By Scott Cullen
Ken Copeland has been in the copier business for 25 years, 21 at the helm of ASI Business Solutions, a Dallas/Fort Worth dealership. He knows how to sell copiers. He also knows he can’t continue to approach the copier business the way he did for most of those 25 years if he wants to remain profitable and stay in business. The old way of doing business might make for a convenient exit strategy these days and a ride on the road to obsolescence, but Copeland still has the fire burning within and is focused on making sure that ASI is changing with the times.
It’s clear ASI is not just a copier dealership from the moment one clicks on http://www.asibiz.com/ and sees in large graphics across the top of its home page: “Strategies for Better Document Management”. Yes indeed the focus is on solutions for the entire document lifecycle. Of course it still includes hardware, but also encompasses a wealth of services too, including managed print and managed network services.
Business has been good throughout the first six months of the year and Copeland reports ASI is on track to meet this year’s growth target thanks to steady, consistent sales. Their approach to the industry is also a factor.
“We’ve spread our marketing initiatives out over managed network services, managed print, managed document services, and mail,” explains Copeland. “Those are the primary buckets and we feel that’s given us a different net to cast as we go to market.”
ASI has competition aplenty in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Every day they’re banging heads with manufacturer direct branches as well as the top eight independent dealers in the region. Customers end up selecting ASI over those formidable competitors because of ASI’s responsiveness and the extra degree of attention employees are willing to give those customers in order to obtain and retain them.
Still, Copeland admits the current climate can be frustrating.
“The manufacturers have taken this industry into more of a commoditized state and pricing has followed,” he laments. “It’s disappointing that such robust technology has become commoditized.”
What’s also becoming commoditized, or at least that’s the way it seems to Copeland, is managed print services. In fact, it’s becoming quite ubiquitous in certain markets.
“It’s amazing how many people have decided to get into managed print,” says Copeland. “The Office Depot, Staples, OfficeMax…you have people I’ve never even heard of before in my 25 years in the business coming into this industry and everybody’s doing the same thing. It’s pushing everybody to do more and to do more with less.”
This environment presents a huge challenge even for a successful dealership like ASI.
“There’s a lot of people used to making pretty good money,” he notes. “Now they have to sell 1.5 times as much to make what they used to make and it’s a lot of hard work.”
With the 212 degree culture that permeates ASI, employees understand the necessity of going that one extra degree above the boiling point and the requisite heavy lifting required to take down competitors and win new business while protecting their existing customer base.
ASI took the plunge into managed print services about four years ago. Considering they’ve been selling printers for the past eight years it was a natural evolution. The company has a four-step process for selling managed print services. It’s a process that evolved over time and the process itself shouldn’t be unfamiliar to anyone who has done their homework in this area. It’s to measure, design, optimize, and manage.
“We built our offering around those four cornerstones and we did it early on and that’s something that’s resonated with us from a consultative selling perspective,” recalls Copeland.
Those cornerstones are not restricted to manage print services, they’re part of every facet of ASI’s business, including managed network services and mailing solutions.”
One of the biggest challenges ASI faces as a managed print services provider is trying to undo a customer’s experience of a poorly executed MPS program.
“We’ve found that early adopters like everyone else may not have gotten it right out of the chute,” says Copeland. “Some of the tools were premature or their value proposition was overstated and didn’t deliver as promised.”
It’s unusual for ASI to run across a customer or prospect who hasn’t heard about managed print services.
“Most customers in the SMB marketplace have been hammered with it,” states Copeland. “But it’s a big world, and a big mistake to assume the proper contact within an account has an accurate understanding of the value of a properly executed MPS program.”
ASI’s approach is to engage the prospect and collaborate in such a way that the design of an improved technology footprint is achieved. Once the technology is in place, or under contract, more advanced conversations regarding workflow processes can begin. The evolution of these improved processes is a main component of quarterly account reviews. The four cornerstones of their approach are: Measure, Design Optimize and Manage.
“We just go down those four talk tracks,” says Copeland.
The goal is helping the customer get the best bang for their buck while making their operation the most productive and efficient it can be.
“At the end of the day the one piece most people talk about, yet don’t do a fantastic job with, is the ongoing account management. A successful relationship hinges on making sure that everything which was promised gets delivered. To accomplish this, ASI conducts regular account reviews. By doing so, timely adjustments can be made based upon key performance metrics and any pending action items can be addressed and completed. ” says Copeland. “That’s how we engage, and this approach resonates with people.”
It resonates in such a way that ASI is consistently finding opportunities with people who had been saying no to everybody else regarding managed print.
Even though ASI has a strong MPS message, it’s still not easy getting in front of the right people.
“You better be spot on when you get there, very professional and you better be talking to C-level people,” cautions Copeland. “That’s the hard part, getting in front of C-level people, but once you get there you have an opportunity.”
ASI employs a dedicated MPS consultant who works with organizations having more than 40 printers. However, Copeland considers all his sales reps hybrid reps and has them focused on selling total document volume within each account. ASI now has 4,000 devices, half of which are printers, under an MPS arrangement, up from 800 just four years ago.
Copeland didn’t just wake up one morning and have an epiphany that he ought to be doing managed print services. Instead, he acquired his knowledge by opening himself up to educational opportunities at dealer meetings, BTA events, and BTA print management classes, where he found himself hanging onto every word from experts like Strategy Development’s Tom Callinan.
“Our ears are out there all the time and mine are pretty sensitive and if I hear about something that’s different, I’m going to explore that trail,” says Copeland.
These educational opportunities provided Copeland and his ASI team with a vision and a blueprint for the future, but to make that vision a reality he brought in Strategy Development.
“When you’re talking supply replenishment, fleet optimization and the nuances that take managed print services to another level, I wanted somebody who possessed the hindsight and visibility that I didn’t have, and Strategy Development seemed to have this.” says Copeland.
Ultimately, Copeland was looking for a way to quickly and successfully move into MPS.
“Getting the learning curve behind you is real important and I had heard Tom speak at BTA events,” recalls Copeland. “I like the way he communicates and gets to the point. He’s very responsive and has a game plan that would help me fast track.”
Despite the growing awareness throughout the industry that MPS is the wave of the future and the expertise of Strategy Development, dealer principles like Copeland acknowledge that sales reps—even the best ones—are not always quick to embrace new concepts.
“It took a long time for them,” says Copeland. “As Jack Welch says, ‘Repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, and when you’re tired of it and don’t want to repeat it anymore, do it one more time.’ ”
Even though the message seems to have sunk in, Copeland continues to repeat it.
Asked about what he knows now that he wishes he knew about managed print services when he first started, Copeland says, “I wish I’d have focused on it deeper and harder about three years earlier than I did. And I wish I really understood how profitable it can be and how important it is, and how much value it can bring to an organization.”
Considering he didn’t do that out of the box, Copeland is still by and large running ahead of his competition and doing it smarter.
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Scott Cullen has been writing about the office technology business and interviewing dealers since 1986.