By Scott Cullen
When fast isn’t good enough, outside experts can help expedite desired results. That’s exactly what NEP in Appleton WI wanted to accomplish in order to expand their impact in the MPS arena. By contracting with Strategy Development, they were able to refine their sales processes which were adequate but required some tweaking for added effectiveness.
NEP is a dealership that is hungry and eager to learn. They continue to engage in weekly calls that encompass the organization’s executive vice president, sales manager, and MPS specialist. This is by no means the norm for a dealership working with a consulting organization. Often the leadership starts out participating and over time that interest wanes. Not at NEP, they continue to learn and ask questions with the ultimate goal of excelling at what they do.
Recently we had an opportunity to speak with Susan Tourville, executive vice president, along with NEP President, Nora Schulz, about their operation, the challenge of selling MPS, and how they’ve leveraged the expertise from Strategy Development to improve their MPS business and service.
Tourville: We’re back to the [good] days and it feels great. We’ve had a very nice upswing over the past six months.
Tourville: We’ve committed more to our managed print program with additional staff and have reaped immediate results from that investment. Our sales manager is now a year and a half into his tenure and several of his new programs have taken root which has enabled NEP to break into new larger accounts while increase our average transaction size on the down-the-street business. I don’t know how much of our upswing is related to the market and how much is due to our selling strategy transitions.
Tell me about your Safe Track program and how that affects the way you sell?
Tourville: We launched it five years ago and it’s helped us break into much larger accounts. I was actually developing the program the two years prior but it wasn’t until 2007 that we branded it “SafeTrack”, formalized our best practices, dedicated staff, and approached the market on a larger scale. Managed print is one of the many components of SafeTrack. It’s a program where we study an organization’s infrastructure and business practices and integrate their workflow with our devices and software.
What was the biggest challenge of getting that program up to speed?
Tourville: Getting proper staff allocation. Initially, I was trying to use existing staff and I found that the SafeTrack approach required them to adopt an entirely different sales style than what they were used to. We eventually realized we needed dedicated staff so we could solidify our process and procedures to not only get the projects done faster but also do the project work more effectively. I would say the hardest part is that this is a complex, long, multi-step process. It came down to identifying the specific steps in the process, documenting them, and finding the right staff.
How did you find the right staff?
Tourville: We were fortunate because there were existing Solution Engineers and Connectivity Specialists on staff that we were able to reallocate from what they were doing into this new area. That was the easiest part. For the front-end sales and business consultation side, we ended up seeking out staff that had an IT Professional Services or Lean Six Sigma background —professionals that were exposed to not only IT best practices, but project management and process improvement too.
How do you blend your hardware-centric staff with this new breed?
Tourville: That took awhile. The down-the-street group, which is our traditional hardware-driven staff is still geographic and the SafeTrack Project Manager group is positioned as a blanket over the top. Approximately 80 percent of the projects that get brought to the table are brought by the down-the-street group. We have a nice revenue/compensation sharing model that includes our primary SafeTrack Manager spending time educating that group to help them understand what they’re looking for. Each one of them at any given time is working on three new accounts that fit the SafeTrack criteria while they’re working their down-the-street business and managing their current accounts.
What percentage of your business is currently related to Safe Track?
Tourville: If we’re talking about the whole SafeTrack umbrella, which is managed print, software as well as hardware that’s placed as a result of our project based approach, we’re running around 70/30.
Do you see it growing beyond that?
Tourville: Absolutely, because the momentum that got us to 70/30 has happened over the last 24 months. In the early stages of SafeTrack, we were closing transactions here and there and now the ball is rolling faster with seven geographic sales people who totally understand the program and its benefits.
What inspired you to bring in Strategy Development?
Tourville: I spent two years developing SafeTrack and back then this whole concept was in its infancy stage in the industry. There weren’t many consulting groups that were specializing in managed print or the more sophisticated workflow aspects. I went to my first managed print class in March 2008 with Strategy Development as the instructor. While it was helpful, I could tell they were also in the infancy stages of defining this thing. By 2010, three years after launching our SafeTrack program, we had notable success but I knew there was more momentum that could be gained so I connected with Strategy Development to see how they developed in this area. By that time they were consulting with dozens of dealers across the country. I invited Strategy Development to come to our NEP Appleton headquarter location to review what we had created, everything from presentation materials to cost models, to contract documents, our automated toner fulfillment approach, etc. For eight or nine hours they opened my eyes to ways I could tweak our current approach to enable more throughput. They helped us connect several dots that we eventually would have, but in an expedited manner.
I understand you continue to consult with them regularly. What kind of continuing education are they providing that’s helpful?
