With all the attention the Xerox merger is getting, you may have missed the latest quarterly results. Sales were down 5% from last year. Ricoh slid down at about the same rate. Unless your name is HP, I can’t see the news from other OEMs being much different. Since this is a channel, you must be facing the same reckoning. If you are considering adding a product line, you need a digital workflow. Is the transition easy? Well, it’s a lot easier than the alternative.
A 5% drop is a good number. If you consider that the economy is expanding at a healthy 4.5%, then it’s actually a 9.5% drop in real terms. The only reason it’s 5% and not more is because the companies are global, and the emerging markets are buffering the drop. Ask yourself this question: what trends do you see that can stop the drop? Why would this trend stop, or reverse itself? Nothing. Growing document services is not the answer; it’s just too small. At its core, document services tries to re-emphasize the importance of print that customers just don’t see. No, your business REQUIRES expansion beyond office print. You need three things to do this.
Office printing is simply a subset of IT. If you continue to argue that it requires unique time and attention from the rest of IT, you will lose more and more customers. Printers and supplies are hardware infrastructure. Selling them is no different than selling laptops, displays, and other stuff. They are all available online, and you need to offer the same option. If you can fix a printer, or install a device on the network, you can fix a laptop. If you can sell document management, you can sell subscription services for anti-virus, firewall, and other IT products. All of these products are monthly subscriptions. Technology products are now made to be sold online; in fact, it’s hard to sell them offline.
If your customer wants a product and your sales rep’s first inclination is to book an appointment, you have a workflow problem. This is often the biggest point of argument I have with dealers. Their valid point is that the biggest differentiator (vs. CDW and Amazon) is the personal relationship. I would use the in-person meetings to expand your offerings, explain your subscription IT services, your new line of laptops, or VOIP solutions. When the buyer asks what you recommend for a standard company laptop, send them a digital quote. Make it easy to buy it right away. Digital quoting makes salespeople more efficient. If salespeople see digital quoting as “taking away their job” it’s a sure sign that it’s time to part ways with them.
This issue goes hand in hand with the second point. More and more there is a generational disconnect between salespeople and customers. You can't send in a 60-year-old father figure to sell to a twenty-something IT manager. Old guys want to talk to people. Twenty-somethings don’t. They prefer digital communication first. No kid wants to be lectured by their dad. If the sales rep says something like “I don’t get all this technology, I prefer a good face to face meeting...” why the heck would a buyer trust that guy with a technology decision? If you add to it that the rep always wants to divert the conversation to print, then it becomes a bit tragic-comic. I can’t imagine recruiting a young sales team today if you explain your business as “we sell office printing, and other stuff”. Any twenty-something worth hiring will do some quick research and see the articles we just quoted and know this is not an industry to tie their little red wagon to.
No, the future is here, right now. If you want to continue being relevant in business, you need to invest in e-commerce and digital workflow. Or, you could wait a bit longer to see if things are going to turn around. They won’t. I am tremendously bullish on dealers that leverage their relationships to move into adjacent industries. I see no future for print-only dealers.