How to stop nasty surprises from your print suppliers: why you need realistic supplier references

My daughter loves watching Dumbo at the moment.  She loves it when the cartoon elephant flaps his ears and takes off into the sky.

But, let’s face it, elephants don’t fly.  Dumbo is the invention of a storyteller.  He isn’t a realistic elephant. But he is like some of the references I have seen for print companies.

Most references for print companies aren’t realistic

Some print supplier references are as realistic as flying elephants. Find out how to get the right references in this article.

They are not the invention of storytellers.  But they don’t reflect reality.  They are missing vital details.  And these details can make all the difference to the successful start of a relationship with a print supplier.  And that’s why print buyers need realistic supplier references.

Print buyers who get realistic supplier references will have no unexpected surprises when they start working with printers.  They’ll be in control of the supplier relationship.  They’ll achieve what they were aiming to.  And they are more likely to have a great relationship with their print supplier.

Print buyers who don’t get realistic references from their new printers are less likely to create that great partnership.  And that’s because they are more likely to uncover problems when they start using the supplier.  They won’t have the same control over their printers.  And they’ll be less likely to achieve their print goals.

You’ll only achieve the best results if you take up realistic supplier references.

How do you get the best references for your print suppliers?

Here’s a step-by-step guide

Choose your referees

Your print supplier will give you some names.  They’ll be the ones that the printer is expecting to give a glowing reference.  (Although it doesn’t always work out that way).  But you can always choose your own names.  Have a look at the printer’s client list.  Then ask them to give you a contact for that client.  It may be that you would be better off speaking to particular clients because they have similar requirements to you.  Now you need to contact the referee.

E-mail the referee for a call

As someone who often gives realistic references to print buyers, I prefer not to put my views in writing.  And, as a busy person, I don’t appreciate print buyers ringing me up for references without notice.  So always e-mail the buyer to introduce yourself and say that you need a reference.  Then ask when would be a good time to have a quick 5-minute chat.  And you need to reassure them too.

Say it’s off the record

Print buyers are much more likely to be realistic if they feel that you are having an informal conversation.  If you state that your call is off the record they will feel more comfortable.  It is always good to assure them that feedback won’t be passed back to the printer.  Then you can ask them for the feedback that you want.

Ask for honest feedback on the printer

It is at this point that you can ask for feedback.  Give the referee a chance to choose what they want to say.  They may pick up on areas that you hadn’t thought of.  But then it’s your turn to ask the questions.

Probe areas of worry

You may have some specific areas of concern about a printer.  It may be that you are not sure if their delivery is as good as they say.  Or it may be that you have some very exacting quality requirements.  And you want another opinion on whether the print company can deliver.  Now is the time to ask the referee some detailed questions on these areas.  And at this point referees may sometime express concerns.  Make sure you continue questioning.

Probe key areas

If there are areas where the referee is not entirely glowing you should make sure that you keep asking questions.  The more specific you can be, the more the referee will give away.

And then you will have a realistic picture of how a printer really is.

Let’s look at how this can help you

I once took references on a large magazine printer.  They had an excellent reputation.  And there was no obvious reason why I should not use them.  But then I spoke to a couple of print buyers who worked with them.  And it didn’t look so good.

The buyers were delighted with the quality of the printing and binding.  But they felt that the standard of account handling could be better.  They felt that getting information that they required was harder than it should be.

They didn’t come right out with this.  It took me a few questions to get to the full details.  But, with a little probing, they were absolutely open about how things were.  And this knowledge enabled me to avoid problems.

It didn’t stop me from using the print company.  But we put in some very exacting account handling procedures.  We wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for the references that we took.  And, if we hadn’t taken those references, it could have caused us a lot of problems.  And cost us a lot of money.

Some print buyers feel that there is a better way to get this sort of information.

Aren’t referee forms more effective?

If I receive a referee form I am always more guarded with my comments.  I’m never sure who is going to see the form.  And there’s another reason why I dislike them.

Referee forms always take more time to fill out.  It’s quicker to have a conversation.  And the conversation may often be the start of buyers helping each other more.

Here are three action points to get those conversations going

  1. Make notes on what you’ll cover in the e-mail and call introduction
  2. Write down the questions you want ask in the call
  3. Research the printer clients you want to contact

Then you’ll get realistic references.  Ones that tell you how things really are.  Not references that bear no relation to reality. Not ones that are as fanciful as a small elephant flying through the air.    =====================================================
P.S.  If you’d like to receive more practical advice on print buying, make sure you subscribe to the Print & Procurement newsletter.  You’ll also receive our free pdf report “Ten Common Print Selling Errors and What To Do About Them”.  So sign up right now.

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