The last six months have brought about changes to businesses, families and individuals in ways we never could have imagined. The current business climate has been concerning for many. In a recent study I read, 47% of respondents indicated a negative impact on company financials and a 39% negative impact on employee headcount. As we all know, the news is littered with stories of 100-year-old companies filing for bankruptcy.
How are companies within our space handling the pandemic? How are they adapting to the new reality and what hoops must they jump through to continue to do business? We took some time to find out from a few print service providers we know. We queried how they are dealing with trying to keep production flowing, while focusing on employee safety, a nervous workforce and stringent government regulations.
When the pandemic started to take hold in New York and New Jersey, companies like mission-critical business communications services provider, Content Critical Solutions, were at the epicenter with facilities in Congers, NY and Moonachie, NJ. When the list of essential businesses did not include print service providers, Content Critical Solutions’ COO, Fred Van Alstyne, took on the issue personally. He began gathering industry representatives and contacting the governor’s office with information and facts about the requirements of critical communications and the mail industry as a whole. When the revised essential businesses list was released, “Mail Processors” were among those that could continue to operate if they were following the safety guidelines for protecting employees.
A critical differentiator we noticed when talking to a variety of print service providers over the last month is the clear separation between “surviving” and “navigating” the pandemic. The difference (as it usually does) came down to planning and preparation. Companies like Brampton, Canada-based Formost mediaOne, an OSG Company that provides outsourced omnichannel billing and payment solutions, had a clear pandemic plan already in place. This allowed them to focus on employee safety and ensuring they were servicing their customers, instead of reacting to daily surprises.
When we looked at one of the hardest-hit states — California — we learned that printing and mailing solutions provider, Electronic Output Solutions (EOS), also had clearly defined and tested disaster recovery (DR) and business continuity plans (BCP). However, the State of California was passing new laws and guidelines daily for businesses. This required Terry Fyffe, the owner of EOS, to become an expert in employee safety and disease transmission almost overnight. It helped that EOS had an additional location in Texas, which was quickly able to provide complete redundancy when needed.
Terry told us about staying up to date to ensure the safety of all his staff, as they are like his extended family. EOS had success in weathering the storm because Terry and the senior management team implemented remote Zoom meetings, daily cleanings and temperature checks long before CAL OSHA even defined the guidelines. Many business owners and C-level executives wished they owned a crystal ball. Some, like Fred at CCS and Terry at EOS, chose to educate themselves to ensure they could continue to create, produce and deliver communications while also monitoring their employees' safety.
Working with customers during a pandemic brings an entirely new dynamic to creating, processing, printing and delivering high-volume communications. While many sales teams have been utilizing web-based meetings for nearly a decade, transitioning your entire sales team to a work-from-home virtual sales organization is a feat within itself and certain statistics reflected it. NAPCO Research conducted a survey in July that showed commercial print revenues dropped nearly 60% for March and April, while transactional volumes remained rather flat. Many service providers we spoke with were only losing 5%-10% of their volume and some gained additional disaster recovery volumes to balance out any decreases.
How are print service providers engaging with clients today?
Many sales managers have focused on educating staff on new ways of working to ensure their account managers, salespeople and relationship managers can be effective remotely. This seems to be one of the largest areas we saw for improvement. The “LinkedIn State of Sales Report 2020” shows that remote seller effectiveness struggles to be successful. While nearly 70% of buyers want to be listened to, the study identifies that only 26% of sellers are effectively listening. Our conversations with service providers in California, New Jersey and Canada show that they believe conducting business virtually is here to stay, so we must meet the challenge. CCS, EOS and Formost all said that attentiveness is key to the successful use of video conferencing for internal meetings and external communications going forward. Guy Plouffe, VP of Sales & Marketing for EOS tells everyone to, “Turn on your camera” during sales calls. He believes that attentiveness, interest and personality can only be delivered when you commit fully to the virtual meeting.
Perhaps the best takeaway from all of this is to be like Fred and Terry. Keep your focus, don’t sit back and wait for things to change. Learn to pivot when and where it is needed because, despite everything, business keeps moving. And you want it to move in the right direction.