Do you have what it takes to become a Marketing Serices Provider?

Posted on by Greg Cholmondeley | 1 Comment »

by Greg Cholmondeley, Workflow Practice Director, PODi and Caslon & Company


Many commercial printers have tried their hands at augmenting their businesses with marketing services with varying degrees of success. So what distinguishes the ones which succeed from the rest and what can companies do, early on, to set them on the path to succeed? These are the questions I asked Jeff Sierra, President/CMO, Mind Fuel, in a recent interview.

Jeff has been through the drill of transforming a commercial printer into a marketing services provider and lived to tell the tale. He developed Budco: The Dialogue Company (now Dialog Direct) from a small printer into an industry-leading marketing solutions company. Now he is the President/CMO of Mind Fuel which is a provider of marketing strategy and business planning solutions.

He says that there are two areas that printers wanting to make this change need to consider:

  • Strategy: Be sure to take the time to develop a strategic plan which incorporates your target business model and capabilities as well as a roadmap of how to get there from here.
  • Branding: Develop a plan for how you are going to position, brand and market yourself differently in the role of a Marketing Services Provider.

In this blog, let’s talk a bit more about what is needed in a strategy for transforming your business.

Yes, you really do need a strategic plan but it does not need to be 30 pages long with all kinds of expensive and extensive research. In fact, the best ones are typically only a few pages long. Your strategy might take some serious thought and effort to prepare, but if you can’t explain it in a few minutes it’s probably too confusing to sell and too difficult to implement. A good strategic plan should:

  • Identify your existing strengths and weaknesses (a SWOT analysis)
  • Identify the markets and types of solutions you want to address
  • Describe the reasons you expect to beat your competition in this space
  • Identify the minimum capabilities you need to add and how to get there
  • Be concise, honest and clear

Remember that you’re trying to transform your business – not start from scratch. You already have core capabilities, experiences and a customer base. You need to figure out how to extend these into new business. Start by identifying the true core of your business along with what your unique strengths have been to date. Now consider how to extend those strengths into new business opportunities beyond printing. For example, you might have done some one-off marketing services projects which could be turned into repeatable solutions.

Please note that while core strengths like quality, on-time delivery, and meeting customer needs are great they are not helpful in this exercise. EVERY printer still in business can say the same.

Next consider the resources you will need to migrate from selling print to selling marketing services and how you will acquire the skills, technology and, possibly, new people to do this.

  • Marketing solutions have different customers (e.g. CMOs rather than print buyers) and require different sales expertise. Can your existing reps do this or do you need to hire? Will you need a different compensation plan?
  • Marketing solutions also have different technology requirements. How will you need to augment your technology skill set or resources to handle new in-house technology, working with SaaS providers, interfacing with technology partners, and integrating and supporting you customers?
  • Finally, marketing solutions also require more extensive project management. How do you need to enhance your ability to coordinate and manage delivery of complex capabilities involving internal teams, multiple client organizations, and partners?

If you’re comfortable answering all these questions then you’re well situated to begin the journey to becoming a marketing services provider. If not, then you might consider signing up for Jeff’s class titled The Essential Requirements for Being a Marketing Solutions Provider. In it he’ll teach you how to answer these and other questions and coach you on exercises designed to guide you through answering them for your own, unique business. Online classes start Monday, October 12 though, so don’t delay.

One Response to “Do you have what it takes to become a Marketing Serices Provider?”

Comment from Howard Task
Time October 9, 2015 at 5:10 am

The owners of printing companies need to understand that the decision to become a marketing solutions provider is a decision to enter an additional and different business. You mention above.. develop a strategic plan and SWOT analysis, In addition consider drawing a blueprint for the business….strategic plans tend to sit on shelves…once there is a Blueprint things get built! In terms of the SWOT analysis, not to over simplify, but there are three major things to consider: 1. Do I have the desire to enter this business and do I have the money to invest? 2. Do I have production capabilities that are consistent with the needs of CMOs? 3. Do I have the people? Regarding people…One of the questions asked above “Can your existing reps do this or do you need to hire?” Unless you have or have access to a proven, successful CMO who you can either hire or retain….you are most likely doomed in your effort. As clearly and correctly stated above, you will need to be dealing with either COOs, CEOs and.or CMOs. Suggesting Marketing solutions requires a skill set…..Just as nurses can not perform brain surgeries, the majority of print reps have no marketing experience what so ever. There is a reason so many business schools offer MBAs in marketing. Most printing sales reps do not understand positioning, they do not understand marketing they do not understand marketing cues, marketing budgets, they have little or no exposure to marketing mixes and how to build a vertically integrated marketing program not mention ROI. If you are going to sit at the table with marketing professionals you better at least be able to speak the language and hold your own at the table.Finding the right people does not have to be difficult or expensive..There are retired CMOs who would love to do this kind of work (and they most likely have a network that will give you access at the highest level), there are agencies with whom you can align and test the waters before making the investment in the necessary people…you can work all of this into your blueprint….Going back to meshing production capabilities with marketing solutions….If you have digital equipment, which most printers do today, you are in a position to do some very highly targeted marketing programs….but you need strategists and if you have people who can provide analytical services you are golden. Think of your equipment as a musical instrument. You may have the finest and most expensive violin in the world, but if you do not have a musician to play it, you will never unleash the power. The power of the digital press does not rest with the operator, it rests with the vision of a marketing person who can find highly targeted ways to reach customers. When considering your capabilities then think about the marketing products you can generate with equipment you have…or develop a plan for the equipment you will need (which is a much more capital intensive decision)…..Lastly, if you make the decision to enter the marketing solutions business you should specify the return you should expect within a specified amount of time…Results don’t come overnight, but they should not take forever….I consulted with one printing company many years ago. The owner was all about becoming a marketing services company. In six short months we generated some $500,000 worth of combined marketing services fees and additional production work, all at some of the highest margin he had ever seen….Then the basic printing business and the economy went south, he viewed the marketing services team as an expense, shut down the division and fired the people…what was interesting was we had gained access to Bank CMOs, retail CMO’s and had delivered highly successful programs but in the end he gravitated back to what he knew best and viewed the overhead as expense…it should be noted that this was all in an effort to ultimately position the business for sale…so streamlined earning, EBIDTA etc become more important than growth…..Moving into a new business is like taking a golf lesson….Today you are comfortable with your swing (just as you may comfortable with your printing business). When you take a golf lesson the swing is uncomfortable and awkward…and even though you may hit the ball farther and with greater accuracy, the minute the lesson is over you gravitate to what is most comfortable….the same may be true for printers who attempt to become marketing services companies…Bottom line….. printers can evolve to becoming marketing solutions companies but they must understand…offering marketing solutions is a different business.

Write a comment