Specialist vs. Generalist

November 1, 2009

Dealerships who have entered any new market have wrestled with this question since the introduction of 50 page per minute black and white copiers. Should we have a high volume specialist who handles this business and take it away from the main stream sales force or should we let everyone sell it. The conundrum presented itself again with the introduction of facsimile and then in a much more pronounced way with the introduction of graphic color products. Today, we hear the same question being asked about Managed Print Services (MPS). Should we have a MPS Specialist or should we just let everyone sell it. No one answer is the right answer for every organization however there is a right answer. That answer is: Regardless of Specialist or Generalist, you need a Champion.

Dealerships that did the best job of selling 50 ppm volume black and white copiers back in the mid to late 1980s and 1990s had individual(s) who had a background selling high volume black and white boxes. Many of these individuals were former sales employees of Xerox who learned and practiced methodical solutions selling techniques that made them successful selling lower priced but equally featured Japanese offerings. Some organizations chose to have a high volume specialist while others chose to have that “expert experience” be the guiding light to teach the entire organization how to sell high volume. What both organizations had was focus; the focus brought on by a relentless champion who knew the market was waiting for them and they aggressively pursued it.

Facsimile, and to a greater extent Graphics color products brought with them a need for technical understanding beyond the initial capabilities of the rank and file Sales Representative. Dealer Principals were smart to employ specialists to function as the experts and champions separate from their rank and file. This left Sales organizations doing what they did best which at the time was to sell black and white copiers. Dealers who specialized recognized unprecedented revenue growth from these products as the market demand for them grew. They retained and grew their base of black and white copier sales and facsimile and color equipment and aftermarket sales became incremental revenues. Ah, the good old days!

As facsimile became more utilized and understood, it quickly became a product in the bag of all Sales Representatives where it resides today becoming an obsolete standalone offering and more of a standard offering on almost all MFPs. With the introduction and rapid proliferation of B to C color, the era of the Color Graphics specialist has begun to come to an end and the rank and file Sales force is transitioning to selling color.

The end of the era of facsimile and Color graphic sales specialists was accompanied in many dealerships with the loss of the incremental revenues. The loss of revenue became most realized in the decrement of the sheer number of profitable maintenance contracts associated with facsimile, and the deterioration of the aftermarket pricing of color and black and white copies. The result: Many dealers having flat revenues year over year for the past two years.

Which came first the chicken or the egg? Was it the loss of the specialists and their expertise that led to the end of the revenues or was it the loss of the profitable aftermarket revenues that caused dealers to move away from specialists? Some dealers we have spoken to have reignited the fire under high volume (segment 6) specialists and production color specialists in an attempt to get growth. It is too early to tell whether or not this will have the desired effect but for sure, dealers must do something to arrest the deterioration of the aftermarket revenues and the attendant loss of high gross margin aftermarket dollars.

Enter the savior, Managed Print Services (MPS). For certain, these are incremental revenues. Two years ago, only a handful of dealers were involved in Managed Print Services. Now 50% or more of all dealers, some with more success than others, are entering this profitable arena along with some of the manufacturers and other non-traditional sources such as CDW, a major technology distributor. However, the more things change, the more they remain the same. History repeats itself.

The most frequently asked question of consulting groups like the Print Management Solutions Group is should we have a specialist head up our MPS program or should we turn this over to our entire Sales organization? The answer to the question is in the details, however the details are not located where they used to be. Managed Print Services delivers aftermarket revenues. Building a solid MPS program begins by having a functional MPS financial service model which has significantly different metrics than the financial model associated with the MFP or B to C models. The Sales organization will have their efforts and results entirely funded by the results of the MPS service function and until a dealer has their MPS service function in position to fund MPS sales, specializing or generalizing is not the priority.

Once the Service Model is in place we can begin to deal with the question that still remains on the table. Should we “specialize” or “generalize” our MPS offering? We have seen success with both models and have come to the conclusion that whether it is a Print Management Specialist or a Vice President of Sales or a Sales Manager who understands the urgency to participate in this market space or even a Dealer Principal who has the passion and the focus to make MPS work; all of these models have one thing in common; someone in the organization is the MPS champion and keeps the focus.

In addition to a champions focus, MPS sales require the maturity and ability to sell to complex buying groups composed of IT professionals, financial professionals, end users groups and in some cases traditional MFP contacts. This is a skill that, in general, a specialist will have but it is a skill that many MFP sales professionals sorely lack and desperately need even if they are not involved in MPS sales.

Larger MPS opportunities (50 printers plus) may require the expertise and resources of an MPS specialist or Sales Management champion, however we see more and more MPS transaction of 10 or less printers, coming from the dealer’s existing base of customers. Many of our dealers are reporting that 50%+ of their monthly MFP deals incorporate one of the MPS components in the transaction. These 10 or less printer transactions hardly justify the cost and time of a MPS specialist but they do require the ability to sell to a complex team.

Our recommendation is simple yet as always, the devil is in the details. Get your Service function prepared to deliver the new financial model for MPS service so that you can fund your offering. Determine who the MPS Champion in your organization will be. If your VP of Sales, or a Senior Sales Manager or even the Dealer Principal are willing and capable of spending the time to focus on MPS; a Specialist may not be a prudent investment. If no one in the organization can give this Champions focus to MPS then perhaps a specialist is right for your organization.

I recently helped a dealer principal and his Sales Manager build the foundation for a MPS program. This dealer principal felt that he could not afford a specialist yet he also felt that he and his organization were stretched to thin to have anyone become the champion. At the end of the day, his Sales Manager said something that will last with me for as long as I am involved in MPS. He turned to his Sales Manager and stated, “We now need to become and MPS company that sells MFPs.” I turned to the dealer principal and said, “Behold your champion!”

If you still are struggling to get your MPS offering up and running help is available from the Print Management Solutions Group. MPS is the new growth opportunity that facsimile and color offered and like facsimile and color, the organization that focuses to it will be the big winner.