It’s surprising how many printing companies today are still trying to sell print to their customers when the last thing on the mind of the customer is print. Here's why.


At the beginning of 2017 I met a printing company that was doing everything I thought a progressive printing company should do to win more customers, make more money, and develop more meaningful relationships with its customers. It’s secret was simple: it didn’t sell print; it sold whatever the customer was selling and put the needs of the customer’s objectives before its own. It was going to get the printing anyway as part of whatever type of campaign was supplied, so it need not bother pushing its own needs before those of the customer. 


Simply put, this firm had diversified its business to the point that it no longer considered itself to be a print services provider and was more of a marketing services provider that supplied print, and it had achieved this not by investing in equipment, but in people. It took three years to transform the company and change the way it thought about and sold print, and during this time the company brought-in a team of graphic designers and marketing sales specialists to act alongside its account managers.


Graphic designers are an incredibly customer focussed group of people. They also have a complete grasp on the workings of the printing industry and are often the first to hear about new materials and printing processes. They are also highly adept at selling creative concepts to customers and, funnily enough, the good ones don’t sell design services to their customers; they sell whatever it is the customer is selling. Now add a marketing specialist to the mix. The marketing person is able to work hand-in-hand with both the customer and the graphic designer, and this is when the creative ideas begin to flow. 


It’s not exactly rocket science, but this is the approach taken by It Has To Be Brilliant (IHTBB) - formerly a print buying operation with a small amount of in-house light production equipment - that has seen staff levels increase from 6 to 46 in just three years. 


IHTBB believes that skilled creatives are far more valuable than printing equipment, and it is not afraid to farm out any work it can’t handle. This gives the front-of-house creatives the freedom they require to create any kind of sales or marketing campaign for their client without the restriction of printing. Therefore if the client is a major high street brand, the creative team might suggest a campaign for them that features some form of TV or radio advertising, even though IHTBB is not selling TV or radio adverts - it really doesn’t matter because IHTBB knows it will still pick up any printing that is a bi-product of the campaign along the way. 



They call it ‘objective marketing’ and it enables the company to develop deep and meaningful customer relationships without being encumbered by the basic need to just sell print. The client doesn’t care about printing. It’s just a means to an end for him. It’s us who cares more about the printing, and probably far too much because it’s probably the way that 99% of print is sold today. In just three years IHTBB has turned on its head everything to do with the business of selling printing, and it’s not anything to do with luck, black magic, voodoo or any other of the dark arts. Its all about people - creative people.


If you look hard around the trade you will find only a handful of printing companies that are able to offer a similar service to IHTBB. What you will find though are a lot of marketing services companies (who don’t think of themselves as PSPs in any way) who look pretty similar. So is IHTBB a marketing services agency? Yes it certainly is, but it’s also one that understands printing from the inside out and is therefore able to capitalise on the print aspects of any given campaign. It is a new breed of printing company; a marketing print service provider - an MPSP. It has taken IHTBB three years to transform itself into a creative-led business, which means you could do it too, or you could do it in stages. 


The first thing I would do is bring-in a really creative freelance graphic designer that knows how to deal with customers. If you already employ a graphic designer, think whether or not they have the right ‘customer’ skill set you require before promoting them. You can then grow with this one person who could build a team for you, or you could look outside to develop a great business relationship with a design company, or better still, acquire one. The important thing here is to allow the designer to work hand-in-glove with your account managers and spend as much time as is necessary on the client side because these are the ideas people. 


The second thing to do is find a marketing specialist that can also work hand-in-hand with the designer and the customers. My advice here is to recruit someone with an agency background. This way they will already be experienced in creating marketing concepts for customers, therefore an experienced agency account director is going to fit the bill. 


Once you have these people in place you will very quickly begin to see much different results. Try not to say no to anything and allow your creatives to have a more open hand with how you approach the market for new business.


In summary: you want to sell printing to your customers who are not necessarily looking to buy printing from you, but they might be more willing to listen to your newly appointed ‘creative director’ who will develop and create ideas for them that will sell whatever it is they are offering - and all of the printing will still come through you, even if you have to farm a load of it out to begin with.  


It isn’t rocket science, and it’s not for everyone, but it certainly works for IHTBB, and as such I think it could also work for you too.