Three Ways to Make Cold Calls Hot


Selling complex graphic communications solutions requires plenty of skill and knowledge. The biggest challenge for most print providers is how to get their message out and generate new prospects. It’s not enough to produce great products and services if customers don’t know about them. Persistent cold calling, email blasts and social media are not enough to create meaningful conversations with targeted customers.

We have worked with many printers to improve their sales process, and a key element has always been showing ways to generate new prospects. We find that salespeople and telemarketing representatives continue to primarily rely on cold calling to engage new prospects.

Over the years, three recommendations have proven to be very successful in creating conversations that greatly improve the chance of building new professional relationships, while at the same time shortening the sales cycle. Though these are not new tactics, even experienced salespeople neglect these three time-honored prospecting techniques:

#1 - Exchange customer information with peer salespeople

Salespeople spend an enormous amount of time and effort generating detailed customer information. This information includes such things as identifying key contacts, understanding their decision making processes and gaining valuable insights into a customer’s business. A great strategy is to network with salespeople who work in other types of businesses and exchange information with them. Potential partners could include salespeople that sell commercial insurance, computer hardware and software, commercial real estate and managed services.

For instance, one salesperson we know shares information with a local commercial real estate person. For one account, the commercial real estate salesperson was able provide information about management changes taking place as well as a new major company initiative. The result was greater insight which led to a new prospect for the printing salesperson.  Both salespeople had valuable information that the other could potentially  use in their sales efforts. This is a form of networking that can pay big dividends.

#2 - Always Carry a Story Board

It is not easy to clearly explain complex print products and services. Too often, customers are not able to understand or put the print seller’s offerings in context with their other communications channels.

Though most printing sales people bring a printed portfolio to their initial sales calls, we find samples are not enough. Additionally, many printing projects are part of a cross media campaign.  A data driven offering will usually involve workflows and analytics that a new customer may not easily comprehend.

The story board, booklet, infographic or oversized sell sheet should be able to depict in a creative and graphical way the workflow, the components and timelines of a project, as well as provide examples of analytical results. To save time, a template can be created which would allow information to be easily changed based on the interest of the specific customer.  If done correctly, there should be no confusion on the potential customer’s part regarding the print provider’s value proposition.

Having storyboards available also helps selling in venues such as trade shows. On a recent plane ride, we met a print provider who was able to share products and services with an easy to understand infographic. A creative graphic can often tell a story far better than words.

#3 - Share testimonials and gain referrals on every call

The most powerful selling tool available to any salesperson is a referral from an existing customer. Though often talked about at sales seminars, testimonials and referrals are rarely used on a regular basis. Positioning a product or service in the context of a satisfied customer scenario quickly gains the prospect’s attention.

Putting together great testimonials and referrals is well worth the effort. It is especially helpful when the entire company makes it a priority to gain customer stories. Salespeople should be able to obtain a testimonial, reference or positive online review for every sale they make.

One of the mistakes sellers make when using testimonials is that they are often much too broad. The more specific the testimonial is regarding a particular problem, details of the solution, and the results ultimately gained, the more effective it becomes as a sales tool. 

Like most successful techniques used by salespeople, these three examples take time and effort. Implementing just one of these strategies can pay off by gaining new customers and sales.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( is a consulting and training company. They work with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness.  Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156.

First Steps in Hiring the Perfect Salesperson


With an expanding economy and rising optimism, many printing companies are adding new salespeople. There is no greater frustration for printing company owners and sales managers than to hire a new salesperson only to see them quickly fail.

Since most printing companies have limited time and resources to manage the hiring process, there is little room for mistakes. Some companies we know have given up on hiring direct salespeople. However, even with a robust web presence, eCommerce capabilities and a sophisticated digital marketing program there is no getting around the fact that complex printing solutions require direct salespeople.

Planning Must Come First

There are thousands of great salespeople in the printing industry. Hiring a strong new salesperson can be done. We find most hiring mistakes are caused by inadequate planning.

Both small and large companies should begin the hiring process by completing the following steps: 

What exactly is the job that is being offered

A few years ago, we completed research and wrote a hiring guide for one of our clients. We found that without an accurate definition of the specific job requirements of the salesperson, it was almost impossible to land a great candidate.

This is a common error that companies make. There is no “one size fits all” salesperson. It is very important to begin to determine the type of salesperson required and what specific role the new sales person will take.

Create a job description with as much detail as possible.

As a starting point, here are some questions that will help create a tailored job description:

o   Exactly what products and services will the salesperson be selling and who will they be calling on?

o   Will the salesperson be responsible for new accounts, existing accounts, or generates leads through prospecting?

o   Does the candidate need to have printing industry experience?

o   How will the candidate be managed? What is expected on a day to day basis? Will the candidate work under close supervision or will the candidate be expected to work independently?

o   How will the salesperson report their activities to management?

o   Will the salesperson be involved with estimating, proposal development, pricing, project management, and customer service?

o   How much new business and total revenue will be expected in the first three, six and twelve months?

Build the perfect salesperson prototype

Listing the important skills, knowledge, attributes and traits of an ideal salesperson may be time consuming but will save time and energy when the recruiting process begins. List these attributes on a spread sheet.

The list can be broken into four categories. The first category is general industry knowledge. Record the product, industry, customer and technical knowledge necessary to do the job. For instance, does the salesperson need printing foundational knowledge of file formats, applications, and substrates. Does the salesperson need to be knowledgeable of specific markets or customers?

The second category is what sales skills are needed. Has the candidate been successful managing large and complex accounts? What prospecting or presenting skills are required? Does the salesperson need to write complex proposals?

The third category is required personal attributes, which is often overlooked. In the end, this may be the most important. What critical personal attributes are needed? Some key ones to consider are honesty, work ethic, timeliness, creativity, confidence, follow up and detail oriented.

The fourth category identifies any other attributes that will be important. These could include willingness to travel, social media literacy, education level, valid driver license and web researching skills.

