Podcast

Digital Expansion & Sales Growth with Tom Bates of theprinters.co.uk

Tom Bates – www.theprinters.co.uk

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Name: Tom Bates

LinkedIn Profile: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/tom-bates-theprinters

Company Name: The Printers

Company Website: www.theprinters.co.uk

Short Bio:

Tom is a highly ambitious and driven business owner with experience of working within the Printing, Recruitment and Retail industries. Skilled in sales, business processes, leadership, marketing and business growth complimented by a BCs Hons in Sport Business Management from Sheffield Hallam University.

Show Notes

In today’s episode, we’ll be talking with Tom Bates, who is managing director of theprinters.co.uk.

We find out a lot about how Tom approaches sales for the printers. We find out about how he generates most new leads for the business. We also talk about how he is going to improve his sales process moving forward. This episode turns into a little bit of a coaching/consulting session, where we bat around some ideas on how he can grow and extend his digital arm of theprinters.co.uk.

It’s a really interesting episode. I hope you guys will learn something from it. And let me know if you’ve got any feedback on the show or you have any questions you can always hit me up at [email protected]

If you enjoy the episode, please take 10 seconds to leave a review on Apple Podcasts or like, share and follow with your favourite pod catcher!

Tom’s LinkedIn: https://uk.linkedin.com/in/tom-bates-theprinters
The Printers Website: http://www.theprinters.co.uk

Transcription

Sam Wilcox:

Alright, Tom Bates of theprinters.co.uk , How’s it going, man? You good?

Tom Bates:

Yeah, really well, cheers, Sam. How are you?

Sam Wilcox:

I’m good, mate. Yeah, I’ve had a good week. Thanks. It’s been an interesting, long and fun week, which is a good combination. I think, mate.

Tom Bates:

Definitely the best kind by the sounds of it.

Sam Wilcox:

Yeah. So why don’t you start by giving everybody a bit of a heads up in terms of what you do, because obviously, we talk about the printers.co at UK just now. But you’ve also got a few other businesses that you’re involved in, you’re obviously a little bit entrepreneurial. Give everybody a bit of a heads up in terms of who Tom Bates is and what you enjoy, and what kind of the different businesses that you’ve got as well, dude.

Tom Bates:

Sure, yes. So, suppose my biggest passion is generally business. I just look, take a product or service, add some value to it and help other people make more money. That’s always been a big passion of mine. Sort of stemmed from being 13 working on a market stall selling fruit for a quid knowing that the bloke had bought it for 20p. And it yeah, it just stemmed from there. And then, so.

Sam Wilcox:

Classical, classical, early entrepreneurial stories that you’ve got there.

Tom Bates:

Apparently, yeah. It was more than McDonald’s breakfast that lured me in, more than that.

Yeah, that’s how we started and then sort of so my career for Union ended up at Tesco, I learned a hell of a lot about how retail works, the good, the bad, the Tesco which is good. That set me up to really want to go out and do it for myself a good bit to learn and sort of try and not copy the bad bits. I also saw and have worked in a massive corporate business.

That’s when we jumped into the printers. The printing company is 40 years old. At the moment, having worked with these family roads, my mum’s worked here for 37 of 40 years.

Sam Wilcox:

Oh wow, I didn’t know that, actually.

Tom Bates:

Yeah. I’ve literally grown up with the business. There’s an office next to me where apparently when I was a toddler. And now it’s my office. So it’s pretty cool.

Sam Wilcox:

Is the family still involved in the business then? Or is it just you that picks it up now? Or how’s that work?

Tom Bates:

Yeah, so the family’s heavily involved. My mum and I bought it off the bloke who I cast as an uncle to be fair, just because I’ve grown up with him. Who was an engineer by trade, after leaving the army. We basically took over and carried on.

Literally, my grand dad owns a stake, my dad owns a stake. It’s me and my mom that’s in the day to day running of it.

Sam Wilcox:

Right, OK. Nice. It’s obviously you’ve bought and inherited a business that is old, has an existing customer base I presume, right? This might be an interesting site to kind of step into the sales functionality of the printers then. With inheriting that customer database, I imagine that’s where a big chunk of revenue comes, but how do you guys find new business? What type is your ideal customer? What type of customers are you looking to bring through the door?

