ECM Business Sales

Unless you live in a bubble, you have heard the buzz of “solution sales” in the copier world.  What is the buzz all about?  And more importantly, why should it interest you?

What is solution sales?  Simply stated, it is a consultative approach to selling designed to meet a client’s broad digital business needs, beyond just copy and print capabilities.

The current state of affairs: “Box” sales

For comparison, copier sales have historically been (and are primarily today) based on selling a commodity, what we in the industry call “boxes.”  The copier community measures success on the number of “boxes” sold and on landing numerous accounts.  The primary account creating revenue for these companies is small to medium-sized businesses.  The primary factor driving the sales cycle is the inevitable updating of aging equipment.  Since copiers are staple office equipment and they have a finite life expectancy, the prospect of steady, consistent market growth with the expansion of the economy is predictable.  However, the challenge facing the “box” sales professionals is the incredible competition.  Each vendor sells equipment that, for the most part, is competitively matched in performance and cost.  “Speeds and feeds” differentiation only goes so far.  They are also comparable when it comes to cost.  Therefore, sales forces are forced to cut margins in order to secure the sale.  It is a relatively glum future for those in the copier sales industry that choose to continue to follow this path.

Demonstrating total cost of ownership (TCO) savings is also very competitive since all the vendors are doing it.  When comparing to the aging equipment that is due for replacement, the case can be reasonable.  However, since multiple vendors with comparable products are performing similar print surveys, the results are all just about the same.  If they were not, market share for the outlier would quickly dry up in the current “bid to win” scenario.

Another challenge to the status quo is that commodity sales generally affords limited loyalty.  Since “speeds and feeds” and cost are significant factors, little else matters.

Now for all you salespeople who have loyal customers who are not bidding out their upgrades, great.  As long as no one dies, quits, gets promoted, fired or transferred, you will do great.  However, I would not want to bet my livelihood on such factors that are out of my control.

The better state of affairs: ECM Solutions Sales

ECM solution sales is consultative sales rather than commodity sales.  The approach involves connecting with the C-level individual within a firm and developing a unique business solution to address electronic document management needs.  It is not just about selling “boxes”.  It’s about achieving your client’s business objectives.  An often overlooked aspect of selling an ECM business solution as opposed to “box” selling is that the client needs the same hardware either way!  Another benefit is that you shift from being a vendor selling a product to being a consultant speaking the business leader’s language: productivity improvement, efficiency, compliance, disaster recovery and so on.  These are incredible benefits to your client’s business that a copier salesperson would likely not even discuss.  The tremendous efficiency improvements possible by adopting ECM and digital workflow are enormous, making the sale that much more likely.  Listed below are the series of benefits to ECM solution sales.

1. Tremendous savings demonstration possible to get the sale through: Paper document management is extremely inefficient.  It is very easy to demonstrate tremendous savings from lost productivity resulting from filing, searching for files, and paper workflows.  The numbers are staggering.

2. Engenders loyalty because you become closely integrated into providing their business solution and gain multiple points of presence: The survey process results in ample face-time at multiple levels of the organizations discussing the issues that matter the most to your client.  During the assessment process, all the hot-points are identified, resulting in a lot of support for the initiative.  There are solutions available to meet almost every need out there.  During the interviews, the Document Solution Specialist (DSS) gains access to those needs and wants and plants seeds of want.

3. Allows for a different pricing model: “savings minus versus cost plus:”  With the incredible savings demonstration common to the switch to ECM, selling six-figure packages become much easier to justify.  When your client sees the incredible productivity savings possibilities and rapid ROI, the sales potential goes up exponentially.  And instead of just adding a margin to your cost, you can price the solution based on the savings to the client.

4. In the end, the same hardware is needed for both solutions:  The solution still includes the hardware you already sell.  The only difference is, you now leverage some of the other digital document management features that are routinely ignored.  Coupled with a few software pieces and an implementation plan, you develop a robust package that is sure to sell your hardware.

5. Expands your potential market exponentially and sets you up for future sales opportunities even if you do not get the immediate hardware sale:  The copier sales market is a known entity.   All businesses now own copiers.  Every four to five years, they upgrade.  That segment is what all the copier sales people are all coveting.  With all the competition out there, it’s no surprise that the margins continue to drop!  On the other hand, the ECM market in the most lucrative copier market segment, the small to mid-sized business, is in its infancy.  The ECM is a much larger market because the firms in the most lucrative segment have not all embraced the benefits of ECM yet.  They are yet to fully appreciate the tremendous rewards of ECM.  However, they understand the benefits of copy and print technology.  The copier vendor can walk into 90% of their current customer’s or competitor’s customer’s establishments and perform an ECM survey today and offer a solid business solution that could impress the socks off any C-level executive!  Even though the solution may not include hardware today, it almost guaranties that when the lease runs out on their current equipment, you will be the one they call first.  However, if their current lease does not run out for a year or two, they may consider the upgrade earlier after you demonstrate the tremendous savings that they will receive as a result of incorporating ECM.

