Hard to believe we’re almost entering the third decade of what we were calling the “new millennium” not that long ago. Welcome to the next roaring 20’s! I don’t expect we’ll see flappers, alcohol prohibition, The Great Gatsby or a president like Calvin Coolidge but there will no doubt be some great changes in our lives and culture that we’ll look back on ten years from now.
What might we be looking at in the envelope converting, printing and paper industries? (Yes, all three are inextricably linked. We need and rely on each other for orders and raw materials.) I think we need to prepare for a continued macro decline in our business. The Envelope Manufacturer’s Association prediction for the envelope industry in the US for 2019 was an overall 2-3% decline. It’s very likely that we’ll continue to see a slow, steady decline in the overall demand for our products. This topic is uncomfortable for many, but we need to face it squarely if we’re going to stay viable and profitable.
The main drivers of this decline are first and foremost digital technology and to a far less but more annoying extent, environmental concerns. The former is here to stay and makes sense in many ways. The latter is largely bogus and needs to be addressed continuously and unapologetically. I’ve written about this in a previous post.
The main thing to keep in mind is that an overall decline in demand for our products does not necessarily translate to declining sales in our individual companies. We can realistically plan to grow each year for the foreseeable future. Some companies won’t make it. But that’s true in all industries. We need to focus on tactics that achieve results and allow us to increase our share of the market.
Here are some things to put into practice based on long experience:
Keep a steady outflow of contact and communication to your customers and prospects. Use an “all of the above” approach; e mails, phone calls, direct mail and personal visits. I know we’re often told that we need to offer something tangible and a “call to action” in everything but sometimes, just keeping your name in front of people is more than enough so don’t obsess over content. We’re all bombarded with messages and too often all people will remember or read is your name. And keep it short and friendly. A casually personal tone is good.
Regularly follow up with your prospects. Find that “just right” balance between being persistent and being a PIA.
Cold call. I know that it’s hard, time consuming and some feel no longer required but I respectfully disagree. And yes, most people won’t see you without an appointment but leaving your card with a short, friendly note makes an impression that an e mail or phone call simply will not. And if you’ve made the effort to drop by, your follow up phone call is more likely to be taken. Time is precious, I get it. But keep this in the mix.
Neglect your customers; especially your best ones. This is too easy to do. Taking people for granted is an unfortunately common human failing. But we need to guard against this. Remember your good customers are good for a reason and your competition knows this and is calling on them. Check in with them regularly. Let them know if there’s something new or better you can do for them. See if they’re getting everything they need. And perhaps most importantly, thank them regularly.
Turn down small orders or opportunities. One of the ways that the overall decline in demand manifests itself is by smaller quantities being ordered. In many cases, what was an order for 250,000 pieces five years ago is now 100,000 or less. Smaller volume orders are a recent feature of our industries. Our companies need to be able to produce these jobs at a profit. And in sales, we should never look down on an order no matter how small. It might lead to something bigger, or perhaps a referral to another prospect or maybe not. In any case, it’s better than nothing. Then again, don’t give them away. Set a reasonable minimum profit amount per order and stick with it. Customers will often pay for convenience and good service.
Be defensive about what we do. Trees are a renewable resource. Paper companies maintain some of the most well-maintained forests in the world. They plant hundreds of thousands of new trees. And new trees help remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Most paper is recyclable. The more we try to placate those who think paper and printing and mail is bad for the environment, the more it looks like we're guilty of something. We're not. Be proud of what you're doing. We supply value and benefits to millions in many ways.
New England Patriot’s coach Bill Belichick has often said that the game of football can be reduced to “blocking and tackling”. This is wisdom we can apply to sales and business in general. Don’t neglect the fundamentals. They will always apply!
In my next post I’ll get into some marketing do’s and don’ts. In the meantime. Happy New Year!