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The Road Not Taken: It can be the best route to greater market share

As office technology dealers, many of you faced forks in the road when it came to transitioning from typewriters to copiers, from liquid toner to dry, from black and white to color, and now from standalone equipment to systems that can be linked to networks. At each of these junctures, those who continued on the same, familiar path have not reaped the same benefits as those who took the "road not taken."

As Robert Frost wrote in his famous 1915 poem: "Two roads diverged in the yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both." At the end of the poem, he wrote: "I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference." Poetically, that describes today's office technology dealer's dilemma: "Do I take the 'road not taken' or do I continue to sell just the box?"

Workgroup Minefields

In many businesses, workers are just now discovering that the latest device installed on the document network is under-utilized and has not delivered on the promise of improved productivity. The device has not provided the workgroup users with the solution as proposed by the dealership.

What went wrong? Since business document workflow has evolved over an extended period of time, just as each company's business has evolved, little thought was given to strategic planning of input or output devices. Today, document workflow within many businesses is the result of individual workgroups or clustered cultures that are structured around various pieces of document processing equipment. Different individuals, each with little consideration for corporate needs other than those of a particular group or user, purchased the devices separately. As a result, there is little document workflow integration in the majority of U.S. businesses today. Yet, in this environment, today's office technology dealer is being challenged to sell a "system" that will improve efficiencies and costs, while maintaining a positive cash flow and sustainable growth.

Today, understanding your customer's document workflow is paramount to any success in selling multifunction copier- or printer-based systems. Entry-level salespeople or high-level managers who just happen to drop in on a cold call or "chat" with the client cannot accomplish that level of understanding. Instead, it takes a skill set that serves to identify the critical paths through these minefields, on/off network ramps, topography, applications and much more. The engagement of your dealership with the customer must generate a professional result that outlines the "customized solution" you intend to implement.

Your consultative approach and presentation - or that of your salesperson - must detail the customer's current network architecture, various document workflow patterns, device volumes, associated costs, resources, applications including storage and retrieval, indexing, editing and, ultimately, disposal. The level of detail that you can capture will enhance your understanding of the customer's issues as well as improve your chances of a successful business transaction.

Key Industry Trends

Numerous consultants and organizations, including office technology manufacturers, are aggressively working with dealers to help them identify new decision makers, employ proven consultative steps and offer templates that you can follow when conducting an on-site document workflow analysis. As you prepare to conduct these analyses, it is important to understand some major industry trends that are shaping user needs and product acquisitions.

Copiers are sold while printers are purchased. They are purchased because the user has a specific need to output particular documents. Therefore, you have to be able to identify the user's copy and output needs and expectations before introducing the printer application of a copier/printer system.

It is also important that you recognize that "digital printing" and other such expressions are industry terms and mean little to end users. Unless you can translate the terminology of the technology and articulate the advantages it brings to the customer, you will get bogged down in matters that will only confuse the buyer.

In addition, you must remember that end users are looking for seamless installations and document management software systems with minimal expense and human intervention. They are frustrated and feel put upon when the latest device purchased by management does not work as well as their old standby copier or desktop printer. Ultimately, today's users of copier/printer systems are tasked with better management of informational documents and sharing knowledge with a lower cost per print.

Finally, another key trend is the growing database of the digital repository in businesses as they increase the number of nodes and networks within their respective enterprises and disburse rich data among a greater number of individual servers or databases. This leads to the capability of printing anywhere, any time, as well as remote scanning. Therefore, before suggesting a particular copy/print solution, it is important that you understand that archival documents in their original formats have to be reproducible on any new system.

Consultative Selling

More than likely you already understand the current copying requirements of the customer, but what about printing? It is important that you determine the customer's existing printer topography. You should talk with those individuals who work with the documents or data, and identify what output devices and applications they are running. Do not overlook remote or at-home workers; their input and output requirements may impact what type and quantity of systems you will propose. While conducting your investigation, reassure those in the workgroup that the results of the study will help them complete their tasks faster and in a more manageable and cost-effective manner. Whenever possible, get sample documents.

According to PC Magazine, the typical document is printed four to five times before it is finalized, meaning that 75 percent of all prints get thrown away in the creation process. Of pre-printed materials, manufacturing discards 20 percent, retail discards 25 percent and business services discards 15 percent. Similarly, according to a study conducted by a copier manufacturer, the average document ceases to exist only after it has been retrieved and reproduced 19 times.