Tom Bates:

This has changed massively, recently. We’ve introduced a department that we’re running as a side business to the printers called Studio Attico. Digital marks and branding, more a mini agency, we’re not a full-fledged agency at the moment. Where we brought in a creative lead and gave her a team to build that side of the business for us. Now, in different times, we get clients and customers coming through the door, asking for poster designs, logo redesigns, rebranding, websites and that sort of thing we kind of said, enough’s enough. We need to start diversifying slightly from just being a print shop to being able to incorporate those sorts of projects as well.

Sam Wilcox:

Yeah.

Tom Bates:

That sort of opened the floodgate to. It was great for us because we could go to all of our existing client base and say, “We’ve got a brand new offering, you’ve asked for it for the last few years; here it is.” Then, go after the new customers from a branding website point of view, then also will need the printing off the back of it.

We’re doing some work recently on who we wanted to target so we’ve been running this throughout the whole of Covid. We launched it last May and it was the perfect time to launch a new department.

Sam Wilcox:

Yeah, it’s a little bit of give and take. It’s an interesting one because I think the beginning of Covid, which was, I think we were really hurting with it around May time, weren’t we? Yeah, you can see that as a bad time to launch a new service, but a digital service, I would say, that was a good time to launch a digital service. I think you probably were at least a little bit ahead of a lot of people that were probably doing the same thing, but they maybe didn’t do it until later on in the year. It was kind of like, “right, well, we have to launch this digital side of the business now”, but they might have sat on it for a couple of months before they made that decision. It’s kind of good that you did that earlier rather than later last year, I would say.

Tom Bates:

Definitely. We saw a slight gap in the market, especially locally towards the business we interact with. With social media management. You get a lot of amazing strategists who put an amazing strategy together and said you can do this, you can do that, do that, and then let the client say the basis and off you go. The idea is a lot of the clients we deal with just don’t have the time. They are the business owner, they’re doing everything within the business and then if you say, you need to post on social media five times a day, you need to look at this research and type this in and do that. We called it the slogging. We wanted to become the sloggers of social media, locally.

Sam Wilcox:

Right

Tom Bates:

At that point, back in May, everyone saw that they needed to be online to still be present in people’s minds because they were all at home. We picked up the foundation of, sort of, three or four clients off the bat that would then just generate revenue for the department straightaway.

Sam Wilcox:

Nice.

Tom Bates:

Which helped us then almost relax a little bit because we brought this creative lead on with quite a big salary at the time, not knowing if it was going to work or not. Yeah, that helped everyone relax and then we could find what she preferred to work with and on and that sort of led us down to our preferred service-based businesses.

Sam Wilcox:

Right.

Tom Bates:

Not to say we won’t work with anyone outside of service-based industry businesses, but that seems to be our sweet spot.

Sam Wilcox:

If you’re going to go outbound and try to find people, they’re the businesses you’d prefer to be looking for, right?

Tom Bates:

Definitely, yeah.

Sam Wilcox:

It’s important to have a good understanding of that. I think you’ve gone about that the right way by, you’ve brought in a new team member to head up a department which is relatively experimental for you guys. Then allowing you guys and her to sit down and then allowing her to dictate what she is good at and what she wants to work on is definitely a very beneficial way of running that experiment. It keeps her involved in the process, and engaged as a new team member, but also as well, from a client’s perspective, you’re going out and finding those types of businesses. They’re the ones we know we can get more results for, right? Because that’s what she’s got experience in, rather than us trying to take on anybody and everybody. Lots of different types of clients come in, maybe she’s not as comfortable with running more of these eCom or product lead businesses, so she gets disengaged, and the whole experiment falls flat on its ass. I think that’s definitely the right way of going about it.

How have you found all that so far? Has it been working out well for you guys? Has there been hiccups for you along the road? What’s the situation?

Tom Bates:

I love the word “pivot”. I think we’ve pivoted 100 times since.

Sam Wilcox:

Right, right.

Tom Bates:

To begin with, it was like a free-fall. That’s what anyone and everyone just to see what we like and what we enjoy. We learned a hell of a lot, which is really good and that sort of almost defined us to where we are today. We’re still not 100%. I literally had a conversation about an hour ago in our Friday morning briefs that I was throwing in new things and she was like, hang on. We said we were looking at this.

Sam Wilcox:

Yeah.

Tom Bates:

We’re still trying to work out exactly what the sweet spot is, but we’re definitely getting there with the more.

Sam Wilcox:

I don’t think, and I’ve talked about this on previous podcasts, but I don’t think you ever get to 100%. It’s just never the case. There’s always new things. We know stuff tomorrow that we don’t know today. As soon as that happens, your lens on the world changes and your opinions and viewpoints might change, everything might change along the way. There’s always room for improvement and optimizations, I think, as we grow as people and businesses. I think that’s right.

