Crossing the Printer Space Threshold16 Mar, 2005 By: Steven Power imageSource
Crossing the Printer Space Threshold
Now that most traditional copier sales channels have successfully made the
transition from selling stand-alone copiers to MFPs connected to networks, the
next target on the horizon has become obvious—the printer space.
As many sales executives and salespeople face the challenge of penetrating the
printer space, many privately admit a defeatist’s attitude. Many will sight HP’s
high market share and nearly 100 percent mindshare in IT. Add to that the
perception that printers are sold as a commodity with little gross profit, and
the lack of compelling compensation programs, it’s no surprise that most top
sales managers and salespeople accept the belief that there’s no money in
agree there’s no money in printers if you’re selling low-end printers in the
purchasing department. That being said, I have clients making handsome profits
selling high-end print solutions in finance, marketing, legal, and accounting
departments where the printer is an element of an overall greater solution.
believe that one must approach the printer space with the strategy of
identifying applications in a niche or vertical market where they can harness
the print device with middleware solutions, enabling the seller to add value to
the box and enjoy greater profit margins.
For example, during a regular visit to my local car dealership for service I
would typically receive a five-part form following the work. However, in a
recent visit I received a single page that contained all the pertinent
information. I was told that the dealership had converted to a more
cost-effective digital process for sharing information with the service bay over
the network. It’s obvious that the automobile manufacturer did not just buy a
printer, but a solution as well.
Four Steps to Success—In consulting clients in their endeavor to penetrate the
printer space, I offer this proven four step strategy:
1. Get to the IT—It’s
obvious that selling printers in purchasing and expecting to hold profits is
pure hallucination. Purchasing agents are focused on product (commodity) and
price and generally are asked to negotiate pricing after IT has authorized which
print devices are acceptable. Sellers must bypass purchasing and go directly to
IT to create value added selling opportunities within the IT evaluation and
One thing we know about IT decision makers is that they love the Internet. The
Internet is the IT’s preferred medium for accessing information and
communicating. I suggest sellers obtain the IT decision maker’s email address
and begin by requesting permission to provide decision support information that
will equip them to be better informed decision makers. Once allowed to provide
such information, the point here is not to provide promotional marketing
brochures, but to educate the IT buyer.
Elements of the information campaign should include informative case studies
where the seller’s marquee references had a problem in a specific application
and the seller provided an innovative solution that delivered quantified results
in increased productivity and reduced cost.
There are multiple white papers available from organizations such as Gartner
Group, DocuTrends and DocuVision International which address the topics of right
sizing printer fleets, understanding the total cost of ownership related to
printing and leveraging MFP technology. IT decision makers respond more
positively to objective, third-party research, test results and product reviews
than elaborate marketing brochures.
IT decision makers typically repel sales presentations and sales techniques. In
short, IT decision makers don’t like to be sold. Another challenge in selling to
IT is based on the assumption that IT buyers like to buy new technology while in
fact, IT buyers don’t like to buy new technology, they like to try new
IT decision makers view the IT department as a technology test bed for the
organization. Their mission is to explore options to determine if the new
technology will deliver value to the organization. If, in the process of testing
new stuff, they discover innovative and cost effective solutions, the
implementation of which can make them a hero, the process brings value to the IT
In evaluating new technology, they don’t want to test it in workgroups. IT
doesn’t want to disrupt workgroups or get end users excited about technology
they may not in fact deliver. They prefer to take things slow testing new
technology in a controlled environment—the IT department.
2. Create a Proof of Concept Pilot Project—Just
because you’re in IT doesn’t mean the selling can begin just yet. If you’re
going to sell high-end printers with middleware applications, you’re going to
need to prove your solution (concept) first. For example, if you have a variable
data print solution, the concept may be that the print device and middleware
will allow on-demand monochrome and color printing at a fraction of the cost of
traditional printing and, additionally, allow the marketing department to fully
customize sales brochures that result in increased response rates.
When developing a proof of concept, it is critical to pick a department that has
the applications, print volumes, existing budgets, etc. that fit your solutions
like a glove. You should also consider current operating costs and user
contentions that will help better position and cost justify your solution.
Next, based on this knowledge you can create performance expectations your
solution will deliver. Performance expectations include projected increases in
productivity, reduction in operating cost, and removal of user contentions. Your
pilot project should prove that the performance expectations are achievable and
pave the way for the placement of the solution in the targeted department.
The next step requires an investment of time and resources which some dealers
will not make. Those who know what it takes to sell in IT will simply install a
fully configured technology solution (printer and middleware) in the IT
department for a short evaluation period and at the end of that evaluation
measure the results delivered by the solution and compare those results with the
prospect’s current methods and the performance expectations.
The evaluation findings are then packaged into a proof of concept report. This
report is the internal case study and the sales proposal. The pilot project is
in fact a sale based on proof of concept and validation of ROI. The pilot
solution is then transferred to the designated department and becomes an
internal reference and stages the next step.
3. Get on the standards list—Typically,
no technology gets sold in IT or placed on the network before IT blesses it by
placing it on the standards list. The standards list is a menu of IT tested and
IT authorized technology. Printer technology is typically selected and placed on
the standards list based on criteria that includes applications, duty cycles
(volumes), cost, and category. Categories include desktop, workgroup, networked,
production, color, and special applications (large format, variable data
printing, and e-forms).
Getting on the standards list means when a department manager calls
IT or purchasing and asks for a printer that does this or that, IT then says to
the department manager and say, “Go to the standards list and pick one off the
technology menu of approved printers that meet your requirements.” This sets up
your next step.
4. Scale and phase in solutions over time—You’re
in IT, you’ve proven your solutions deliver benefits, you’ve validated ROI,
you’re on the standards list, and you even have an internal reference. Now you
can start selling deep and wide in the organization.
IT loves the following phrase, “Scale and phase in enterprise wide.” Your next
step is to collaborate with IT to identify the next few departments, divisions
and locations for phase one implementation. Here’s where you identify additional
departments with similar applications for your proof of concept. If you’ve
placed a variable printing solution in marketing, you may find other variable
data print applications in accounting for printing invoices or statements. After
you gain traction in IT, start to look for new opportunities to pilot and
provide proof of concept for MFPs, color or document management and e-form
You must be diligent in assessing each potential department’s applications,
volumes, operating costs and user contentions and create performance
expectations, which in fact is your proposal for each new solution
It’s obvious the process for penetrating the printer space is not easy, but by
understanding IT protocol, investing time and effort to identify value added
selling opportunities, proving your proposal in advance, and building a
reputation as a solution provider you can transcend commodity status, bypass
purchasing and dispel the myth, “There’s no money in printers.”