These examples illustrate how, by talking with customers and understanding what they do with documents, you will discover opportunities. Ask customers how they currently manage workflow. Who owns the document? Where does it reside? Who upgrades it? Who distributes it? Where is it distributed? What is the frequency of retrieval and distribution? These are but a few of the questions that will create a map of the document flow and give you a better understanding of where and how your solution will fit.

Virtually every workgroup has printing, faxing and copying capabilities in some form, so your study has to uncover the weaknesses in the existing output devices or processes (e.g., equipment that is no longer cost-effective or productive or jobs that are being outsourced that could be done more efficiently in-house). You must think in terms of capturing all output - images being produced on competitive copiers (digital or analog), printers (monochrome and color), facsimile units, multifunctional systems and/or line/band printers.

Common Rules

In order to go down that "road not taken" there are some common rules to follow. They may vary slightly from consultant to consultant or customer to customer, but, overall, should include: be aware, analyze, prioritize, strategize, submit and satisfy.

First, be aware of the opportunity in every new sales situation. Examine how information is captured within the workgroup. Is it coming from interoffice mail, parcel post or facsimile? Are line or older laser printers being used, and is scanning being done online or offline? Is the customer still using an analog copier?

Next, analyze and prioritize. How are pages being generated and in what quantity? What software applications are being used to create the documents, and do they consist of text or images or both? Are they black and white or color or both? Are all of the documents created by the workgroup or are they created outside of the workgroup? Can the existing devices within the workgroup meet the users' current needs? What are the monthly volumes on the various devices, and how many users have access to them? What is the network operating system? Can you capture the true hardware costs, including any lease and depreciation schedules? What are the costs of supplies and what is the frequency of repairs or on-site visits by the service technician? If you can obtain answers to most of these questions, you will be well on your way to analyzing and arranging the priorities of the workgroup users.

After collecting the data and completing your analysis, it is time to strategize and develop a network output solution that will meet the customer's immediate needs as well as long-term plans. Think like a consultant or as your customer's advocate. Will the system you propose improve productivity and eliminate the current frustrations experienced by the workgroup? Can they access documents faster and truly reduce costs? Perhaps to arrive at the correct conclusion you will have to involve your own sales engineer and other knowledge workers. The goal is to present to the customer a system that not only will have an immediate positive impact on productivity, but will be compatible with the network environment.

The last two steps, submitting the proposal and measuring user satisfaction, can be relatively easy if the proper foundation was constructed. Make sure your proposal includes an executive summary that addresses the current workgroup environment and the results of your analysis. It is also a good idea to include the costs and resources associated with the existing devices. Then, like all good proposals, it should point out how the system you are recommending will improve worker efficiencies and network output while reducing cost. The summary should close with an implementation schedule.

Remember, when you started this journey the workgroup users were frustrated, working in a fragmented environment and among devices that could not communicate with one another. These workers will welcome a meaningful solution that improves efficiencies with fewer resources. They will relish the fact that your dealership took the time to venture into their environment and tried to understand their corporate culture. They wanted a neutral party to objectively calculate costs and the interdepartmental impact with the current methodology of document management, and submit a resolution addressing their immediate and long-term concerns. If you conducted your topography assessment correctly, the smooth implementation of the system can only convince your customer that you understand their business, their people and their own customers and are more of a systems partner than just a box-selling company.

To further reinforce your commitment to the customer, make sure you are present to coordinate delivery and installation with the network engineer so that he or she is able to immediately troubleshoot any installation difficulties and/or assist the network manager with any questions. After installation, review the equipment operations with the group and explain any service or maintenance intervals that will be scheduled to ensure complete satisfaction. Then schedule a follow-up visit within 30 days of the completion of the workgroup training.

Consultative selling - that "road not taken" - can be the most effective way to increase your dealership's market share and capture more document output from the network. Your customers are people, not technology. They are the repositories of corporate knowledge. The system you properly install can produce information on various media and generate the projected results, but it is the system that must deliver the document to the right person at the right time with the proper content. As Robert Frost said: "…and it has made all the difference."

Bob Sostilio
Bob Sostilio is president and CEO of Sostilio & Associates International Inc., an Ocala, Fla.-based consulting firm serving the office technology industry. He has 32 years of experience in the industry, including senior management positions with leading manufacturers and research organizations. He most recently served as senior group service director at CAP Ventures, a market research firm, where he established and managed the Converging Digital Peripheral Service of North America and Europe. Sostilio can be reached at (352) 624-2625 or sostilio@flash.net.

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