Let’s talk about the sales process, then. You’ve gone through this exercise of, obviously the printers business is a long-standing business, decent client base. You added on a new service offering which is very complimentary to the existing business, and something that clients are asking for. You defined who the ideal client is that you want to be working with for this new side of the business. Then how does that translate into a sales process? Is that something that you guys have worked on? Do you have a baseline process in place? What is the situation there?

Tom Bates:

We’ve not got a documented process at the minute, again, that’s a work in progress, but generally we found networking is the best for picking up new leads. Even online, I don’t enjoy the online version of networking as opposed to in-person but it certainly has its place at the moment.

What we tend to do is, from the networking booking what we call it discovery call, it’s normally 45 minutes to an hour literally going through and asking interesting questions about their brand values and things they’ve never been asked before. Which really gets people thinking and then we almost go away and say, let’s come back to some ideas of how we can potentially work with you. Whether that’s working on web design, logos design, rebrand, just social media, or if there’s something where we physically say, we can’t help you. We’ll be honest and say it’s not for us. That would lead us to the next strategy session. We have discovery and then strategy and then ideally from there, it’s let’s crack on.

Sam Wilcox:

Sign up.

Tom Bates:

Yeah.

Sam Wilcox:

Pretty standard, I would say. That’s like most of the clients we work with have that similar setup, right? We’re selling services and generally they’re not cheap services, right? They’re some medium to high level price point attached to them, maybe on a monthly basis or on retainer, or some kind of project price, which usually adds some considerable fee for a business. It’s not like a quick “purchase now” button. You need to have those conversations, that consultative sales process for those types of services.

I think a lot of times as well, I think the discovery call is massively important because it allows you to demonstrate your expertise through the questions that you ask. For anybody that’s listening, one of the key things I always advise around the discovery call is really think about what are the most important questions that you need to know to be able to deliver the very best service for that customer. Not just standard, “how big is your team?” and blah, blah blah. You need to relate them to the service that you’re offering. Or the services that you’re offering. The higher the quality of your questioning, the higher the amount of trust that the potential client will have in you at the end of that call, 100%. I don’t know if you’ve seen that as well?

Tom Bates:

Definitely yeah. One of the tips we got early on was to, although yes, the call’s effort for us to extract as much information as possible, but it’s also for making sure that they feel like you understand them. We ask a question that says literally, “What is missing in the business at the moment?” Which would generally spark a whole conversation that it wouldn’t even thought you were going to have.

Sam Wilcox:

Do you find people find that difficult to answer sometimes?

Tom Bates:

Definitely, but then it depends on the type of client you’re going after. It was harder, the smaller business really struggled with that sort of question. When you get to the bigger service-based businesses, they understand it a bit more and know where they need to go, they just don’t know how to get there.

Sam Wilcox:

Are you asking that question as a slight form of qualification? It’s kind of like if somebody struggles to answer this question, they may be less of a fit, and if they know the answers, they’re a little bit more of a fit? What’s the purpose of that question for you guys, because there has to be one, right?

Tom Bates:

It’s a little bit of both. It really helps if the person does understand where they want to go but doesn’t understand how to get there, because they kind of get it, whereas if you’re trying to show someone that they’re not 100% sure from the upset, social media for example, a lot of people think it’s just throwing money away, it’s just a waste of time. They don’t see that as a successful process. Minimum they would have given in following.

Sam Wilcox:

Right.

Tom Bates:

Finally finding the people that understand that, that there’s a need there that they’re trying to build a brand, not just sell a product for service. In that area. It’s really interesting the difference between the types of people. We wouldn’t then, if someone gave a really bad answer to that question, go, “we’re not going to work with you” because it is a very excessive journey and I do like to incorporate that teaching people and guiding people on what’s out there and what else.

Sam Wilcox:

What we should also mention, as well, that you’re involved in coaching and business mentoring and stuff like that, as well. I suppose that these types of questions allow you to understand. I suppose these are kind of built in to you as a person because that’s the type of stuff that you care about and you can help people identify what those biggest problems may be. Or at least guide them in the right direction.

Tom Bates:

Definitely, and I keep, I have to go on the court with Miranda because otherwise I’ll go off on a tangent and my business partners walk away with nothing. Something I’m sort of learning at the moment is to hold back just listen a lot more. I just get really excited with business in general. You talk about business tomorrow and I’ll be wondering how we can work together on growing it as opposed to, “oh, that sounds good.”

