There are several approaches to getting things printed. As for me, I prefer teamwork. I know of brokers who keep their vendors secret. Delivery receipts and boxes are either furnished by the broker or are devoid of any printer, or any other identification. I do understand why they do it. Some customers and some printers view a broker as someone to dump. We can be viewed as a temporary obstacle.
I don’t see it that way. I see myself as an adjunct to the printer’s own sales force. I provide the same services as their people, but without the added cost. I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. A typical sales rep will earn: 1. 8% t0 12% commission; 2. Matching Social Security contributions; 3. Expense reimbursements (usually); 4. Group Health Insurance benefits; 5. Probably some kind of 401K or other retirement; 6. General Overhead (desk, phone, office supplies). Add these six expense items and what does it actually cost to have locked-in sales people? Do the math, pay a sales rep 25% to 30% including commissions and benefits, or discount the invoice by 10% to 15% for the broker. Brokers are a win-win. Where printers go wrong is that they want to make the broker the customer. The broker isn’t the customer anymore than your employees are the customer. Get that right and everything will run smoother.
As for the real customers, they usually call me because their printing is problematic. They are paying too much, they aren’t getting cooperation, and the work isn’t up to their liking. Usually I can find ways to solve all of these problems. Most people are untrained in printing, because they don’t know the best ways to get a printing job done, five to forty percent reductions are very common. As for getting cooperation, I’ve formed a growing cadre of printers, mailing houses, and other services that over the last twenty years have proven themselves over and over. When I choose a printer to add to my quiver I’m judging them through a lens of decades of experience. My customers don’t have that advantage. There is nothing like a history to gain cooperation. As for the quality issue, I make sure that the customer gets an adequate proof, and I go with them to press checks, just to make sure. Most customers B.B. (before Bill) don’t know what to do when presented with a proof and have never heard of press checks until I teach them. And what if something is going wrong, does the customer have to take it up with the printer? No. They hand the problem to me and I discuss it with the printer. I am the customer’s advocate, but I’m not a trial lawyer, I don’t have to defend a customer in the wrong. I’ll present the arguments as best I can looking for the win-win, but I can’t morally support a demand that I see as unfair or unethical.
Despite all the services we brokers provide for both the printer and the customers, why do we continue “to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?” Let me paint the typical life-cycle of a customer and broker.
- The customer is fed up with all of the problems they’ve been experiencing getting their printing done right, on time, and a reasonable cost.
- Someone recommends us to the customer.
- As a FREE service, we evaluate their printing needs and find ways to cut their costs while offering better quality, and outstanding service.
- We’re the conquering heroes. The customer loves us and wonders how they ever got along without us before.
- Time passes and they forget how much they’ve been saving since our association. They forget how difficult it used to be getting their printing done.
- One day a printer’s rep calls on them , and tells them that brokers (not true–see above) are an added cost.
- The printer low-balls the price to get the business.
- The customer becomes convinced and unceremoniously kills the goose that brought them the golden egg. Down goes the conquering hero.
- Eventually the customer has turnover in that department. Printing becomes problematic again, because they are fragmenting it to suppliers who insist that they are capable even when they are not. Where a salesman’s commission is involved they will force, if necessary, the round peg into the square hole.
- The new people get frustrated.
- Someone recommends us. The company has a cloudy but long memory. They have totally forgotten what we did for them, but they seem to remember that brokers cost them more. Are you kidding me? What happened to the conquering hero? We didn’t change, they did.
Despite the fact that having an open relationship with customers and suppliers is risky, I prefer to focus on the job at hand and let those other issues take care of themselves. The job at hand requires that it be done right, on time, and at a reasonable cost. Sometimes I need to get the customer’s graphic designer in contact with the printer’s pre-press department to work out some of the file issues. Other times I’ll schedule a meeting with myself, the printer, and the customer to hammer out specific production, delivery, or billing issues. I don’t disguise where proofs originate, and more often than not, I accompany the customer to a press check. It is pretty difficult to hide your source when they are going to the building. Maybe blindfold them? Nah. I like the teamwork approach. I think it is the best way to proceed and if it costs me over the long haul, so be it. I’ll “suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” if it gets the job done right, on time, and at a reasonable cost. But that’s just me.