Never Bring a Knife to a Gunfight

“Never bring a knife to a gunfight” is the age-old analogy offered when someone shows up to meet a challenge or obstacle woefully under-prepared. This image is a somewhat humorous visual unless you personally know someone who literally took a knife to a gunfight and if so, I’m very sorry. That said, it serves as a reminder of the importance of misunderstanding a challenge and planning inappropriately to overcome it. In the world of business solutions selling, what weapons you choose to bring to a fight have a critical bearing on whether it’s won or lost. 

I’ve said this before of our office equipment dealer channel and not one reader has disagreed with me yet: the greatest core competencies of office equipment resellers are sales and support. If you’re an office equipment dealer, you don’t develop or manufacture products. Your product is your brand. Your brand is the accumulated outcomes of your customers’ experiences with your company — good, bad or ugly. Many of you have been in business for decades. You’ve kicked butt, taken names and delivered a great experience to your customers day in and day out. You don’t bring metaphorical knives to gunfights. But tactics evolve and battles change. How do you make sure you’re ready for the fights of tomorrow? 

When you read the opening line of this article, there was an image in your imagination. Maybe you see some poor scared naive soul who reluctantly showed up to the fight feebly clutching a small knife only to be immediately frightened and overwhelmed. I don’t see it like that. The metaphor seems more applicable this way: The fighter swaggers into the street or arena with confidence, believing they are prepared, that they absolutely have what it takes to win. They brought a knife. It’s probably a big Crocodile Dundee “That’s a knife” type of blade. They had probably used it very successfully on many occasions. Only this time they are confronted by a very somber, stark reality that in the moment hits them like a ton of bricks (or bullets), dissolving their confidence like water vapor on a hot summer day. They showed up with a knife to fight someone who brought a gun. No chance. Game over. Thanks for playing. 

How do you know as a business leader when the tools and relationships your team has counted on to win customers and trust time and time again lose their effectiveness and become as figuratively useful as a knife at a gunfight? What happens when you lose that big account? What if you lose two big accounts? Or three? As organizations traditionally focused on creating a competitive sales and support experience, partner selection or curation has to become a third core capability. Here’s why: The posse and the weapons they can bring to help you in your fights matter more and more as customer needs and strategies around documents and information change.

When you and your teams walk into the arena of each prospective new deal, you go in armed with an offering composed of technology and solutions from your OEM, distribution and software provider relationships. It’s very much akin to Wyatt Earp walking with his brothers and Doc Holiday in the movie Tombstone into the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. It’s worth noting here as we continue to unpack a violent and combative metaphor that the battle isn’t against your customers; it’s against their problems, their needs and limitations — in this case, those specifically associated with office printing. These problems are evolving. They’re not the same in 2024 as they were in 2020 and if the weapons you bring fail to evolve with the increasing complexity of your customers’ needs, the fight is that much tougher. 

Solutions offerings in office printing have evolved for years but now the pace of evolution is getting faster due to the increasingly complex nature of customer needs. These needs are continuing to develop beyond just ink on paper, speeds and feeds, and managed print. Print output is now just one component of the customer conversation around information management even though the hardware is still the major revenue driver in deals. Those are two sides of the same diamond and they shine differently depending on which side you look from. Yes, the customer still needs to print documents. They know it and they know you have a fantastic and customizable offering. But they also have specific processes around documents. Think about healthcare and patient intake forms or human resources and new hire documents. Sure they get printed but who in the organization is allowed access to the document? Who’s printing it? Who’s scanning it? Customer considerations around document workflow, accessibility and security are rapidly evolving. This means the solutions presented need to be able to adapt on the fly when the proverbial bullets start flying.   

What are some of the customer driven requests that are game changers as we get to the halfway point in 2024? 

• Document workflow processing – Can you help me automate processes around printed documents? 

• Digital transformation – Can you help me migrate paper documents to digital content? 

• Analytics – Can you help me make more sense of the print and scan data we currently have and drive actionable strategies around efficiency and productivity? 

• Authentication – Can you help our users transition from prox cards to secure mobile credentials so they can use their phones to authenticate at the MFP? 

• Security – Can you help me ensure our solutions don’t expose our organization to unnecessary security vulnerabilities and bad actors?

These are just a handful of examples that illustrate the complexities and changing landscape of office printing. The hardware is still very imperative and present but it’s now only a part of the overall thought process. You and your team may walk into a hundred O.K. Corral situations this quarter. They may all feel very familiar and even similar. The solution for the past 10 customers may seem like it addresses the issues presented by the eleventh. The reality is that most issues have at the very least a few subtle but distinct differences. The same wind and tumbleweed don’t blow across the same western gun town street twice — even at high noon. As you walk down that street, do you feel like the OEMs and solutions partners walking with you are prepared for the fight that is about to take place? Are they carrying knives or guns? Are they open to upgrading and evolving not just as necessary, but ahead of what’s necessary? The middle of a gunfight is a very inconvenient time to realize you should’ve brought a gun. 

Albert Einstein once famously said, “You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.” Are your partners forward thinking enough to realize they may be asked to fight or think differently when solving problems? You get to choose who you bring to the fight. Are you confident and comfortable with the posse you’re walking in with? If they’re not prepared to face the challenges you’re walking into, it’s your brand, your reputation and your livelihood that take the bullets. Einstein also said, “Intellectuals solve problems, geniuses prevent them.” That’s a genius statement that describes the level of thinking and preparedness needed in a constantly changing landscape. Bringing a knife to a gunfight is a problem better prevented than responded to. Don’t walk into your next fight without a solid posse at your side that is ready to meet the challenge. 

What does a bad posse look like in the office printing space? 

  • Arrogant or complacent
  • Slow to innovate
  • Consolidation portrayed as innovation
  • Slow to adapt 
  • Poor support
  • Rising costs with little return 
  • Limited availability
  • Antiquated pricing models

What does a good posse look like? 

  • Hungry
  • Innovative and transparent roadmap
  • Curious and responsive
  • Excellent support
  • Great return on investment
  • Collaborative
  • Flexible purchasing options

The knife fight of yesterday will be the gunfight of today or tomorrow. Many times, we get caught up in feature sets and spec sheets — essentially saying “Look how shiny and sharp this knife is. We’ve won so many fights with this knife over the last few years. Isn’t it great? It’ll always be a great knife.” It might be a great knife. But when you go in to close that deal and the bullets start flying, it doesn’t matter how sharp your knife is. Never ever bring a knife to a gunfight.