Rank the attributes needed to be a high performer

After the four job categories have been listed, rank each one as; essential, important or helpful. If the candidate does not have a specific essential skill, knowledge or personal attribute, is the company willing to provide the training or mentoring required?

Too often employers settle or discount essential or important job dimensions required and make a bad hire. 

Determine how the required attributes will be measured

Perhaps the most difficult part of the process is to determine and gain agreement among those interviewing that the candidate does actually possess the required attributes. This is when in the recruiting and interview process, probing questions are asked by the interviewer(s) to determine if and how well candidates possess the required attributes. Candidates will need to skillfully and convincingly using examples from their work history or schooling of how they possess or have demonstrated the required skills and behaviors.

Taking the time to execute these specific steps will help minimize the pain and expense of a poor hiring decision. It will also save time required for recruiting since the employer will know what they are looking for. Also, the interview process will be more productive. Every company large or small moving to a path of higher sales goals can manage these steps successfully.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions is a printing industry consulting and training company. They work with digital printing organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness.  Take a look at the STEM section of the website. Intellective Solutions is offering a wide range of resources for STEM and Vocational Institutions who provide Graphic Communication workers courses. Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156. This article was first published in the August issue of the Printing News.

Applying Successful Low-Cost In-House Sales Training Strategies

Salestraining Fotosearch_k50597365 (1).jpg

Growing printing companies need skilled sales talent to communicate transitioning and complex offerings. Though most owners and sales managers agree with the need for training, there is often neither the time nor the money to spend. Regardless of the constraints, it is necessary for graphic communications companies to conduct continuous training for salespeople.

What Is Learned in the Classroom Is Often Quickly Forgotten

In our work as a printing industry consulting and training company, we have found on-the-job training to have a much greater impact on performance than formal training. We tell our clients that 30% is learned in the classroom or on-line, and 70% is learned on- the-job. Formal classroom or on-line training is required from time to time to ensure skills, technical knowledge and sales process are learned and updated. Unfortunately, what is learned is often quickly forgotten. It is the day-to-day, on-the-job reinforcements that will keep a sales team sharp and motivated.

Formal training can be provided to printing salespeople through in-house experts, outside training companies, trade associations, suppliers, and readily available on-line printed materials. Because what is learned is often forgotten, companies sometimes fail to see a return on investment. It can be an expensive time out from the business.

Easy to Implement On-the-Job Training Strategies

We find that successful companies use on-the-job training as a way to ensure salespeople remain sharp and effective. Even very small companies can deploy simple on-the-job training strategies. Here are three strategies we recommend to our clients in our digital printing consulting practice:

1.    Role Playing

Legendary sales leader and CEO of SAP, Bill McDermott, regularly led his successful sales teams, either at meetings or when traveling, with role playing exercises. He would ask what tough objections the salespeople had heard, and would then have team members role play answers to those objections. This is a simple and timely training exercise.

Salespeople often enjoy being given potential objections, sales situations and common customer scenarios to rehearse and share best practices. This should be done regularly so that salespeople begin to anticipate potential objections. This exercise helps keep mistakes and sloppy communications away from the customer.

New and tenured salespeople will learn from each other in a simulated and risk-free environment. Areas to role play can include all aspect of sales, including phone prospecting, opening a sales call, closing a call, or meeting an executive. The sales manager and one or two salespeople can practice playing customer and salesperson.

2.    Mentored Sales Calls

This is an ideal training practice for printing companies. Often owners, production managers and sales managers have a great amount of business acumen and experience. It is of great value to have someone with experience play a passive role on a call and observe carefully the interactions between the customer and the salesperson.

Immediately after the call, the salesperson shares what they believe went well - or not so well – during the call. Then, the observer shares their insight on what happened on the call and makes recommendations, if required. This can be a valuable training experience with real-time feedback.

For new salespeople, a great practice is to have an experienced salesperson or sales manager role model a sales call. In this case, the new salesperson is the observer and records what they learned. If it is possible to take notes versus trying to remember the details, the feedback will be even more impactful.

3.    Win Reviews

At meetings, having salespeople share the details of how a significant order was obtained can become an engrained company practice. This is a great way for all employees to understand the teamwork and the steps necessary to close a big deal. Aside from recognizing great achievement, it helps reinforce good practices.

At the Win Review, a salesperson should be able to describe the customer situation and what problem was solved. The details of the discussion could include:

·         How long it took to get the order

·         What was the decision process

·         What were the main objections and concerns of the customer

·         The Sales process

·         The production workflow

·         The ROI for customer or for the printing company

·         Who were the competitors

·         What and who made the difference

·         Is there a future opportunity

Win reviews are great on-the-job training and can be done regularly. With some creativity and consistency, the Win Review can become of a vital part of a company’s sales management process.

Training and professional development cannot be one-time events. They must be an everyday occurrence. Even successful salespeople can become complacent. Adding planned and structured on-the-job sales training to a printing company’s business process may not always be cost effective, but it will generate business results.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( is a printing industry training and digital printing consulting company. They work with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness.  Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156. This article has been published on the website.

Selling Print is a Great Career


We know you are out there. There are thousands of students and professionals capable of selling print within the graphic communications industry.  

Our industry, like many others, is undergoing a major transition. What makes the graphic communications industry a good choice for a career in sales is that we are accustomed to change and innovation. Offset is giving way to exciting new production inkjet technology. New consumer and industrial applications are being developed every day, and many print providers are a driving force in cross-media communications.

We continually hear from print providers across the US who are looking for confident and creative salespeople to help drive new revenues and profits. For many printing companies, sales and marketing is their number one priority. Having the ability to produce great products and services is not enough.

Sales jobs currently available in the printing industry range from direct sales positions presenting complex printing solutions to customers, to inside telemarketing salespeople who generate leads for new products and services. We have trained thousands of printing salespeople. We are always impressed with their commitment not only to make high commissions, but also their commitment to customers and their pride in the printing industry.

