The Single Source: 5 Ways to Make Sure You’re Not Leaving Profits on the Table
The past 19 months have been hard on everyone. From a professional standpoint, companies have had to retool their strategies to keep presses running and doors open, only to face a troubled supply chain that doesn’t respect client deadlines. When the world feels uncertain, it’s natural to look for ways to regain that control. Some distributors have found relief in single-source business models, with more consumers now favoring one-stop shopping for their marketing needs.
“The end-users are leaning on the people they have a good relationship with, knowing they can trust them,” said Kris Bilyeu, chief operating officer at Tabco (Design, Print and Promote), Terre Haute, Indiana. “With the ability to link several product channels together, I think that gives us an advantage.”
Founded in 1978, the family-owned distributor prides itself on “friendly, courteous service” — and a big part of customer service is evolving with clients and listening to their pain points. For Tabco, that meant expanding its product offering beyond printed forms to include labels, commercial print, promotional hard goods and branded apparel. Selling something in every related channel has worked well for Tabco, but is it the right move for its peers? If not you, clients will turn to someone else, so think of it like this: Why not you?
Here are five ways to position yourself as a one-stop shop for your customers.
1. Promote Yourself
It’s important for distributors to express who they are and what they do as quickly as possible. In the past, Tabco relied on its salesforce to focus on the company’s long-standing tagline “Your Best Single Source,” but soon discovered team members would sell based on their comfort zone.
“[Currently,] we use self-promos, social media and email to support our sales team, and have added inside ‘specialists’ to help them feel more comfortable selling promo, apparel and large format,” Bilyeu said.
City Paper Company, a 124-year-old, fourth-generation, family-owned business in Birmingham, Alabama, takes a show-and-tell approach when educating prospects on their retail packaging, promotional marketing, and warehousing, kitting and fulfillment services.
“We show them through frequent marketing emails, spec samples, case studies and regular ongoing campaigns that highlight different examples of what we provide,” explained Stephanie Friedman, vice president of sales and marketing for City Paper Company. “One example is we added COVID-19 supplies into our line of business. We sent out boxes showcasing some of the items our company could potentially provide to our customers. This resulted in a number of orders for masks, hand sanitizer and gloves.”
2. Practice Patience
Learning a new product line can feel overwhelming at first. Each niche comes with its own unique specs and lingo. Friedman had a piece of advice for print distributors interested in making the promo crossover: Don’t underestimate the learning curve.
“Promo can seem so easy, but there are truly so many factors that go into making an order run smoothly,” she cautioned. “Be nice to our vendors. They are doing their very best. We mess up. They mess up. Customers even mess up. Try to focus on solutions and learning from mistakes, not on the mistakes themselves.”
3. Be a Problem Solver
Both experts believe in consultative selling to help customers make better buying decisions. Friedman suggested distributors lead with questions about the client’s current program before product talk. For instance, ask what they would change about the way their current program is being handled. Also determine if you overlooked any areas where you may be able to assist.
“The products then just come in to fill the needs of what will best help the customer,” Friedman said. “It’s our job as consultants to provide a robust idea of what would best help them achieve their goals and sprinkle in some options they may not have already thought of.”
Bilyeu said to be prepared for shipping, logistics and inventory issues to come up in conversation.
“Everyone is having problems finding some product, which can allow for opportunity for those of us who have formed good relationships with the best vendors, which I feel we have done over the last 40 years,” he noted. “That does not always mean we will find the product, but at least our customers know we will keep in good contact with them and keep them informed of the situation of supply — before, during and after.”
4. Stay Honest
Bilyeu is seeing lead times of up to 60 days for certain label materials. Allocations on printing papers where companies can only get “this much” are another area of concern. Communication is key in these situations.
“The good people who started Tabco taught me to never lie to a customer,” Bilyeu remarked.
That said, Bilyeu expects supplier partners to inform him of anticipated supply shortages, delays and price increases so he can relay the information to customers.
Friedman strongly advocated for honesty as well. “Transparency, preparation, thinking ahead and forecasting, and maintaining a cool, positive, nimble attitude, are essential to keeping the customer feeling confident and calm,” she said. “We can only control what we can control, but our attitude can truly help navigate the difficult challenges far more easily.”
To secure limited materials and remain their clients’ single source, distributors may have to open their supply chains. Friedman is noticing that prospects who they’ve been actively calling on for years are giving City Paper Company new opportunities during the pandemic. She attributed this to her team’s resourcefulness, creativity and proactiveness.
“In a time where product is extremely challenging to come by, it seems best to have more resources to pull from as opposed to relying on a streamlined approach that can potentially limit you,” she shared.
5. Learn the Hard Lessons
Even seasoned sales professionals have made mistakes in their career path. Overpromising is arguably the most common blunder.
“We often forget to prepare customers that inventory may be affected between the presentation time and ordering/proof approval time period,” Friedman said. “Freight challenges are often beyond our control. Any cushion we can provide to pad dates and prepare our customers that may have to be flexible will inevitably help the order process should something go wrong.”
When mistakes happen, distributors should own them and apologize. Friedman also likes to give clients a few solutions to resolve the issue.
“The most important thing is that you recognize for the client what you learned and how you will do your best to [prevent] the same error from happening again in the future,” she said.
Elise Hacking Carr is editor-in-chief/content director for Print+Promo magazine.