9 Ways to Earn a Seat at the Table

Posted by Dennis Pottebaum on Sep 3, 2015 6:18:45 PM

Ever have one of those days? Who am I kidding? If you are in the printing business, of course you have! It may have even been a week, a month or perhaps a year.

We are in an industry where 99 percent right is 100 percent wrong. You might have done a spectacular job of design, production, storage and distribution, and then discover that you missed a word and the entire job is wrong. You could service an account flawlessly for years, correcting their problems, improving design and process while lowering costs, and then lose the account over a few dollars when a new individual joins the clients' firm.

Yet this truly is a great industry. It is filled with challenges, opportunities and phenomenal people. This is especially true if you are in the independent channel. We have the ability to evolve, add products or services, and grow by listening to what our clients and prospects want. We can use this channel to bring them the solutions they need.

I once read "if you are not at the table, you are on the table." In other words, you must be at the table, being proactive with ideas to help your client improve, and if you are not, someone else is at that table and you will be their lunch. So, how do we earn a seat at the table? Don't you wish there was a single answer to that, or wish that you knew what all the answers were? Here are just a few things that have worked for professionals who I have met.

1. Show up.
Do I need to say more?

2. Ask lots of questions.
Clients and prospects want to know that you are looking for a solution and care about them. You can impress them when you have a solution to make them successful; they don't care how successful you are the first time they meet you.

3. Develop your value proposition and learn to articulate it in terms that a client understands and values.
Your value proposition is not a "me too" or fluff piece. Everyone has "excellent customer service" or "really cares" or "offers high-quality products at a competitive price." Where will you bring value that the customer can measure?

4. Have integrity; do what you said you would do — and a little more.
It sounds simple, and it really is, but you will be surprised how many of your competitors do not.

5. Be proactive.
Bring the ideas to the client before your competitor does.

6. Continue to learn.
Do you have 10 years of industry experience, or have you repeated one year of industry experience 10 times? PSDA has many opportunities to learn, such as the P2P Solutions Summit, Young Innovators Conference, CEO Summit, Small Distributor Summit, as well as tons of educational programming.

7. Always have your client's best outcome in mind.
Once you start thinking about what you will get out of the transaction versus what the client will get, you start losing the deal. The lifetime value of an account well-served is dramatically better than a single fat order. This certainly does not mean that you want to give the order away. You need a fair margin on the work and knowledge that you bring to the transaction. You owe it to your client, co-workers, suppliers and family to be profitable and have the ability to service your clients for the long haul. At one of the first seminars I attended, the speaker taught us a lesson that I have never forgotten: Volume is vanity and profit is sanity.

8. When you have a problem, you need to own it.
Don't blame the plant, your CSR or the company. The customer will forgive you if you are not perfect. However, if you keep blaming others, they will fire you, thinking that they cannot trust the channel.

9. Say thanks!
Appreciate your clients, co-workers and suppliers before someone else does. 

Dennis Pottebaum, CDC, CAS, is president and CEO of QRG, a distributorship based in Minneapolis with multiple offices located in the Upper Midwest. He is also the current president of PSDA.

Topics: Business Management


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