Events aimed at educating customers and prospects about how to grow their businesses rather than selling them product are changing the concept of conferences for the better.
(Pictured above: End users listening intently to a presentation at the Ricoh Interact event in Denver last month.)
I keep winding up at conferences where print providers, equipment suppliers, and software vendors sit down together and talk about business problems, work out solutions, and do it without anyone selling anything or anyone buying new technology. It’s refreshing, energizing, and is a powerful way for vendors to change the conversations they have with customers and prospects.
This has been business as usual for the Imaging Network Group (Ing), an association of direct mail and transactional service bureaus for over 25 years. More than half of the members and vendor partners have been in place since the organization began, so the model seems to be working. At INg it’s all about solving problems and growing members’ businesses. In the vendors’ eyes, having smarter customers matters.
In May I spent a few days at Xeikon Café, an event for owners of Xeikon and Jetrion presses where the same approach raised the level of conversation and focused on ways to reach new customers and get a bigger share of existing customers’ wallets. Business was the focus, not the software and presses.
Ricoh Interact 2018
Then in June I went to Denver where Ricoh “Interact 2018″ gathered approximately 400 people from all types of customers. As the name implies, it was about interaction. Sure, new technology was rolled out, but the primary topics covered in the three tracks of break-out sessions were aimed at ways customers could embrace new business opportunities such as inkjet printing, book production, wide format printing, and adopt emerging technologies like augmented reality. Vendors partners spanned software, finishing systems, substrates, and more. In many sessions the name “Ricoh” was never mentioned, although it was at the bottom of the screens when PowerPoint was being used.
Several Ricoh executives I spoke with explained this was a very deliberate approach. They all noted that customers have a lot of choices””some of which come from Ricoh””but the real mission of the conference was to encourage customers to look beyond the ways they may normally do business to find new opportunities. This thinking extended to the announcements of the new C7200 and C9200 toner systems, the new VC Pro 70000 inkjet press, and several wide-format printers, all of which stand to increase the company’s footprint in the marketplace.
Such thinking was encouraged in keynote presentations by demographer Ken Gronbach and EFI CEO Guy Gecht. Both emphasized that print was changing and that everyone in the industry must to adapt to the changes, especially those driven by the millennial generation, which is much larger than the baby boomers who are gradually fading in influence. Both men said print must become more relevant and tightly linked to the Internet via computers, tablets, and smartphones. They noted that print providers who fail to provide this kind of linkage””which comes in several varieties””will surely lose business to competitors who have forged connections between print and online media.
That issue is a larger topic for another time, but the main takeaway from these conferences is that the old techniques of selling based on products and price are no longer valid. Customers want more. They want to be listened to. They want salespeople and vendors to understand their business and operational needs, especially how the choices they make impact profitability. When they ask about equipment or software, the issues that bother them are not speeds and feeds, but uptime, operator training, software compatibility and integration, workflow, and more. As they prepare to make a technology investment they want to feel that the companies they work with truly understands their business needs and will partner with them so they can succeed.
At the same time, vendors want to understand their customers and prospects so they can put the most appropriate technology in place to help the print provider achieve their goals. Sometimes, a couple of Ricoh executives admitted, this may mean we don’t sell a certain press. But from Ricoh’s point of view it is better to not sell the machine than it is to install it and have a customer fail because they didn’t buy the right equipment for their needs. I was skeptical when I heard this from Ricoh, but I’ve also heard it independently from customers outside of this gathering.
What this shakes down to is how you talk with your customers and prospects. It is critical that you work to learn about a prospect’s or customer’s goals, worries, objectives, operational concerns, and even staffing problems. The dialogue you develop and the understanding you gain helps ensure you recommend the best possible product for their specific environment.
This was the overarching message of the Ricoh Interact conference. There weren’t any sales guys around and I doubt any print provider walked away with a signed purchase and sales agreement in hand. Because that was not the mission of the conference. The event was to help Ricoh””and its customers””learn from each other and find ways to create a future in which print remains a vital media.
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