Written by Howie Fenton
Senior Technology Consultant, NAPL

What Makes a Leader?

In the latest NAPL State of the Industry Report, we learn that the industry leaders remain a rare breed. Every year we find that the leaders comprise 8% to 12% of the industry. In a recent webinar, we outlined three things leaders excel at: operational excellence, marketing and sales expertise, and bringing new products and services to market.

Operational excellence refers to everything you do under your roof. This includes a wide variety of people and procedures. Under the umbrella of operational excellence are different departments, staff, procedures, and tools such as estimators, CSRs, prepress, MIS, finishing, mailing, and billing. How do people achieve operational excellence? By first measuring performance, benchmarking against leaders, identifying where you fall short and then developing strategies to overcome those issues.

Better Marketing and Sales.

Companies that are superior with marketing and sales think and act differently. In last year’s State of the Industry Report, when companies were asked how they were planning on growing  their sales, the top-three answers were:

• 78%: acquire new customers
• 62%: more work from current customers
• 55%: gain market share from competitors

But while many companies can talk about increasing sales, the leaders are better at identifying sales issues and overcoming those issues. Surprisingly, it doesn’t matter if they use old school or new school sales strategies…the leaders just do it better. Some prefer old school strategies such as cold calls, face-to-face meetings, plant tours, referral programs, and giving gifts such as calendars, mouse pads, and pads that say “From the desk of…”. Others may use new school strategies including generating leads through search engine optimization (SEO), social media marketing, a team-based approach, or subject matter experts.

Both strategies were clear in the 2013/2014 and NAQP Sales and Marketing study, where the top-seven marketing strategies included direct-mail, website, brochure/sales literature, membership in local organizations, e-mail marketing, social media marketing, and search engine optimization.

Adding Value Added Services.

Over the years we’ve seen many different value-added services and different strategies to offer them.  A decade ago, many companies very successfully integrated mailing, fulfillment, and design services. In the last few years, the most successful new services include web-to-print, large format printing, and marketing tactics such as VDP, e-mail, PURLs and QR codes.

Some companies build them internally and others use mergers and acquisitions as a way to offer those services. In the 2013/2014 and NAQP Sales and Marketing study, when asked which products increased sales, the top of the list included color digital printing, wide format printing, mailing and shipping and fulfillment, signage, and marketing services.

A few things become very clear when we look at how the leaders are different than the rest of the industry. Leaders measure, benchmark and improve their operational performance. Leaders not only plan for sales growth but actively look for, and overcome, the stumbling blocks that get in the way of sales growth. Last but not least, leaders are better at making the transition from standalone products and services, to an integrated solution with a unique value proposition.

While everyone thinks they are a leading company, few actually are. More often than not, the leaders are not those that feel that they’re doing most things right, but still look for and find what they’re doing wrong and improve upon it.


Interested in finding out if you’re a leade? E-mail me and I will put you in touch with our research team.

Howie Fenton is a consultant and business advisor at NAPL. Howie advises commercial printers and in-plants on benchmarking performance against industry leaders, increasing productivity, and adding digital and value services through customer research. For more information click here.