Here are some reasons why selling printing is a great career:

Print is a huge business. If you consider print and related industries such as paper, ink and industrial printing, there are close to one million workers currently employed within the industry. Almost all of the 45,000 print locations nationwide require salespeople. It is among the largest manufacturing industries in the United States.

Print is exciting. The industry is a technology-driven business. Imaging innovations, along with the constant stream of new advancements and uses of print, will keep salespeople very busy for a very long time. Whether a new packaging application or a beautiful personalized direct mail piece, printing salespeople always have something compelling to talk about with their customers.

Print works well with others. Most marketing and business executives agree that no one channel can gain awareness and generate business. New communication marketing platforms and data analytics allow customers to track which factors drive customers to buy. Emails, social media and digital marketing alone are not enough. Print can be personalized, customized and effective for each recipient when combined with other forms of communications.   

Print is green.  Industry champion, Two Sides ( has done a great job overcoming the myths surrounding print’s negative impact on the environment. It is a great story for salespeople to share with the many millennials who have misconceptions about print. Print is sustainable and is unique among communication channels.

Print selling builds skills. In addition to deep knowledge of printing and customer buying models, successful printing salespeople possess great listening, negotiating, presentation and closing skills. Developing these and other selling skills makes a professional salesperson a vital component of any printing organization and can ensure a long term career.

Print selling is a great profession. Print selling is a perfect fit for those who have the self-discipline to work both independently and on teams. Many have moved from sales to management and executive positions throughout the graphic communication industry.

Print is profitable. Through the ebb and flow of economic upturns and downturns, we see changing fortunes for many print providers. At any time, there are countless graphic communications companies and salespeople achieving great financial rewards. Through hard work and skill, salespeople can earn a substantial income commensurate with their sales and achievements. Selling has been in the past, and will continue to be, a lucrative career.

Print selling is the future. There will always be a job for a great printing salesperson. Though customer buying cycles and attitudes may change, the selling process and the skills required to close sales do not. As our industry continues to change and transform, successful salespeople learn and adapt. They are the ones who will take the message about the exciting changes in our industry to their customers.

Finding opportunities for a print selling job is not very difficult. There are thousands of openings. Every national and local print industry trade association has a “job bank” with ample opportunities. In addition, public web sites and executive recruiters are constantly on the lookout for new and existing salespeople.

The best news is there are positions for any level of salesperson. Recent graduates or those desiring to enter sales can launch their careers as inside salespeople, customer service reps or front counter workers. More experienced salespeople can work in a very large variety of sales positions selling products, services and software. Also, vendors who sell equipment, paper, ink and software are always looking for new salespeople. For someone like me, who has been in a sales and sales executive role for many years, I cannot think of a better career than selling in the Graphic Communications Industry.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( is a consulting and printing industry training company. They work with printing, STEM and technology organizations to improve their operational effectiveness.  Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156. This article was published in the February edition of the Printing News (}

Ten Ways For Salespeople To Gain Customer Loyalty


Most successful salespeople and marketers use the “rule of reciprocity” when working with their customers. This time-honored tenet simply means that customers will return favors they have received. One should not think of this rule as a method of manipulating customers, but more as applying the “golden rule”. That means to treat customer as you would want to be treated.

In the graphic communications industry, we commonly see suppliers and print providers shower their top customers with trips to headquarters, customer events, business development resources and business insights. The “rule of reciprocity” draws on a powerful human tendency for customers to respond to a perceived gift from a supplier. There has been ample research in many areas of human interaction that confirms this process.

In his popular book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion, Dr. Robert B. Cialdini shares research and information that describes the power that reciprocation has on impacting customer behavior. It explains why so many great salespeople and companies expend time and money to provide offers and added value to customers.

For the best results, salespeople must be more than courteous, generous and kind. It requires a deep knowledge of the customer’s needs and wants, followed by a response.

Successful Marketers and Salespeople Use The “Rule of Reciprocity”

Some large suppliers within our industry have been successful in creating a sense of obligation with customers by providing first-class venues where products and services are demonstrated or presented. This has helped establish long-term loyalty. And for individual salespeople and small businesses with limited marketing budgets, very small actions and favors can have the same large impact on sales performance. Though lavish lunches and high cost events have lost favor with most buyers, there are some much less costly ways to provide “valuable gifts” to customers. 

Here are ten examples of how printing salespeople can influence customers using the “rule of reciprocity”.

1.       Apply the “Golden Rule”

Simply treating every customer as you would want to be treated pays dividends. Being on time, living up to commitments, taking accountability for problems and following up are becoming increasingly rare. The simple act of treating your customer with respect can be a low cost differentiator from your competition.

2.       Create first class customer knowledge events

A great way to gain loyalty is by offering timely and impactful customer events. Every company should provide at least one event a year. There is no better way for customers to learn about new products, services and applications. Spending entertainment money wisely, along with providing valuable information for customers, will gain a disproportionately high return.

3.       Help with business development

Getting inside and helping build profitable applications provides a huge value to customers. Not only are customers appreciative of the support, they will repay the salesperson with more business.

4.       Give a gift

Providing small and relevant gifts is often well appreciated. Gifts such as business books and company promotional items are still welcomed by customers. A thoughtful gift will be remembered.

5.       Give them content

Providing relevant case studies, research and examples of high impact business successes helps customers reach their goals. For time- starved customers, receiving relevant and timely content is well appreciated. 

6.       Get personal

Taking the time to know and show interest in a customer’s career objectives, personal challenges and interests is useful in developing a productive business relationship. For instance, participating in a customer’s favorite charity event can be a great way to gain loyalty.

7.       Provide useful insights

Time is precious. Customers appreciate salespeople who can make them more successful by providing high impact recommendations and suggestions on how they can improve their business. A salesperson who knows their customer’s business is invaluable.

8.       Give free education

Millennials love educational opportunities. Offers to teach customers about substrates, color, winning applications, file management and cross media workflows are a few knowledge areas that print providers can offer.