6. Gives you the ability to demonstrate a host of benefits that are crucial to the success of any business:  Copier sales demonstrate “speeds and feeds” and maybe a little reduction in TCO.  ECM sales demonstrates a host of added features beyond cost savings such as:

  • Compliance

  • Disaster preparedness

  • Improved customer service

  • Remote accessibility to digital assets

  • Improved morale

  • And many, many more features

Where do you go from here?

Fortunately, it’s not a huge step to leverage the infrastructure already established by the copier sales enterprise and shift into an ECM solution sales model.  What is missing?  For starters:

1. Knowledge about the technologies Copier sales professionals must become familiar with document imaging, document management, content management, and records management concepts and technologies.  Formal training by a reputable provider is recommended.  Product evaluations and demonstrations are also a great source of pertinent information.

2. Professional credibility to offer the solutions: The de facto milestone in the industry today is the CompTIA Certified Document Imaging Architect (CDIA+) certification.  Get trained and certified right away.  Most of the larger “box” retailers have already implemented initiatives to get their staff trained.  Don’t be left behind.

3. Training in consultative sales and marketing:  Formal training from a leading provider is suggested to re-align your dealership to become effective at consultative sales.  Also, the leading industry publications have been regularly publishing articles suggesting ways to avoid being left behind during this period of market transition.

4. Training and tools to perform the tasks necessary to assess the need, design the solution, and close the sale:  Formal training and tools are available to position your sales force to assess, design, and sell ECM solutions.  There is no substitute for experience.  Seek quality training to ensure that you will be properly trained and successful in this competitive market.

5. Strategic alliances with consultative, software, and solution vendors to offer the total package:  Position your dealership or organization to offer the full gamut of ECM solutions.  It seems every day a press release is published about another merger, alliance, or partnership expanding the capabilities of one of your competitors.  Be sure that you are considering the same strategy for success.

Case study:

A mid-sized firm was approached by a two copier salespeople and a Document Solution Specialist (DSS).  All three performed surveys.  Copier Salesperson A performed a survey that emphasized the total cost of ownership and presented a case by demonstrating the new added features of their new equipment based on a direct-replacement model; direct replacement meaning meeting their current copy, fax, print, and scanning needs using new multi-function peripherals.  The survey concluded that the customer needed twelve units of with variable performance specifications to meet their needs.  The “speeds and feeds” business case showed the client an operating cost savings of $30,000 over the next four years.  The sale would result in a net profit of $40,000.  What the salesperson did not know was that Copier Salesperson B offered a comparable package: similar performance with similar savings; however, the package was $7,000 less.  Another lost opportunity for Copier Salesperson A!  However, Copier Salesperson B had to take a huge bite right out of his commission to undercut Copier Salesperson A.

On the other hand, the DSS was able to engage the C-level business leader with some probing questions that highlighted the added benefits of the total business solution.  Features such as compliance, disaster preparedness, automated workflow, productivity improvement, file space reduction, client satisfaction etc. were all discussed and highlighted during the meetings prior to presenting the final proposal.  The proposal report did not demonstrate a mere $30,000 operational cost savings.  It demonstrated a $250,000 cost savings due to the incredible productivity improvements.  The proposal also indicated that the entire solution would be paid for by productivity savings in the first year!

Since the DSS was the only vendor to present a proposal to meet the unique business objectives and definitively demonstrate how the investment would be quickly paid for, he received the contract.  Ironically, the ECM proposal included the same exact hardware as the copier proposals!  The difference was simply that the total ECM solution included software to take the digital files from the MFP, index the files, and store them in a repository.  The solution also included basic workflow capabilities and an implementation plan narrative.  As a bonus, the ECM sale resulted in on-going maintenance, training, and consultation.  Not only did the ECM DSS make his commission on the hardware; he earned a loyal customer with multiple points of presence, made a healthy cut on the software, earned a few points on the training and consulting, and is almost certain to get the future coveted hardware sales!

In conclusion:

The ECM solution component of the copier sales industry will ultimately become the most critical aspect of the process.   “Speeds and feeds” will soon fade away as the selling point, to be quickly overshadowed by ECM.  ECM offers tremendous opportunity for copier firms to leverage their client base and products to offer lucrative business solutions.  Volume sales of commodities will result in nothing but an incredible buyer’s market and price wars, not to mention a lot of disappointed sales professionals.  ECM is the way out of this dilemma.  So the summary is this: get trained, get certified, get organized, and get out there and sell solutions if you want to get rich on the enormous potential available to you through ECM.

Byron Aulick, CDIA+

Has over 35- years ECM experience, is a subject-matter-expert and trainer.