Tourville: Right now I’m looking to gain their feedback on sales territory analysis relative to our machine in field density. Again, similar to managed print, I think we’ve got a good start on improving upon our previous approach but we’re looking for someone who’s had more exposure to critique it. I also partnered with a specialist at Strategy Development on the service profitability side to provide consultation as we rebuild our service rate pricing model. I’m leveraging him to get more strategic with the BEI data that’s available to us.
Is that a culture change bringing in an outside consulting company?
Tourville: Prior to me joining NEP, I was an IT professional services consultant so I’m all for this concept. Once I identified a consulting group that I felt had equal to or more knowledge than me in the areas we’re focusing on, I didn’t think twice about it.
Schulz: I was aware of Strategy Development for a number of years because they presented frequently at my CDA Principal Meetings. We’ve been a member of this association since its inception and I was familiar with Strategy Development’s services, but it wasn’t until Susan and I both talked about it that we decided to put a consulting relationship into motion.
Have your manufacturers been helpful in preparing you to sell MPS?
Tourville: No, they’re quite a bit behind us in knowledge. They’re trying to be a resource to their dealers in the area of Managed Print, but they have a long way to go.
What one thing do you know now about selling MPS that you wish you knew when you first started?
Tourville: The biggest thing I learned is that you don’t have to take on everything at once. Our SafeTrack program is a full-blown process improvement program and when we first began selling the concept we only sold it in a revolutionary manner. Then when the economy changed not only did senior business professionals have less time to work on nice-to-have process improvement initiatives, they just weren’t comfortable making notable changes because they were so distracted with the changing business conditions. Strategy Development helped me pare down our SafeTrack program and sell it in bite-size pieces. While it requires more time commitment on our end, it has enabled us to sell faster and not scare away a client who doesn’t have the time to look at the entire picture.
As you’re selling it, who do you find are the best prospects? I keep hearing C-level, C-level, C-level, but now I’m getting contradictory responses. Are you exclusively going to the top?
Tourville: We prefer to start at the most senior level of IT if that individual sits on the senior management team. If not, we prefer the most senior level finance person in an organization. This approach helps us more effective gauge if our SafeTrack program strategy properly aligns with the prospect’s high level business objectives.
However, because our customer base is so sizable, more than 2,000 customers in Northeast Wisconsin, many of our current sales relationships are at the IT administrator level or office manager level. Out of respect for those existing relationships, we have been beginning our SafeTrack introduction at the middle management level by giving them a rough sampling of the concept and why senior level sponsorship is important for the project based approach to be successful. When we take this route, the sales process always takes much longer. For this reason, we prefer to leapfrog to C-level or senior management from the beginning to gain sponsorship whenever possible. It just depends what existing relationships are in place.
How would you describe their knowledge of those senior level people regarding MPS?
Tourville: If we’re calling on an account with 200+ employees, they’ve heard of managed print, and doc management, and are probably already engaged in some form of process improvement. There’s awareness, but in most cases organizations have only scratched the surface on how they can leverage managed services for fleet and document workflow needs. The reason for this seems to be due to limited time availability
How do you define managed print to them?
Tourville: We don’t approach it as just managed print because of the scope of our SafeTrack program. We begin conversation by asking them questions about what level of strategic management they have in place relative to their output. Meaning, how much visibility do they currently have on their output fleet relating to cost of operation, life expectancy, utilization capacity, etc. We introduce our program as a way to expand their staff with another group that has the subject matter expertise in the area of fleet management and workflow optimization.
How do you see the Safe Track program evolving?
Tourville: Right now we’re selling the vision of our SafeTrack program in an evolutionary manner by offering to create a roadmap for change over time based on readiness. We begin the engagement by providing Managed Print Services which is a foundation to build upon. Over time we earn the opportunity to study their hardcopy and electronic document flow with the objective to improve upon workflow by incorporating multi functional products and integrated software solutions to function as digital on ramps and off ramps.
Is there anyone in your market doing anything similar to what you’re doing?
Tourville: On the managed print side yes, on the true workflow, not at all.
Do you have any suggestions for your peers who are still waiting to get into MPS?
Tourville: It’s a big undertaking to ensure profitability and customer satisfaction. Even if a dealer has individuals on staff with good background in this area, I believe partnering with Strategy Development is essential. There are too many land mines along the way that will drain their resources and frustrate them to believe there isn’t profitability potential in this area. If they’re looking at the expenses of getting started, they need to include a consulting group as part of their start up costs to expedite ROI.
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Scott Cullen is publisher and editor of The Week in Imaging www.theweekinimaging.com and a frequent contributor to industry publications.