Why You Must Think like a Drone, not a Helicopter

It’s a common metaphor used in business: Having a ‘helicopter view’. It means seeing the big picture. Rising above the granular details to see the overall context and environment your business operates. Seeing the forest for the trees, if you will.
Any good CEO, VP or executive should be able to do it.
But I’m here to challenge that notion. Have you ever noticed how long it takes a helicopter to start? Or how clunky it maneuvers through the sky?
I believe the helicopter view is a thing of the past. Today, you need to view the business world in a new, innovative way: fast, agile, lean and mobile.
The drone way.

The world is changing fast. A drone can keep pace.

Your business is transforming in the blink of an eye. All of the traditional golden rules about marketing, sales and IT have changed dramatically within the last eight years. Gone are the days of simply selling print, signage or direct mail. Today, you are selling a solution to solve your customers’ problems.
To find these solutions, you need to be fast in tips, tricks and execution. Your brain should be a walking Wikipedia about their business problems. If you don’t know your customer’s customer, you will be left behind.
Sometimes the competition will come from an entirely unconventional direction. A decade ago, we would have scoffed at the idea of choosing a strangers apartment over a hotel when vacationing (AirBnB) or riding with a recreational driver over an official taxicab (Uber).
Our industry is no different. Some of the best print applications are not made by the traditional printers, but by the entrepreneurs, IT consultants, or even those who get frustrated with a service, such as the founder of VistaPrint.
Don’t think like the slow-moving helicopter that makes a lot of noise and consumes a lot of fuel. Think fast. Think precise. Think like a drone.

How do I apply this mindset to my business?

I have been visiting commercial printers over the past five years and have found a clear correlation between their performance and five very specific success factors.
The most successful printers have:

  1. Proposition
  2. Sales
  3. Marketing
  4. IT
  5. Social Selling

The Five Critical Success Factors, Explained.

1. Proposition

  • Know what your company is and what it is not. Be very clear in what you can execute. Full Service is not a very modern word for agencies and marketers. Don’t try too hard to say ‘yes’ to everything the customer asks when you know you can’t offer it. People respect honesty, even if that means saying no.
  • What will I be in the next 2-5 years? Will I still provide specific services or do I need to adjust the direction of our company? In the old world, a business plan could last 5-8 years. Nowadays it can be over in as little as 2 years by a sudden disruptive technology.
  • Don’t try and be something you are not. If you’ve spent the last 75 years selling traditional print, it would be difficult to successfully start selling marketing services overnight. Be sure to flesh out all facets of your business plan!
  • Actively solicit customer feedback. The only way to improve your business is to understand where you are falling short and work to improve in those areas. Ask your customers what they think about your company. There are hundreds of tools that can help you receive this feedback (ex: Google Forms, Survey Monkey, etc.).
  • Match your offline presence with your online story. We’ve all seen flashy websites and LinkedIn profiles, but if the company or person is the opposite in real life it’ll result in a dishonest gut feeling. This gut feeling is intuition in rush mode.

2. Sales

  • Do I know my customers’ customers? If you do, congratulations! If you don’t…good luck. Not knowing this is one of the reasons why many businesses don’t succeed. Your customer has promised something to their internal or external customer. If you know what that promise is you can service them even better.
  • Do I know the revenue-per-customer or per-vertical-market? It makes sense to create numbers in excel bases on parameters. You will find out that sometimes the clients with the highest energy consumption of your organization contribute the lowest revenue and gross margin. One tip: replace this customer by offering him two choices. It’s like a divorce. We separate or you pay 15% more. Everything you do should give you energy, not suck the energy out of you. If you part ways, you will find that you have more time to focus on what matters. Remember – only replace a client when you have substituted the revenue. Essentially, you are separating the positive from the negative.
  • Know the 80/20 rule. Is 80% of your revenue generated by 20% of your customers? Houston, we have a problem! Try to fix this. If your company’s wellbeing relies on a few customers, you’re putting the life of your business into their hands.
  • No hocus pocus, but focus. Drumming up sales doesn’t just magically happen. Keep the plan KISS (Keep It Stupid Simple) and measure together.
  • Educate your staff. It’s one of the oldest jokes in the business world: Two managers are talking about training their employees. The first one asks, “Yeah, but what if we train them, and they just leave?” The second responds, “What if we don’t train them, and they stay?”

3. Marketing

  • Practice what you preach. preachAgain and again. If you are a book printer, publish books. If you are a direct mail house, send quarterly mail that puts a smile on your customers’ face. If you are good at branding, your brand should be uber cool!
  • Make a plan and write it down. If it’s on paper you have a better chance of executing. It is not the plan; it is the will to execute. And again keep it KISS. And measure. If you don’t measure, you can’t improve.
  • Ask for help. The web is full of information. Look at how other businesses apply marketing. It is not a shame to copy an idea. Turn to peers in your network and look to your suppliers, such as Xerox, for business development help.
  • Look inside for ideas. Your employees, even the ones not directly involved in marketing initiatives, are full of ideas. Identify the best ideas in your company and communicate them in a proper, efficient way.
  • Don’t walk behind the cattle, otherwise you’ll be walking in you-know-what. Don’t be afraid to be a leader. As a leader, you determine the path your company takes. If you simply follow the cattle blindly, then prepare yourself for what you might be walking in.

4. IT

  • Use your existing software better. We only use around 30% of the functionality of Microsoft Excel. It turns out that the features we always complain about are the remaining 70% we don’t know much about.
  • Automate if you can. Automate your business administration (MIS/ERP). Automate you’re pre-press, production, and post-press processes. Remember, for every $1 spent producing print, another $3 is spent on workflow processes – mostly due to inefficiencies. Production tools such as Xerox FreeFlow Core, IntegratedPLUS Finishing, and Color Management can help. JDF and JMF were not invented for NASA – they were made for our industry. Use them!
  • Look for life and business hacks. There are enough affordable tools that can make your life easier and more streamlined. One of my favorites is IFTTT, which allows you to create rule-based conditional statements that, when triggered, automate specific tasks from email to news-gathering.
  • Don’t lose sight of IT’s importance. Successful graphic arts, MSP or communication companies have almost 30% of their staff dedicated to IT.

5. Social Selling

  • socialA website is not enough. Some people have a website where you still need to install Netscape Navigato. The world has changed. However, you shouldn’t reinvent the wheel. The web is full of examples and affordable templates.
  • Make your website mobile-responsive. About 70% of business starts online. Last year, Google proclaimed that more searches took place on mobile devices than desktop. We have now reached full-blown Mobilegeddon. If your site is not optimized for mobile, it will negatively impact your search result.
  • Learn to effectively leverage social media. Xerox has a perfect book in our Business Development Site on doing just that. You can get one from your Xerox direct contact.
  • Don’t fear the internet and social media. Some may glance at it and view these tools as overwhelming enemies, but once you learn how to use them you’ll have new best friends.
  • Avoid the commodity trap on social media. If you are active on social media, don’t trigger customers with a discount. Trigger them with the best-in-class service. Like the Zappos pizza story (yes, the shoe company).

Print this. Hang it in your office. Look at it for 5 minutes and tell yourself that you are going to conquer the business.
And don’t forget to have fun.

Related Posts


  1. […] my last article, we challenged the notion of the ‘Helicopter View’ – a popular expression used in […]

  2. […] my last article, we challenged the notion of the ‘Helicopter View’ – a popular expression used in […]

  3. […] article was originally posted on the Xerox Digital Printing Hot Spot […]

Comments are closed.