9.       Take them out to the ball game

Knowing what is important to customers and accompanying them to sports events, concerts and restaurants is still a great vehicle to share business knowledge and build business relationships.

10.   Stay current

Sharing the latest in technology trends and applications is an important “gift” that salespeople can provide. With all the changes taking place in business, no customer can stay on top of what is going on without some help.

Applying the “rule of reciprocity” in all customer interactions is a powerful business approach that provides a huge ROI in time and money. Do not treat the “the rule of reciprocity” as a one-time event. Like many other things in selling, many customers have short memories… keep on giving. If done sincerely with the customer’s best interest in mind, it is very difficult for any customer to resist.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( is a consulting and training company. They work with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness.  Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS

Five Steps When Selling to Executives

Selling at the top.jpg

Getting in front of senior executives can quickly change the future of a salesperson or a printing company. There is no better way to quickly develop and generate large sales than to gain access to senior decision makers.

Great printing salespeople can impact decisions about strategy, budgets and marketing that are driven by senior levels of management. Many of these decisions cannot be found in the purchasing or department manager levels.

Executives want to talk to salespeople who can help them address their “big” problems and opportunities. For salespeople, that requires confidence, a thorough knowledge of graphic and digital communications and an ability to bring creative ideas to their customers.

There are two great outcomes of an executive sales call: one is to gain agreement that what you have to offer is valuable to the executive’s organization; and two, the executive opens the organization to further sales meetings.

Five Steps for a Great Executive Meeting

1. Preparation

It may take hours of preparation to gain just one great meeting with the right executive. It is worth it. The first challenge is to identify those CEOs, Presidents, Division Presidents and Executive VPs in each targeted account. Having detailed information about their company, its objectives, its campaigns and programs will increase the likelihood of success in securing the first meeting.

With gatekeepers blocking the way, and the likelihood that the target will not pick up the phone, a brief and impactful talk track to generate interest must be prepared in advance. In a few cases, the executive may actually pick up the phone. A short crisp message and a simple request for a meeting is the best strategy.

2. A Great Entrance

A great first impression is vital. Though rapport building is important, keep the superficial banter to a minimum. Executives are looking for information and expertise. A professional appearance and demeanor will help. Briefly state your purpose, a brief overview of why you are there and what you expect from the meeting. Make sure you share amount of time you will need for this meeting.

Then just ask, “Is this OK with you?”

A confident start will establish a solid foundation for the rest of the sales call.

3. Share the Dream

Once the stage is set, it is time to share what you have discovered about the customer and their problems. You can do this by using facts and research on issues being faced by similar organizations and sharing them in a tailored way.

For instance, as part of your story to a hospital executive looking to expand their services, you could say, “According to the Direct Marketing Association, “83% of people find direct mail easier to absorb than email. We have found that our hospital clients who integrate direct mail along with their digital communications have increased their ability to sell additional and new services to their patients.”

Be prepared to share your case studies on how specifically you have helped similar organizations.

By sharing facts about how your company and printing has helped other companies improve their performance, potential customers will want to hear more. 

Then follow up with questions like this:

“How are you currently marketing your new clinical services?”

“What is the strategy of the hospital to attract new patients?”

“How will you address the new trends in the market?”

By asking probing questions, listening and letting the customer talk about the company and their priorities, the executive will become part of the sales call. Creating an optimistic vision for the customer will allow the discussion to continue.

4. Sync Up and Discuss Linkages

Now is the time when the salesperson connects what has been discussed by the customer to how your company can help.

By tailoring and summarizing the key points of the customer’s problems, you will be able to link what you sell to what the customer needs. A good exchange of ideas and agreements on how the salesperson can help the customer will lead to a close.

5. Close for an Open Door

The final step is to gain agreement on what needs to be done next. It is rarely the time to close for an order. It is an opportunity to gain the executive’s endorsement for access to key influencers and stakeholders who are involved in the decision chain. The ideal goal is an open door to developing a well-qualified recommendation to visit other departments and staff.

Since it often takes much time to gain a good meeting, preparation and execution is paramount. There may never be another chance to get a second meeting.

There has never been a time in recent history where it has been as important for printing salespeople to raise their level of contact within their customer organization. There is so much change in how printing can impact a customer’s top and bottom line that executives will welcome a meeting with a knowledgeable salesperson.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( is a consulting, research and training company. They work with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness.  Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156.

How Great Printers Manage the Halo Effect of Digital Media

Fotosearch_k2267107 (1).jpg

Graphic communications salespeople have never had as many things to sell as they do now. Advancements in cross media platforms, e commerce, digital imaging and personalized printing help print-based salespeople generate powerful value propositions. As the economy improves, there will be additional opportunities to raise sales levels as customers look to invest in marketing and training initiatives that include print.

As exciting as all of this is, there remain persistent challenges for salespeople. No website or brochure can adequately inform or convince customers to use printing in their communications. Direct printing salespeople must be up to the task of helping their customers assess their marketplace and move forward with programs that involve print.

The good news is that printing companies are repositioning themselves and customers are finally re-awaking to the inherent value of print as an integral element of their marketing communications.

The Halo Effect of Digital Media

Convincing a customer to use print is often impacted by the halo effect of digital and social media. The term was first described by psychologist Edward Thorndike in 1920 and can influence a customer’s feelings of using print versus digital media.

The halo effect often makes it difficult to sell the benefits of printed products and services because of the perception of the overwhelming success, convenience and cost of digital or social media.

Printing salespeople must confront this human tendency. Though digital and social media can have obvious advantages, we are seeing signs and have proof that printing can offer a greater ROI back to our customers.  Case studies, ROI examples and models of successful campaigns that bring results to customers are required to minimize the halo effect of digital and social media.

Focus on goals and objectives

As a general rule, those salespeople that take the time to listen and learn the pain and opportunities facing each customer, will be better at breaking down their halo effect biases about print. At the end of the day, performance is what counts. Common negative perceptions of the environmental impact, cost and effectiveness of print must be met head on.

