by Thomas Jensen, HP
One of the most reliable ways to ensure a long, successful and mutually beneficial customer relationship is to provide offerings and services that scale to fit each customer’s needs. By serving customers well and generating a relationship built on trust, your business will be rewarded with steady profits over time. A key first step to creating this type of mutually beneficial relationship is assessing the business needs of your customer. By properly diagnosing a business challenge and providing the correct equipment and services to overcome that challenge, you will plant the seed of trust necessary in the best partnerships.
Of course, assessing business needs is not as simple as listening and taking notes. The needs of a customer vary, and their decision to buy will hinge in part on how well they believe you understand their business. To separate yourself from the competition, you will need to seek out a deeper level of knowledge. The best channel partners will consult with several different points of contact within a customer’s company to immerse themselves in a customer’s business.
When selling services and devices related to printing, customers may not realize the opportunities associated with these systems. This leaves the impetus for educating the customer on the partner. The most productive and long-lasting relationships will be formed when you combine your own extensive knowledge of the products and services that you offer with a deep understanding of the customer’s business. Consider these best practices as you assess your customers’ printing needs:
Before meeting with a potential customer, it’s important to know as much as possible about their company. If you aren’t familiar with the customer’s industry, investigate what special needs they might have. Their business might be cyclical or seasonal, like an accounting firm that has much greater printing needs in April than in September. Perhaps they are a large company, but their workforce is highly distributed in branch offices, as is the case with many banks or insurance agencies. These offices won’t need the ultra-high duty cycle machines that a more centralized enterprise of the same size would. Every business is different and will have unique needs that you should address upfront. Not only will the customer be impressed that you have gone through the effort of learning their business, but they’ll be more likely to trust you.
Walk the floor
No matter what type of customer you’re working with, it can be important to see their actual office and get a feel for how printing works in their space. You may immediately notice issues with their printing setup that will allow you to give consultative advice right from the beginning. Perhaps a large printer with a high duty cycle is tucked away in a production room where it is rarely used, while a less robust device is more accessible and thus, more commonly used. This can lead to service issues for the smaller device and a lack of efficiency for the larger one – facts that can be pointed out before even making a sale. You may also notice that the layout of the office lends itself to certain workflows, or see how different employee behaviors affect the printing system. It is likely that your sales contact will not know that she needs to provide this information, so you won’t know about these opportunities unless you ask to see the office in person.
Search for new opportunities
In getting to know your customers and their behavior, you will begin to see where they need a product or service that they’re not utilizing. It’s important to thoroughly analyze these opportunities so you can explain their full benefit when you propose a new device or service. Perhaps your customer has many employees that are mobile and work outside of the office. These employees may often run into the issue of needing to share information from their mobile device when they come into the office, but can’t print from the business’ current, otherwise fully functioning printers. It may not be responsible to propose upgrading the customer’s entire printer fleet to the most advanced, mobile-friendly devices. However, there are solutions that can add mobile capabilities to their printer fleet at a fraction of the price, and suggesting these is an example of providing true value to the customer, rather than pushing for the largest sale possible.
Continue to gather knowledge
As your customer relationship continues to grow, don’t stop the listening process. Repeat the previous three steps, often. Regular site visits will not only keep you top of mind, but will help you offer solutions to business challenges as they arise. Look for clues and read between the lines when your customer is explaining what they like or dislike about their current system. If a customer complains that they continuously have to refill their toner cartridges or paper, help them understand that they may need a device with a higher duty cycle. Or perhaps you learn that the device is working perfectly fine, but your customer is irritated by purchasing and refilling consumables himself. The solution instead may be an automated service that will fulfill the customer’s supplies needs without needing to order it themselves. Continuously ask questions and search for solutions, only offering those that are best for the customer.
During the last year, HP conducted a study in which investigators were immersed in small business environments for a week. They observed that many of these small businesses either had too much or too little in the way of printing systems. We found that small businesses are especially prone to being sold on enterprise devices that are simply too complex for their day-to-day printing needs. When smaller, efficient imaging solutions are available packaged with many of the same business solutions, there is very rarely a need for a copier-sized MFP in smaller offices. In these cases, the small businesses were dissatisfied with their imaging solutions and the salespeople with which they were associated.
By using the best practices listed here, you can avoid similar issues with your customers. Pushing specific products or services reduces your business to a transactional model, rather than framing you as the consultative partner and valued advisor that you can be. Ultimately, your business will benefit from building these strong, trusting relationships with your customers.
This article originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of The Imaging Channel.