Sam Wilcox:

That’s good for sales, though, because from a sales perspective. I was speaking to Casey Hill who is head of growth for a company called Bonjoro on the last podcast and he was talking about how when he’s hiring sales reps, he puts a massive emphasis on the education of those sales reps, not just whether they can follow the process. When you’re in a sales conversation, like a discovery call, for example, if you can demonstrate that you understand business, not just, “oh, this is what our service does,” and read all the product benefits. If you can understand where they’re biggest pain points are from a business perspective, you’re able to connect with that customer, or potential customer, on a much deeper level than just, “oh, right, we’ve got the right solution for this specific problem.”

I think that’s super important. I imagine that makes you guys quite successful in those sales conversations. I know it certainly plays a big part in the sales conversations I have, because I still do most of the sales calls for our business at the minute.

With the printers, is it mainly you doing most of the sales meetings at the minute? What’s the future plans for it? Do you plan on hiring out a team or do you have a team already? What does it look like?

Tom Bates:

I am the team at the moment, which is interesting because I absolutely hate cold outreach. That’s where the networking side comes in. The goal this year in the next quarter, ideally, is to have at least one sales person that’s doing some sort of salesman, it’s cold calling, the emailing, database extraction, that sort of stuff. Or literally, just going on knocking on everyone’s door locally and saying we’ve been here 40 years.

Sam Wilcox:

That’s interesting because you’ve got, this is something that a lot of people find, I think, that run small businesses when they’re trying to build a sales team is that there’s something that the way you go around the sales process right now works for you. You’ve got this networking side of things that you do, you have a little bit of impact as a business owner, right? The business owner’s magic, as we would say. On the call, people like to speak with the business owner. When that changes to their speaking to a rep, that dynamic of that call changes. One of the interesting things I think you’ll find as you try, and hire a sales rep, I would also say, I would recommend that you hire, I know that this might sound crazy, but I would recommend that you hire two sales reps rather than one. Hiring one sales rep when you’ve not got a defined process in terms of how they can achieve success, you’re basically paying somebody to trial and error until they find out what works. What works for you will not work for them. It’s just how it is.

If you’ve got two people, sales reps obviously thrive off of competition and commissions and all that kind of stuff, and incentives, and I think if you’ve got two, you’ll get to the realization of what works and what doesn’t, not even twice as fast, it’ll be three or four times as fast because they’ll be competing with each other to figure out what works, but also there’s two of them, not just one of them. You kind of get compounding value from having two, rather than one. Definitely bear that into consideration when you’re thinking about hiring.

Tom Bates:

Yes. Great shot.

Sam Wilcox:

What kind of software are you using to manage your sales process at the minute? I know, we obviously know each other anyway, I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that, I think you’re probably using Pipedrive.

Tom Bates:

Yes.

Sam Wilcox:

If anything at all, but is there anything else you use to help you along with this sales process? Where are you finding the networking events to go to, all that kind of good stuff?

Tom Bates:

Yes, Pipedrive is mainly the one we use. We probably use it very badly at the moment. It’s sort of an afterthought, which is really frustrating. With some of the team working from home, some sit in the office. It is a bit disconnected, which is something we’re working on.

From a networking point of view, we literally go to basics and Google “networking around me”. We’re part of a couple of long-standing groups. One starts with “B”, as probably most people have heard of.

Sam Wilcox:

Yeah.

Tom Bates:

It can be frustrating, but we looked at the return on investment recently and it’s actually substantial.

Sam Wilcox:

Is it?

Tom Bates:

In what we’ve focused on. I think it works really well for some businesses, but not every single business.

Sam Wilcox:

Right. It’s probably about the approach, as well, right. It’s got to be how you approach it.

Tom Bates:

Definitely. I think it’s about you as a person. If you’re a likable person, you’ll do really well. I’ve known other people that are in the same groups that mine, my office, similar services and products and people just would like to work with people they like. That’s sales in a nutshell, isn’t it?

Sam Wilcox:

100% relationships all the way.

Tom Bates:

Exactly. There’s a couple of groups that were part of, that developed the hatred of the networking group that starts with “B” which is quite interesting. There is a very different dynamic and it’s good to experience both sides of it. As soon as we’re allowed to meet back in person again, we’ve got a strategy where we’re going to try and get to at least 3 or 4 a week, because we know that’s where a lot of our sales come from.

Sam Wilcox:

A lot of your business is built quite local. Is that right? Is there a strategy or is there a goal in the future to expand that out to more like a national? Are you thinking about opening new stores or expanding in any type of way like that? What are the plans?