Beautiful and engaging printing, backed up by case studies of great ROI results, minimize the halo effect of digital and social media.  Salespeople cannot rely on customers to know this.

The Blind Spot(s) of Printing Salespeople

The challenge of overcoming the halo effect of digital and social media are often hindered by blind spots of the print salesperson. For example, it is not uncommon for salespeople to focus on selling a particular product or service without knowing the goals and objectives of the customer. Rather than concentrating on the needs of the customer, salespeople unintentionally commoditize their own offerings by the way they sell.

Blind spots become apparent to a customer due to poor selling habits, complacency, falling behind the times in technology, incorrect assumptions about customer’s requirements, too much information, incorrect assumptions or simply a lack of listening.

With the fast transformation taking place in our industry, it is critical to test and continually look for blind spots. Blind spots are often not realized by the salesperson. Many salespeople exhibit behaviors caused by blind spots over a long period of time.

Willy Loman, the iconic character of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman faced difficulty in keeping up with the times. He faced declining sales and income. His inability to deal with his blind spots led to his failure. Identifying and fixing issues is very difficult if a salesperson does not accept or know that they exist.

The sad part of this play was Willy’s unwillingness to deal with reality and change.

Finding Blind Spots

There are good ways to find your blind spots. Getting consistent and honest feedback formally and informally from coworkers, managers, customers, suppliers and industry experts, is a good way to identify habits and behaviors that are getting in the way of business. Another strategy is to review past account wins and losses to attempt to find patterns that may be caused by blind spots.

The simplest way to minimize the development of blind spots is to always strive for continuous personal and industry learning, regularly attending training sessions, and focusing on what the customer and their customers want and need to be successful.

If your blind spot is a lack of knowledge about how social media plays a role in your customers business, sign up to receive their Tweets, visit (and study) their FaceBook page, and learn how they are using media to get their message out. Armed with this knowledge, you’ll be in a much better position to argue your case about including print in the mix.

Handling the halo effect and blind spots are behavioral issues that must be addressed by all printing salespeople. Energized and passionate salespeople can overcome many entrenched human barriers. A first step is being aware that the halo effect and blind spots exist. With an expected growth of the economy, this is a good time for salespeople to step back and take a look at what will potentially hold back their sales.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( is a consulting and training company. They work with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness.  Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156. This article was published in the Digital Edition of Printing News in August 2017.

Four Areas to Assess your Sales Coverage


Sales coverage is one of those phrases that many owners and managers worry and talk about when meeting with their salespeople. But what does sales coverage really mean? More importantly, are common printing industry sales coverage models effective for today’s printing environment?

What is Sales Coverage?

The way a company structures its sales process and resources to drive revenue is its “sales coverage model”. Printers have many different types of sales coverage models, depending on the type of company they are, their size, their customer base and also the types of products and services they offer. For instance, one company may use a combination of telemarketing, internet marketing and some outside direct salespeople while another may have a team of direct salespeople coupled with an ecommerce portal.

Four key elements of evaluating your Sales Coverage Model

Below are four areas that are common issues within printing company sales coverage models.

1. Sales Territory with No Boundaries

There is still a persistent and stubborn practice in our industry to allow printing salespeople to determine where and whom they call on. They gain new customers wherever they can find them. This strategy most often fails and causes frustration for both the salesperson and the sales manager.

Management, not salespeople, are best able to determine the type of accounts and/or markets that best sync to the company’s products and services. Management picks the targets and salespeople call on them. Effective targeting of likely suspects based on “best fit”, is the most efficient and productive use of valuable sales and marketing resources.

2. Too Few Hands on Deck

Most sales territories we find are much too large to be effectively managed by the salesperson. In today’s market, everyone within the printing company must be part of the selling process. All employees must feel accountable to reel in new business, not just the direct salesperson or CSR.

Though there will always be tension and battles between sales and the production team, complex and large opportunities require a team effort to be successful.

That means everyone connected with the workflow supporting a potential customer participates in some way in sales calls, presentations, customer problem resolution, and proposals. Regular customer contact and problem solving by management, sales and operations is a requirement.

3. No Credit for Leads

Perhaps the biggest disconnect on an effective sales coverage model that we hear is the issue of lead generation. Too often managers and owners resent crediting direct salespeople for business that result from leads. A common feeling among owners is that the salespeople should be generating their own leads and companies should not have to pay commissions on this business.

New models are evolving where companies are segmenting sales efforts. The thinking is that leads are generated by inside sales telemarketing reps, digital and social media and digital marketing efforts. Higher paid direct salespeople spend their time qualifying and driving these opportunities through the pipeline to a sale.

If there is a concern about the amount of leads that are being generated by salespeople, the issue most often lies with marketing, sales process or compensation and not where or how the lead was generated.

4. Marketing versus Sales

In the past, only large companies tended to have strong links between marketing and sales. This is the approach where marketing drives awareness and consideration into the hands of direct sales people. With the transformation of the internet, all companies must consider carefully how marketing is integrated into sales and how this affects sales coverage.

A fully developed and updated marketing plan is the surest way to ensure that marketing and sales are working well together. Targeting accounts and markets, selling the right products and services and sharing common objectives are just a few areas that should be examined and aligned for success.

Next Steps

To determine if a company has the right sales coverage model, managers and owners should consider the following:

  • Which accounts and markets are the most lucrative based on the products and services of the company?
  • How will marketing and sales work together more closely to generate business?
  • What types and amounts of salespeople are required to cover the identified opportunities and at what cost? Should the company use inside sales, direct sales, team selling, sales specialists, ecommerce or a combination of all
  • Does the compensation plan reflect where leads are generated and how much effort is required by the salesperson to turn leads into prospects and then customers?

