How Busy Do You Want to Be?
A few years ago, one of our digital printing vendors paid a visit to our in-plant. The discussion was pretty routine, and centered around our needs, our capabilities, and challenges we were having with our existing equipment. All in all, this was the same sales call we’d been having for years: a new something-or-other copier had just come out, and it could do everything the last model could, but better and faster. More clicks and higher output could be in our future. At some point in the conversation, however, the vendor turned to me and asked a question I had never heard before:
Do you want more business?
I paused and cocked my head to the side – much like a dog might if you asked it to calibrate a color printer – and fell silent. This made no sense to me at first, but the more I considered it, he posed a valid question. What incentive do we have for being any busier tomorrow than we are today? If we are serving a need and performing well, do we really need to aggressively pursue more opportunities? Is the goal to really gain more business?
I started my career in the world of retail printing, where growth was not only an expectation, but vital for survival. In that previous life, profitable sales growth was our number one indicator of success, and all business decisions were made with an eye toward increasing marking share, driving machine clicks, and topping last year’s results. In the in-plant world, however, this does not always seem to be the case.
As in-plant printers, we sit in a rather unique position; we serve at the pleasure of our parent organization, and can easily fall into a comfortable rut after time. Your customers are internal departments, and unless your parent company undergoes frequent reorganizations, they tend to remain static. Even the individual employees you deal with probably don’t turn over very often. As a result, the ebb and flow of your work can become very predictable, and the type of work your in-plant does (and more importantly, doesn’t do) becomes part of your culture. Your staffing and equipment mix support your current needs, and you’re not looking to sign up for any more work, thank you very much.
The World is Changing, Are You?
What happens, though, is that technology is constantly evolving. In your front pocket or purse, you carry around more computing power than the fanciest PC had just 15 years ago. With this device, you can call up an entire world of information, and can order products and services with nearly instant gratification. Whether you realize it or not, your customers’ expectations have changed – and they expect instant results. The hard question we need to be asking ourselves is: As in-plant printers, are we ready to meet these expectations of a new, digitally-connected world? And if not, what we doing to fix it? Is your department truly equipped to meet the actual current needs of your parent company, as opposed to assumptions you may have made years ago?
One of the most important things we can be doing as in-plant leaders is spending time with our customers and learning more about their specific needs. Now, I’m not talking about the standard, “How was our quality on that last project?” or “What can we be doing differently?” My advice is to dig deeper find out what success means to your customer – then, figure out a way to support that vision. Are you a university in-plant? Set up a meeting with your admissions department, and ask what their goals are. Have they considered personalized recruiting materials? Is this something your shop is set up to support? If you support a retail enterprise, do you produce signage and wide format printing?
Be the Expert
The ugly truth is that if you are not finding these solutions, someone eventually will. And all too often, that someone will be an outsourced service provider, making false promises of efficiency and cost savings. As an internal resource, we are uniquely qualified to head off these threats, and be the go-to experts our customers expect. Being embedded on the inside, we have a deeper level of knowledge and understanding than any salesperson could hope to have. Our challenge is to get out of the office, make and cultivate those key relationships, and establish a reputation for solving problems.
Moving from being a “print shop” to a “solutions provider” is hard work and takes a great deal of strategic planning to execute well. Once a new strategy is implemented, however, you will likely find that you and your team say “yes” a whole lot more often. And, as you might expect, this often leads to more work for you and your in-plant.
Now think back to my copier vendor and ask yourself that same question. Do you want more business?
I’m pretty sure that someone will say yes. For the long-term success and viability of your in-plant (and your long-term career prospects), let’s hope that someone is you.
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Sean Carroll is Senior Director of Auxiliary Services for Vanderbilt University, with responsibility for Printing Services, Mail Services, the Vanderbilt Bookstore, and CampusPrint – Vanderbilt’s copier/printer management program. He has over 25 years of leadership experience in the graphic communications industry, and is a graduate of the University of Tennessee. Sean can be reached at email@example.com