Johnson's World: Disorganized Reorganization is Risky Business

When bureaucratic company policy is allowed to trump customer service, you run the risk of losing business. Know when it makes sense to bend - or even break - your own rules.

June 1, 2013

I’m looking for some new digital presses. I’m considering all options with an open mind. Of course, I’ll look at “Brand A”. The company has done a lot of innovating with products that are targeted at my markets. I want to be sure that I’m up to speed.

I called my longtime Brand A sales representative. He is professional, patient, and tenacious.

He was still in college last time Copresco purchased any Brand A equipment, so he is eager to make a sale.

He is also frustrated. The day he was supposed to bring me print samples, he brought me news of a reorganization of the sales structure within Brand A.

Round Peg, Meet Square Hole

Veterans of the business world will appreciate this story of what happens when large organizations, operating with the best of intentions, opt for reorganization.

Disorganized reorganizations are happening everywhere and this is only one example. It isn’t just the big guys, either. Pay heed; don’t inadvertently do something like this to a client! When a small business begins acting bigger than it really is, it is often the customer who suffers.

Where were we? Oh, yes, my Brand A salesman was sitting in my waiting room, sans samples. In his soft spoken, professional way he unburdened his tale of woe.

My rep calls on accounts in the graphic arts, or “print for pay”, as they say in the business. That’s what I do; so far so good.

Brand A also has a dealer network that usually calls on smaller businesses. Okay, but what had that to do with me?

Brand A also has a regional company that it apparently acquired a few years ago. That sales rep has been champing at the bit to get an appointment with me, but, hey, I already have a Brand A rep.

Are you confused yet? To me, none of this really matters. Brand A makes stuff, I need stuff, I have a sales rep who wants to sell me stuff. Don’t bother me with the internal corporate mumbo jumbo.

But It’s Our Policy!

You can run, but you can’t hide forever.

Brand A has restructured its graphic arts sales organization to focus on big companies. Smaller companies will be assigned to local dealers.

Are we a small company? When we were last an all-Brand A shop—back in the early days of the digital era—we had eight machines at one point. We sent some pretty big checks to Brand A every month.

But wait, there’s more. Since we have no Brand A equipment on our production floor anymore, we aren’t really a Brand A customer. Any Brand A rep from any division can call on us. May the best man win.

If you aren’t lost yet, you have clearly been in this business for a long, long time.

Here’s the rub. My sales representative gently reminded me that Copresco does have some Brand A iron in action. Iron might be too strong a word. We have a Brand A multifunction printer in our production department, where we do our estimating and job ticketing, and another in our accounting department. These aren’t used for client work.

This makes us an active Brand A customer after all. Ironically, it makes us the smallest of the small. Too small, it turns out, to deserve the services of our current sales representative. Too small for his counterpart in the regional technology division. Just the right size, according to Brand A’s restructuring plan, for some local business equipment dealer.

So, Mr. Office Supplier, wherever you are, when you are done selling that fax machine to the law office on Main Street, give me—your new “customer”—a call. I need a million bucks or so worth of equipment.

Better call fast, though. Your competitors are already on this, and they already know what I need. Just like my former Brand A sales rep.

Maybe he’ll send you a copy of this article.

Steve Johnson is president of Copresco in Carol Stream, IL; a pioneer in digital printing technology and print on demand. Contact him at, or send direct feedback about this column via