Why a seven-stage appraisal meeting ensures you choose the right print supplier (and get the meeting done quickly)

Have you ever suffered long and boring presentations from print sales people?  And at the end of the day, did you find that they never really told you what you wanted to know?  When I used to meet new suppliers for the first time I often used to struggle with this.  I often used to find that the sales people didn’t really know what I wanted.

That’s why I developed the seven-stage appraisal meeting for new print suppliers

Print supplier cocktail

Just like a cocktail, a print supplier appraisal meeting needs the right ingredients

Seven stages may seem like a long meeting.  But I found that I was actually spending less time on these sorts of meetings as a result.

Of course I only held these meetings as the third part of my 1-2-3-4 supplier evaluation system.  And, as in all parts of the system, the right structure creates better results.

Print buyers who run structured appraisal meetings for potential new print companies will create better partnerships.  And that means they will have better control over the work that is produced by their suppliers. So they will achieve what they want from their chosen print suppliers.

Print buyers who don’t run an appraisal meeting with this structure will struggle to evaluate potential new print companies effectively.  They are less likely to create the same partnerships.  They will struggle to have control over their suppliers.  And they will be less likely to achieve what they really want from print companies.

Achieving what you want from your print supplier starts with an effective appraisal meeting.

So how do you create the right sort of meeting?

I go through a seven-stage process for my supplier appraisal meetings.  And the first stage happens before the meeting starts.

1. Set the agenda

I always do this before the meeting happens.  Then the print company knows exactly what to expect.  But having an agenda also allows me to control the meeting in exactly the way that I want.  And the next stage allows me to control the time element.

2. Set the time limit

At the beginning of a supplier appraisal meeting I always tell the supplier how much time I have.  Some print sales people have the ability to talk and talk and talk.  So it’s important that they understand that they have to limit what they want to say.  This usually makes for a much more agreeable and useful meeting for a print buyer.  And the next stage makes the meeting more useful for the printer.

3. Have questions prepared

I will tell a potential new supplier what I want to find out at the beginning of the meeting.  This gives them the best opportunity to provide me with useful information.  So I may tell them that I am concerned about their quality processes.  Or that I want to understand how they can achieve my delivery requirements.  This method also encourages them to tailor information to my needs.  And it avoids those dull, standard company presentations.  But the printer should still have the opportunity to talk in the next stage.

4. Let the printer present

It’s only fair to let the printer tell you what they think you should know about their company.  But they’ll be doing this with a time limit.  And they’ll know what you really want to learn.  If a company just gave me a standard presentation at this point, with no reference to my earlier questions, I’d be worried.  I would be concerned that they didn’t have the right culture to be responsive to my needs.  So I look for a presentation which addresses my needs and issues, and which isn’t all about the printer.  But even a good presentation may not answer everything that I need to know.

5. Probe for the information you need

At this point I’ll be asking more questions.  I’ll want to make sure that each of the issues that I raised in stage 3 has been covered.  I’ll want to make sure that I have all the information and all the reassurance that I need.  And if I don’t I will continuing asking probing questions until I know that the print company can deliver.  Or that they are not the right print supplier for me.  If the printer can deliver I will have one more questioning stage.

6. Ask the printer to help you – and tell them how they can do this

I am often looking at appointing a new print supplier because I face a specific challenge.  So I will ask the supplier how they can help me with the challenge.  This question has two benefits.  Firstly, it shows me how good the printer will be at helping me with print challenges.  But it may also give me new ideas on how to address the challenge.  When this stage is complete there is only one more thing to do.

7. Outline the next steps

I always let the supplier know what will happen next.  It reduces follow up calls.  And it is right that they understand the process. So I’ll let them know what to expect.

Here’s how I used a seven-stage appraisal meeting with a print company

I was looking for a printer who could help me with some high value vouchers that would be difficult to copy.  They came to the meeting knowing the agenda and knowing that they had 40 minutes.  I reminded them of this and then outlined that I was specifically looking for a supplier that could help me this sort of project.

They responded with a short presentation that focussed on how they handled security products in their factory.  They also talked about similar projects which they had carried out.  I asked them more about how they managed waste sheets so that they did not get into the wrong hands.

Finally we talked about my specific project.  I had some thoughts on how it might be handled.  But they were able to add some great new low cost ideas (unlike the previous supplier that I had seen).

So at this point I knew that I wanted to visit their factory and we set up a date for this at the meeting.

I’ll be talking about factory visits in my next blog post.

In the meantime, here are three supplier appraisal meeting action points

  1. Set a meeting date
  2. Prepare your questions
  3. Send the agenda to the printer before the meeting

You’ll soon be on the road to really worthwhile meeting

And you can banish those boring sales presentations!
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