Tom Bates:

This year is all about growth. With Covid hitting, it gives an opportunity to really look at the business. We’ve never had an eCommerce upgrade. Reason being we never wanted to compete against Vistaprint, for example, because of our USP being able to come in and speak to us, feel the product, see what else we’re doing and actually talk to a human being. We’ve lucked out being forced to show at the start. We basically said, now is a perfect time to get online.

We want to expand nationally, so we’re based in, so we want to go after Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, and Darveshert to begin with, because they’re still within traveling distance, if we’re going out to see a client, or the client comes to see us. Boast, eCommerce will give us a national reach, but we’re going to push it locally, first.

Then with our name, I think we’ve got a great sort of platform to expand and almost franchise. It’s one of the options, but I don’t want to just become another print shop franchise because I think there’s been thousands over the years. We’ve got new ideas we’re looking to explore that will make us slightly different. We try in-store at the minute and it’s doing really well.

Sam Wilcox:

Cool man. I don’t really know too much about franchising, to be honest. It’s an interesting one though. Not on this podcast, but a different podcast, that me and you know each other from, actually, the Startup Diary. When I was helping run that podcast with the guys. We spoke to a chap, I can’t remember his name, unfortunately. He was head of franchising for Subway at some point and we were picking his brains about how that kind of franchise model works for sales and stuff like that. It was super interesting, actually, the way that the whole franchise model works is actually a really interesting thing to learn about. That might be something that would be an interesting learning experience at some point in the future.

Tom Bates:

Definitely.

Sam Wilcox:

You know a little bit about franchising anyway, I would imagine because of the coaching work that you’ve done.

Tom Bates:

Yeah. I got great insight. Suppose McDonald’s film is always a good watch and reminder of how it works, quite well.

Sam Wilcox:

I’ve not seen that. Is it worth watching?

Tom Bates:

Oh, really worth watching, yeah.

Sam Wilcox:

Is it?

Tom Bates:

I think I’ve watched it 10 times.

Sam Wilcox:

Have you?

Tom Bates:

Yeah, you learn something new each time. Although it’s a story, it’s so interesting on how it all works and the different directions they have to take to make it work. Not a fast food business. They’re a retail real estate business.

Sam Wilcox:

What’s this called? This McDonald’s film? I’m going to find this quickly. McDonald’s film. It’s called “The Founder.” Is that right?

Tom Bates:

That’s the one, yes.

Sam Wilcox:

With Michael Keaton? Right, I think that’s on Netflix, as well. Worth a check out for everybody. There you go, that’s a recommendation. Well, listen Tom, it’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Thanks for letting us have a little bit of an insight into the printers and where you guys are at in the sales process. Hopefully I was able to help you out a little bit as well.

Just before we leave, or round up, is there anything that you would like to recommend to the audience as resources? We’ve got the McDonald’s film, that’s definitely an interesting one. Normally people recommend software and stuff like that, or books. Is there anything else from your side of things that you think has been invaluable on your journey through entrepreneurship over the years that you’d like to recommend for anybody?

Tom Bates:

There’s actually a book I definitely recommend that comes, again. It’s called “Built to Sell.” Just finished listening to it for the 3rd time this morning, in the car. I have it on Audible. That helps you really focus on the core operating, and getting a process nailed down.

Sam Wilcox:

“Built to Sell” by John Warrillow, right? Is that correct?

Tom Bates:

That’s the one. I didn’t want to take on that last name then.

Sam Wilcox:

It’s “Built to Sell” by John Warrillow. Super short read, actually. Highly recommended for anybody, even that isn’t necessarily a massive reader. Tells the story of a, it’s actually a fiction story, so it’s not. Fiction, non fiction, have I got those mixed up? Yeah, it’s fiction.

Tom Bates:

Yeah.

Sam Wilcox:

Fiction story. A marketing agency that a guy wants to sell, but he realizes that he can’t sell it because he is the business and he doesn’t have a business as an asset. It’s about the journey he goes on to productize his business and get it ready for sale. Even if you’re not looking to sell your business in the end, this is still a super valuable book to read because even if you’re not looking to sell, you should still build the business like you’re trying to sell it. Then it becomes an asset, rather than something that you have to manage and would fall apart without you. I would 100% recommend that book as well.

Nice one, Tom. Thanks for your time. I really appreciate you coming on the show. I think we’ll wrap it up there. Thanks for coming on, man.

Tom Bates:

Thanks for having me, it’s been great.

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