is Your Prospect, Do You Know Jack?

This guest blog was contributed by Greg Walters | 11/5/13
At its most basic level, sales is nothing more than supply meeting demand. The trick is matching your “supply” with your prospects’ “demand. Along the way, we position ourselves in the most positive light, ideally offering a product or service for which our prospects have an interest and a need. For instance, if I need to present hard copies of contracts to prospects, I need a printer of some sort – maybe even a copier, or, ultimately, a multifunction device. My need for a hard copy is considered demand. The millions of devices in the world that put marks on paper meet this demand.

There is another area on the demand side of the equation. Consider the differences between creating demand and recognizing demand. Instead of recognizing a market/demand, more advanced/desperate firms these days go about attempting to create a demand. This is a common marketing strategy, especially in declining markets. As the natural want for one’s product wanes, techniques are utilized to “make up a demand.” Indeed, this can and does occur well before a decline.

The lines between illuminating your offerings versus spinning a message or inventing a need in your prospect’s mind have always been blurred. It’s the difference between presenting a positive message designed to attract like-minded customers and manipulating a prospect through fear, uncertainty and doubt.

What we think is important may not match our client’s mindset.  

For example, think about 11-by-17 (A3) printing/copying. For decades, copiers were sold as being “bigger and stronger” than personal desktop printers (“Just look at how small they are!”). At one point, a huge majority of devices supported 11-by-17 output. Think about this: Inside an A3 device, the scanner is bigger; the ADF is bigger; the output tray is bigger; and the drum, fuser, cylinders and belts are all physically bigger. This results in more labor and materials expense and a higher selling price.

Then there is the perception that a bigger machine should be more expensive. We perpetuated the myth, playing against the smaller recommended volume levels of personal multifunction printers when compared to the bigger, larger “business class” devices. We sold so many A3-capable devices, they became recognized by our clients and sales professionals as normal.

But our clients were not utilizing this capability.

This is a personally observed phenomenon. Back in the good old days of MpS, around 2009, I conducted a survey of one of my MpS fleets around 11-by-17 capabilities and volume. Out of 1,100 devices (combined copiers/MFPs/A3/A4), 95 percent had 11-by-17 capabilities, and 3 percent of output was 11-by-17.

This led me to ask, in front of my client, if copier manufacturers were meeting demand, perpetuating false demands or just inventing a demand? The question alone has many ramifications: We (OEMs) either drove/created 11-by-17 customer requirements, or we completely misgauged our clients’ requirements.

Are we aligned?

I was reminded of this the other day. Recently, Nuance has been conducting webinars on The Imaging Channel, Workflow Magazine’s sister publication. Near the end of some of the company’s sessions, a survey is presented. The questions are the same, yet the audience in one seminar consists of providers, and the other consists of end users.

For the customer sessions, the poll question is as follows: “What would you say is your number one concern related to documents and your document environment?”

Here’s the one for the provider sessions: “What would you say is the number one customer concern related to documents and the document environment?”

Each question has the same set of answers to choose from:

Print and document management

Workflow automation, paper-to-digital conversion

Output costs

Document and print security


Mobility and cloud computing

Not surprisingly, “output costs” was the highest concern for clients and the highest perceived concern from providers – so we have a match. However, there was a stark difference between both groups’ perception of the second most important issue. We think document security is the second most important issue, but our clients rank document and print security as the lowest priority. 20 percent of us think print security is our clients’ top concern, but only a mere 4 percent of our customers actually consider “document and print security” their biggest worry. Stunning.

What was the second concern for customers? Workflow. A whopping 35 percent of clients rank workflow as their second concern, while only 16 percent of providers believe their customers think workflow is important. We’re off by as much as 20 percent!

So what do these two examples tell us, and what can we learn from them and apply to our industry today?

Well, first of all, hardware manufacturers don’t have the marketing power they once had, but some will still try to maintain the glory of yesteryear. We should spot these from afar and work with them accordingly, recognizing that OEM-centric approaches are not as sustainable as customer-centric ways. Indeed, now may be the time to start weaning everyone off the OEM bosom attached to quotas, stocking commitments and back-end rebates. Not that there is anything wrong with these tried-and-proven tactics. It’s just that commitments to anything other than the superior customer experience may turn into “shoes of lead.”

Secondly, where are the new radicals? What areas of our little niche will be next on the “create the demand” parade? Consider mobile print, 3-D printing and managed services:

Mobile print

Does mobile printing as a service address a demand for or create demand for mobile printing? My contention is that even when end users say they would like the option of printing from a tablet or phone, they will actually print very little. Indeed, printing a document from a mobile device could magnify how inconvenient printing can be relative to viewing under glass.

3-D printing

Again, it’s a great idea and has some interesting applications, but it’s not ready for prime time. Today, there’s lot’s of excitement, heat and hype surrounding 3-D printing. But the question remains: Are we filling a demand or desperately seeking a want?

Managed services (print)

Yes, customers want managed services, but by their definition – not necessarily yours or mine. Hearken back to the early times of managed print services, when we had grand ideas of how MpS represented the first step off paper. In those days, the fight to fit demand into a specific agenda was intense. Providers had their own version of managed print services, which narrowly funneled customers into their system, not off print. The result was a bunch of unfulfilled promises and quick commoditization.

The lesson

End users and customers rarely care how problems are solved. Do you know exactly how your Instagram pics end up all over the world (including NSA servers)? No, you don’t. Do you know all the processes involved in receiving a direct deposit into your checking account? No, and you don’t care how it happens, just that it happens. 

Solving customer problems seems at first to be the mantra of every organization: “We solve problems so you can concentrate on what you do best.” There is a caveat, though: “We solve your problems, as long as it is with our equipment, our leasing plan and our software, so you can concentrate on what you do best.”

That’s a lot closer to the truth. But stop thinking like that.

It’s no surprise the best way to grow and flourish is by focusing on solving your customers’ problems from their perspective, not yours or those of your OEM or your program provider. No matter what you’re selling, this is a sustainable philosophy, but it’s difficult to implement. It’s difficult because our issues revolve around sales quotas, equipment purchase commitments and back-end rebates all rolled up in a 30-day cycle. Do your customers’ business challenges roll up in a 30-day cycle? As the great transformation continues, we’ve got a golden opportunity to succeed by concentrating on our customers’ issues.  

We’ve got to learn more about our customers to move beyond the bid list, price points and clicks. If we can’t, how can we expect our prospects to? If we can’t, how can we possibly think we’ll remain relevant to our customers?

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 greg@waltersshutwell.com or visit www.waltersshutwell.com.