As with most industries, technology has driven fundamental changes to the selling process within the printing industry. We find most print providers stay with what has worked for them in the past. Old habits die hard. It is never too late to reconsider your company’s sales coverage model.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( is a consulting and training company. They work with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness.  Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS. This article was published at

Imagining the Printing Salesperson Of The Future


Technology is continuing to drive the transformation of communications. We are seeing changes in what and how buyers are purchasing their communications needs.  Increasing use of targeted mailings, highly accurate tracking platforms and print-to-anywhere solutions are also transforming the role of direct salespeople.

Transformation versus Change

In looking to the future of selling, the words “change” and “transform” are often used loosely. The key difference is when we talk about change there is always an option to going back to the way things used to be. During a transformation, there is no going back. Many of today’s printing companies and salespeople are in the “transformation” stage.

It’s encouraging that even with all the competition from other media, there is a large appetite for print. Leading economists, who report on our industry, tell us that the worst is behind us and print production and related services is on the road to recovery. Many printing companies are seeing improved sales and revenues. We have asked both successful direct salespeople and print providers how direct selling will look in the future.

Five Areas Where Printing Salespeople Will Transform

To succeed, salespeople must not throw their current skills and knowledge away. They will need to build new competencies to capture opportunities in a changing market. We have identified 5 key areas where the actions, skills and behaviors of successful direct salespeople will be transformed:

1.      Bring new light to problems

Customers can find a lot of what they need online. Great salespeople will bring new ideas and insights to a customer’s real problems. They will do this in a challenging and executive style that will instill confidence in the salesperson. Customers require business experts who can solve difficult problems.

2.      Provide technical expertise

Most great printing salespeople are experts in printing technology and processes. Now printing salespeople are being asked to be technical experts in many more areas outside of traditional printing. Knowledge of software, media integration and application development at the customer level is a necessity.

3.      Collaborate to develop tailored solutions

The role of business development and direct sales will continue to converge. Customers are looking for help in creating tailored and customized solutions to their problems and do not possess the expertise nor time to figure it out on their own. In some cases, salespeople will function as consultants, identifying and organizing the elements and partners required building a complex customer solution.

4.      Move beyond transactional selling skills

Customers are not responding to the endless probing questions and annoying pressure tactics of a traditional salesperson. Ongoing training that focuses on gaining the skills necessary to sell high value offerings effectively is becoming commonplace. Specifically, new approaches in developing targeted accounts, communicating, financial acumen, negotiating, project management, analyzing, proposing, presenting, and research skills will be required in the salesperson of the future.

5.      Drive customer service

This is an area facing the greatest transformation. Customers will accept nothing less than outstanding support and service. Printing will eventually take the lead among other industries in providing multichannel end to end customer service. What has been demonstrated by Amazon and Google will be the norm for printing companies that desire high growth and profits. The direct salesperson will position customer service as part of their value proposition.

The good news is more and more successful printing companies are beginning to adjust and transform their selling efforts. We are seeing an increasing number of outstanding web, ecommerce and social media sites used by printing companies. Larger organizations are investing outbound and inbound telemarketing efforts to support lead generation. For direct salespeople, more emphasis is being placed on retaining experienced and knowledgeable high performers who can manage large deals, maintain relationships and manage elongated order cycles.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( is a consulting and training company. They work with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness.  Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS. This article was first published in the February edition of the Printing News

Three Great Sales Approaches

There is a consistent theme among printing salespeople that the market for print-related products and services is very tough. Even though some printing companies are increasing their sales, the overall economy is not growing fast enough to “lift all boats”. 

At Graph Expo 2016, chief economist Andrew Paparozzi at Epicomm shared the results of a survey where 71.1% of printing companies cited “our ability to increase sales” as their number one concern. Consequently, we are finding that many commercial printers with direct salespeople are reevaluating the skills, practices and sales management techniques that are required to compete in a low or no growth environment.  

Given all the challenges salespeople face, we have been asking successful owners, managers and salespeople what they are doing that helps them outperform their competition.

Three Actions that Work

1. Apply the Correct Sales Process

Great salespeople and their companies adjust to every customer situation. Customers are increasingly researching new products and services online, and much of their decision is already made before a salesperson is even engaged.

As a result, applying and aligning the correct sales process is mandatory in today’s print market. Customers are dictating how they want to be approached, and an increasing number are using a formal RFP process. Those customers who know exactly what they want and how much they are willing to pay require a much shorter sales engagement.

Tim Boucher, owner of BSquared, a New York City-based printing company, sums up his company’s approach to these types of print inquiries. He said, “Speed counts. You need to follow up and respond quickly. They only stop shopping price when you educate them.”

For more complex sales opportunities, an extended sales process is required that is aligned and tailored to each customer. There are no shortcuts, and these types of scenarios typically require a fairly large investment of a salesperson’s time. Some customers will require extensive business development resources and will often involve other members of the print provider’s staff for technical support.

2. Bring Something New and Unique

In the past, print salespeople could compete by simply understanding the functions and process of getting a print project completed. Having a general understanding of the print process will always be required; a growing trend is an increased focus on specialization of print products and services. More and more print providers are focusing on specific products, communication channels, applications, and markets.

The RAIN Group Center for Sales Research reports, “Today’s sales winners go beyond uncovering buyer needs and matching their products and services as solutions to buyer problems. They provide valuable ideas and insights during the sales process.” They have found that salespeople that exhibit this behavior are three times more likely to win versus competitors who don’t.

With this approach, successful printing salespeople will be more technically capable, able to leverage their company’s unique skill sets and will be able to consistently bring new ideas and insights. More and more customers who directly engage salespeople are not only expecting but demanding it.

3. Stay on the Offensive

Sir Isaac Newton provided great selling advice when he said, “a body in motion stays in motion, and a body at rest stays at rest." For salespeople, this means great opportunities will only be available if they are out there talking and meeting with customers. The changes that are occurring in the printing industry today are nothing short of amazing. There are also tremendous changes occurring in each of your customer’s businesses, and a successful salesperson can quickly align new print products or services to their customer’s new needs. But to do that, salespeople must be out there talking to their customers.

