How I Learned, Without Getting Fired, that Everyone's in Sales
I'll never forget the day I almost made a grown man cry. He was a good customer who came to our print shop that day to OK a job on press. He was also there to pick up a small but important hot-rush label job. I happened to be the novice cutting machine operator nervously handling his difficult project.
The pharmaceutical style labels were tiny and it seemed there were countless oddball sizes and versions to keep track of on the large press sheet. There were big warnings about **ACCURACY** scrawled all over the job ticket in red ink. The label’s design was such that the graphics went right to the edge with no room for cutting errors. And oh yes, the guillotine cutting machine I was working on was notorious for its inaccuracy.
Mind you, my early bindery education consisted of about two hours of training on the cutter followed by "O.K., now get this trailer load of board cut for the truck this afternoon." So in the early months I learned to be fast. Accuracy counted somewhat, but speed always took precedence.
This precision label stuff was a whole new ballgame. After spending a long, long time setting up the job, and feeling very confident, I put a big lift of the label job in the cutter. It was nearly the entire job. The customer was standing patiently next to me, anxious to get his samples and leave.
I made the first cut and as the knife came up it revealed a long row of pretty colors and lines. There should have been nothing but clean, blank, paper. In a single swipe I had destroyed about 15,000 labels by cutting off the bottom line of type.
The normally chatty and very friendly customer stood motionless and speechless. (The printers I knew in the metropolitan New York area were never speechless.) I swear I saw a tear in his eye. In hindsight I realize he was very kind to me when he simply asked "Why did you do that?" He repeated the question several times as if the repetition would wake him from this bad dream.
He then revealed there was a production line at the bottling plant waiting for one version of the labels I had destroyed. He was already late on the delivery and was in danger of losing this account, one of his biggest customers. He was visibly shaken by my mistake. The fact that he mentioned he had a family to care for underscored the trauma I had inflicted upon him.
That's the moment I realized that every one of us is involved in sales, no matter what our job. At that very moment, the work I was doing represented my employer and our entire company to this man, our customer. Not only was he mad at me, but my careless action could affect whether or not he would ever do business with us again. It could have cost us — and him — hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost sales.
That was over 30 years ago, and it was an expensive lesson I never forgot. I vaguely recall it ending well. We made up the shortfall with an emergency reprint and he got the labels he needed to his customer.
After that incident I approached every task in the shop as if the customer were standing there beside me. If I found myself thinking about a shortcut, or about shipping something that I probably wouldn't ship in front of the customer, I didn't do it. At the very least I would discuss it with my boss.
Even if you never see a customer in your job, you have an impact on the customer and on the bottom line. Your actions on the job affect you, your colleagues, your employer, the customer and others you will never know. That puts you in sales, like it or not. It makes you a direct representative of your in-plant. It directly determines whether your department is heading towards success or towards failure. The road to success is easy when you keep your customer standing beside you.
When he’s not busy helping printers become more profitable with unique bindery equipment accessories, Andre Palko writes on the subject of print finishing at the Bindery Success™ Blog. A print industry veteran of 30+ years as well as founder and President of Technifold USA, Inc., his articles are regularly featured in many print and online trade publications. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.