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8 Tough Questions to Ask

6 Mar, 2008 By: Chris Polek imageSource

8 Tough Questions to Ask

A new year is evidently upon us.  For most, 2007 was a challenging year in
the copier industry, and you can likely expect 2008 to be just as challenging.
As a business owner, ask yourself this question: “What will I do differently
this year to help ensure that my business can continue to grow, increase in
profits, and claim a healthier outlook for the future?”

Here are eight questions to ponder which will take developing a real strategy
along with hard work to implement them, resulting in the desired reward of
increased sales and profits for your company:

1. How many customers did you lose last year?

Do you know what really happened when you lost client business?  What
changes are you implementing now to prevent that from happening again?  

What are you spending on marketing to new customers vs. what you spend on
retaining your current customers? You may want to check. It’s amazing how
companies invest thousands of dollars trying to attract new customers, yet spend
pennies on retaining them. I’m not saying that investing money to promote new
business is not important, but may not be the wisest allocation of your
resources if current customers are walking out the door.

2. How profitable are your customers?

Do you know or are you clueless? If you have taken the time and effort to
develop a reporting system that can rank on a monthly basis how profitable your
customers are from highest to lowest, I commend you, and you have no doubt
realized how this tool helps your decision making more productive and profitable
with regards to managing your customers.  If you do not have a system in place,
develop one to help you effectively make decisions on how to find and keep
profitable customers in your business. When you develop this reporting method
you may be surprised that you have more unprofitable customers than you
originally believed. Some may even be costing you money!  Don’t give up! You can
come up with a plan to turn them back into profitable customers. If you cannot
make them all profitable, 2008 may be the time to make some available to your

3. How well do you know your customers?

Do you know who your top 100 customers are? Your customers are 100% of your
revenue and 100% of your profits, so you should get to know them/ their business
better. Your competitors are constantly working on a list of “Hot Prospects.” Do
you know who is likely on their lists? Your top 100 customers!  You better guard
those customers with your life!

4. How effectively are you using the Internet/your Web site?

The biggest cry I hear of salespeople and owners in the copier community is:
“Now we have to deal with the IT person on making decisions.”

How well have you adapted to that change? You and your two biggest
competitors have submitted proposals to a prospect that would potentially be a
top tier customer for your company. The IT person has your information, your
business card, etc. The IT person decides to do more research to help them make
a decision, so they go to your website. What will that IT person’s perception of
your company be when they see your site, and then visit the websites of the
other two competitors vying for their business? Especially as you can upgrade
and maintain a website very affordably today.

5. What are you doing to be more profitable this year?

Earlier, I talked about identifying your most profitable and least
profitable customers. Can you drill that down to the equipment you are
maintaining in the field?  How many machines in the field do you have scheduled
to replace from now through the end of 2009? One of the top concerns I hear from
owners is that new business they are writing today is significantly less
profitable than it was two years ago. The machines you have scheduled to replace
and upgrade are prime candidates to consider using compatible parts and supplies
which can save you 30-50% over your OEM costs. If you will make less money on
the new equipment you replace by the end of this year or next, why not make as
much profit as you can on that equipment now?

What happens to the current equipment that you upgrade in the field? That
previously used equipment can be cleaned up, repaired profitably using
compatible parts & supplies, and put back out in the field to customers that are
looking for reliable equipment at an economical price. If you do not have enough
technicians to get a program like this off the ground, there are also numerous
resources with inventories of previously used equipment, ready to deliver to

Do you currently have a previously used equipment program that allows you to
offer an economical alternative to the newest equipment you are offering? If
not, think about how you can get one started this year. The economy is getting
tighter & your salespeople are going to hear the objection “it’s not in the
budget” a lot more this year. The more choices you have to offer these customers
and prospects, your chances are better on getting their business. When you sell
previously used equipment, make sure that your sales pro or staff person is
following up on that customer every six months. The significant savings that you
helped your customer realize from this purchase may help them to now afford the
latest and greatest equipment that you offer.

6. What is your strategy to sell more printers this year?

The facts indicate that printers are the majority and copiers are the
minority. Yes, I understand that connected copiers are technically printers; my
point is, again, about offering your customer as many choices as possible. 

And, it’s not just HP!  Most of the manufacturers that you represent offer a
full line of desktop to high speed printers that you can offer your customers as
an alternative. If you are also looking to add low cost, reliable
printers/A4/MFPs, consider taking a look at Samsung and Muratec, who have been
gaining a larger presence in the copier community every year. The most important
fact is that someone is getting that printer business that is in your customer’s
office; why shouldn’t it be you?

7. Do you have a set goal or a quota?

Like a good company should, Polek & Polek’s primary business is to provide
independent copier dealers with high quality compatible parts and supplies to
help lower their costs and increase their profits. One common objection we hear
independent dealers say is that they cannot purchase compatible parts and
supplies: “We have a quota to meet with our manufacturer, and we are having a
difficult time using all the parts and supplies they require us to purchase.”

I believe them. That they have a quota, that is. But what is the difference
between a set goal and a quota? A goal is something that you set for yourself,
and a quota is something that is usually put upon you. So ask yourself, what are
you doing this year to negotiate a better deal with your manufacturer that will
help your business be better than it was last year? As an independent dealer,
you have to think about the survival of your business first. Today’s environment
for the independent copier dealer is tougher than ever. Your OEMs are not only
putting higher expectations upon you now, some are competing directly against
you. Is this status quo acceptable to you? It takes a lot effort to negotiate a
“win-win” relationship in that type of environment, but it’s not impossible
(though it feels that way). As you work on your relationship with your OEMs this
year, would you rather have a set goal or quota with them?  The choice is yours.

8. Assess your employees; what are you doing to upgrade them?

To run a successful business you need your employees to be results-oriented
problem solvers. Now assess your personnel. You’ll find they fall into 3 levels:

A.10% will be your elite employees, highly skilled & very experienced.
They are indispensable to you.

B. 80% will be employees that have good skills, perhaps not as much
experience, but have the ability to learn and grow.

C. 10% will be employees that are just average or below and will never
improve, so keep only during strong economic times.

What are you doing to make sure that your Level I and II employees are
keeping their skills sharp?  If you do not have a training and education program
in place, consider starting one. Essentially, by addressing all 8 questions,
you’ll have put 2008 in motion.

Chris Polek is President and CEO of Polek & Polek, a family owned wholesale
distributor of parts and supplies for copiers, faxes, and printers. In business
since 1974. Visit www.polek.com 800-526-1360
/ cjpolek@polek.com or

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