We still hear that too many printing salespeople are either in the office or in the production area managing print projects instead of selling. Many still rely on existing customers, request for quotes and old relationships to drive sales performance. Marketing communications and print technology is moving much too fast to stay at rest.

Here are a few suggestions to overcome inertia and generate more opportunities:

  • Set activity targets for contacting potential customers with new ideas each day. A minimum of five personal contacts a day is a good place to start.
  • Never miss an opportunity when engaging existing customers to discuss best practices and insights that will lead to new business.
  • Don’t just respond to quotes. Educate customers and get in front of them face to face.
  • Keep up with the technology and the changes that occur in a customer’s business. Failing to do so makes it impossible to share great ideas and insights with prospects.

There is no tougher challenge for a salesperson than to gain sales at the expense of a competitor in a slow growth market.  Compounding the problem is the influence of online and social media content that makes it difficult for salespeople to be the single provider of information to customers. Respond quickly to those customers who know exactly what they want and spend the time with customers who don’t, but show the potential of a long lasting and profitable relationship. Look to the future and adapt. No matter what changes occur, there will always be winners.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( is a consulting and training company. They work with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness.  Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS. This article was published by Printing News in December 2016.

Selling Beyond Print with Direct Mail

If there is one thing we have learned from successful printing companies, it is that they regularly offer new offerings to their customers. Whether you are a large, multi-plant printer or a small, local printer, one area that is undergoing changes is direct mail. With a market size of almost 47 billion dollars, according to the Winterberry Group, the opportunities for supplying direct mail to customers are endless.

Even during the recent tough economic years, the direct mail market has continued to remain strong. It is projected that this is an area that will continue to be a major and effective marketing channel used by customers, both big and small. Most experts predict that the combination of the increased use of ink jet printing, easier personalization, and the continued introduction of new substrates will spur growth.

Direct Mail is Scalable

Almost all printing companies offer some sort of direct mail products and services. There are many variations to direct programs and campaigns that even the smallest print provider can offer. Also, there are thousands of new potential printing customers who could be introduced to the power of direct mail marketing.

Nick Nicolich, co-owner of Star Press of Pearl River in NY, said, “We learned to be successful in direct mail by listening and adding value for our customers. Our team attempts to learn what our customers are trying to do as a very first step. When you get someone to talk about their project and learn more about it, you can give them a better way to accomplish their objectives. If we can do that, we generally keep them as a customer for life.”

This is a good time to reassess how we approach the direct mail market. Here are some of the behaviors we have seen from successful companies:

Focus on customer education about the value of print

There is growing ignorance of the value of print, especially direct mail. When entry level and new managers first enter the workforce, their first thought on how to get a message out is often not print related. Educate them on the value and effectiveness of a well thought out marketing mix which includes direct mail.

Provide great customer service

Millennials are showing us the value great customer service can add to the bottom line. They are flocking to providers (such as Amazon) that provide excellent customer service. Putting together a direct mail campaign may seem intimidating to those new customers not familiar with print. By helping them overcome their fears about the technical intricacies of print, you can build a closer relationship.

Deliver an entire solution

New and understaffed customers need and want the total solution. Direct mail customers need advice, design, copywriting, data bases, print and distribution services. Having templates, samples, advice, and information readily available will create leads and also help to explain the entire process to your customers. 

Start small

A great way to introduce your customers to direct mail is by using the USPS Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) program for small retail customers. It’s a great solution for customers such as restaurants, banks, home improvement companies and insurance agencies. You don’t have to know the names and addresses of recipients, you simply choose a neighborhood and marketing pieces are delivered to every address along the route.

Even seemingly simple projects can result in the development of a long-term and profitable customer.

The First Step for Sales is Understanding the Customer

For most customers, direct mail is baffling. 

Since every qualified potential customer should receive an outstanding first impression, sales and customer service people should understand the customer’s capabilities and requirements BEFORE making recommendations. Here are some potential questions to ask that would make any customer feel confident in a print provider:

What is the goal and objective of the project?

  • What is the purpose of the project?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  •  How will the results be measured?

Why has the customer decided to use direct mail?

  • Have they used direct mail before?
  • Do they need design support, templates, databases, etc.?
  • What is the time frame and budget?

What is their vision of what the direct mail piece will look like?

  • Do they have a design and ideas how the project should look?
  • Have they seen other campaigns that they found appealing?
  • What is their understanding of the process to develop and distribute the piece?

Once these questions are answered by naturally weaving them in a normal conversation with a potential customer, then the specifics of the project can begin. Direct mail is an important product and service category for all printers. It takes patience to learn about data bases and the requirements of the USPS.

The payoff can be extended and a consistent flow of new applications and a profitable revenue stream.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( is a consulting and training company. They work with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness.  Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS. This article was first published in the October edition of the Printing News.


Try Selling versus Telling Millennials


Millennials are a major force in the use and acquisition of printing. Though it is hard to generalize about an entire generation, it is important to know how they are influenced. Just as generations past, they are described in unflattering terms. They are smart and want to succeed like everyone else. We still run into print providers who stereotype this generation as difficult to work with and miss important selling opportunities.

Millennials Are Largest Group Ever

The work force is now dominated by 18 to 36 year old millennials. This group represents 25% of the entire population and is the largest group in history. Today they represent 25% of decision makers and will soon grow to dominate the market. Those who ignore them do so at their own peril. The good news is that research tells us that they are still using and valuing print books, circulars and direct mail as long as they are relevant to them. They seem to like the emotional connection that physical print can bring.

They are the first generation that was brought to the workforce with a completely digital upbringing. This poses two challenges for print marketers. One is organizing sales and marketing efforts around a different way of buying, and the other is educating potential print buyers on the value of physical communications.

What Makes Them Different

Just like any other type of generational group, sellers must adjust. Sell to them appropriately and they will be loyal customers. What makes them different?

1.      They have been brought up in digital

This is the first generation that has been immersed in digital media and devices their entire lives. They know and care less about print than the previous generation. In fact, much of what they have heard may not be correct. Print is sustainable, effective and has a high ROI.

