25 May 2008

Demotivational speaker

Harris DeWese stepped up to the lectern and took off his sport coat. He pointed to his gaudy suspenders and grinned, "You can see I'm in investment banking."
The scene was the Colonnade Hotel in Boston, the annual meeting of Bookbuilders of Boston (on whose Board of Directors I serve). We had finished the evening's business, and were settling back with our dessert and coffee to enjoy DeWese's presentation. He writes an irreverent column called "DeWese on Sales" that has appeared monthly in Printing Impressions magazine for over 20 years, and which he has anthologized in a popular book called Now Get Out There and Sell Something! Printers have often hired him as a sales coach and trainer.
I hadn't read his column or books, so I was prepared for anything, except what we got. DeWese's shtick is that he's the MaƱana Man, the sales guy who beats his quota before lunch and spends the afternoon at the track. He shuns PowerPoint polish and bullet points, and instead digresses about baseball, cooking, and parallel parking before he gets down to business.
When he got down to business, it was a splash of cold water. He doesn't sell printing anymore, he sells printing companies, and as his suspenders attest, business is booming. As Chairman and CEO of Compass Capital Partners, he's put 135 of them on the block. "Printing companies rarely emerge from Chapter 11 or Chapter 7," he observed.
The folks in the room who work for small-to-medium companies made mental notes to check Monster.com first thing in the morning. But I wasn't worried, I work for an $11 billion company. We buy other printers, they don't buy us.
Then DeWese sharpened his focus from printing in general to his audience's specialty, book manufacturing. He displayed his knowledge of the turf by mentioning the "Michigan Mafia," the cluster of book printers in the Ann Arbor area. He talked about selling to specific segments of the book market (long-run, short-run, etc.), and then, almost as an afterthought, he delivered the showstopper: "If print buyers are directed by their managers to buy only on price, there's not much the salesperson can do."
Doesn't he know that most book manufacturing buyers haven't looked at anything but price for the last decade? In the US, technology has pretty much leveled the playing field as far as quality and turn times, so publishers see price as the only variable. And overseas competition has so skewed the price variable that publishers often concede quality and turn time just to drive down unit cost.
It's no better for commercial printers. Their work has become a commodity because supply dwarfs demand as many printed documents, such as catalogs and annual reports, migrate to the Internet.
According to DeWese, in a reverse auction the salesperson gets screwed. That's not a radical idea, but it's a mighty demotivating thing to say to people whose customers believe devoutly in reverse auctions. Unless you're trying to motivate them to sell their businesses.

1 comment:

PublishingMojo said...

William Mitting, writing on June 12 in the UK industry mag PrintWeek, notes that the epidemic "fold or sold" is not confined to the US. He says "the RSDB deal [to merge that Dutch company with Quebecor's European operations] will put pressure on the UK to consolidate. I believe it means that big print companies in the UK will have to look to merge to meet the Europe-wide consolidation.
We have gone through a tough time. Since 2000 we have lost more than 3,000 companies in the UK printing industry alone – and there is more consolidation on the way. . . .
Uncertainty lies at the heart of all consolidation and few would deny these are uncertain times for print. The RSDB/Quebecor World bid is a bold step, and will lead to a wave of consolidation across Europe. The industry will be stronger as a result, but tough times lie ahead for employees, companies and investors alike."

PrintWeek link: http://www.printweek.com/news/816141/Print-consolidate-stronger/