2.      What they want, they want FAST

They buy on-line at sites such as Amazon or Google. Not only is what they sell available now, there is often no charge to have it sent. Individuals in this group want to be treated specially and individually.

3.      They will not just rely on a supplier’s claim

They are very comfortable researching everything on line.  They will not call a printer until they have formed an opinion based on a web search or on social media networking.  

4.      Bureaucratic rules and policies common in the printing industry are not welcomed

They are accustomed to getting it their way. Any of the popular social media sites they use are completely personal and customizable. Print is more difficult to produce than digital media. This can present challenges for Millennials in design and production.

5.      They will pay extra

Millennials are perfect candidates for personalization and cross media campaigns. Research shows that they are loyal to their brands. They will get beyond the price game if they can see how print fits into the big picture.

Ryan Doran, millennial and creative director of Turkois Design said, "There is a massive opportunity to create printing relationships with ‘millennial’ clients. The real disconnect is in fluency. Lost-in-translation equals lost sales. Traditional printers have an often untapped value and can benefit from playing the sage guide rather than the entitled merchant. It’s as simple as taking the time to inform your customer. If you talk to them like an equal working towards a goal you might even pick-up a tip or two from their own digital work-flow."

Recommendations for Sales Success to Millennials

Some of this may be obvious, but in our experience, this is not enough of a common practice to impact the vast millennial market. Based on a great deal of anecdotal evidence and research, here are some recommendations for the sales process:

1.      Get there first

You know the buying process is changing. Get there before all decision criteria is established. Most opportunities are decided before the first sales call is made. Expect decision makers to research alternatives thoroughly before calling. That means networking, going where the buyers are and providing lots of educational information for millennials.

2.      Help Them with Print

These are not old time print buyers who are experts in the specifying, design and production of print. Show them physical samples to gain emotional connection. Show them how print connects them to other media. Do not bog them down with printing bureaucratic procedures and jargon.

3.      Think, Act and Speak Digital

Millennials have grown up with technology. The pressure is on print salespeople to speak the language of digital and digital media. Knowing the details of how digital campaigns are created and produced will gain huge credibility with this generation. Sharing cross media and personalized printing builds confidence in printing. Also, the production of printing is exciting with many advanced technical features. Share with them the best samples you have.

4.      Manipulation will not Work

Millennials may wear jeans and flip flops to work, but don’t be fooled. They are results driven and see the big picture. What is different about this group, they are turned off quickly by pressure and manipulating sales tactics of days past. Scare tactics such as the price is only good to the end of the week or if you do not order right now, we will not make the deadline. Keep presentations short and provide interesting solutions to business problems.

5.      Handle the Unsaid Objection

With this generation, the difficult objection is often not stated. Questions about the effectiveness or ROI of print as a communication media is often on the minds of millennials. Printing is perceived as expensive. Most buyers are influenced by what they know best. Print is often a mystery. The message of the environmental unfriendliness of printing is pervasive in many forms in our social and business culture. It is not true and must be addressed with facts. Sharing case studies and examples that address these hidden objections is a smart way to sell.

We have a huge challenge as sellers of print. Most of our customers will soon be from generations that have grown up connected and on line. We have a great story to tell. Print is dynamic, interesting, high tech and effective. This story must be integrated in a professional selling approach.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( is a consulting and training company. They work with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness.  Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS. This article was published in the Printing News Magazine and their Online Site August 2016


Get On the Phone and Spend Less Time Emailing

For thousands of graphic communications direct salespeople, much of prospecting and managing the sales process is done over the phone. If it is not, then it should be. Though the use of emails and social media is very helpful, the impact and speed of a direct person’s conversation on the phone cannot be replaced.

If a direct salesperson is not using the phone, they are not generating new prospects. There is no way around it. Though many telemarketers are formally trained in how to manage a phone conversation, it is rare to find direct printing salespeople who are. Like anything else in sales, there is a process and skill associated with phone prospecting that needs to be developed and coached.

It is scary how many print customers we speak to receive endless emails and social media solicitations but do not receive a follow up phone call by their salesperson. Social media and email lacks emotional connection. If the overall objective is to increase sales by gaining face to face meetings, then phone prospecting cannot be beat.

A Good Prospecting Call

Recently I received a prospecting call from a salesperson representing a printing specialty company. Like most other buyers, I rarely answer my phone from unknown callers. In this case, however, the company calling was listed on my incoming screen. I was curious and picked up the phone. Having trained and coached many salespeople on how to prospect on the phone, I wanted to hear their approach and pitch.

This person was sensational. The salesperson incorporated telemarketing principles of great phone prospecting in a polite and conversational way.  This quickly got my attention and interest. It reminded me that like most outstanding selling traits, phone prospecting requires skill and confidence.

Whether calling someone you know, or cold, here are some good practices to make the job easier and more productive:

Smile When You Speak

The confidence and tone of your voice should reflect enthusiasm. If you are not sure, ask someone to listen to you while you are speaking on the phone. Though the person at the other end of the conversation can’t see you, it is important to use the same pace and conversational style that you normally use, including hand gestures.

Don’t Tell or Sell

Negotiating a deal on the phone for complex printing rarely works. Use the phone to engage customers in a conversation to determine the level of interest, close for the next logical step or gaining a face to face meeting. Trying to sell or talking too much on the phone makes it difficult to understand the customer’s buying signals and reactions.

Know What You Are Going To Say

Just as in a face to face conversation, developing and using good open ended questions will ensure consistency from call to call. Making strong and interesting statements will create curiosity and will encourage the conversation to continue. If things are not working, it is easy enough to change and adjust.

Let the Other Person Speak

One test of whether a prospecting call is effective is the amount of time the customer talks. Getting the customer into a conversation is the key. We recently had the opportunity to listen to salespeople making calls, and the chief barrier to success was not involving the customer in a conversation.

Keep your Attitude Up

It is not always easy, but showing passion for what is being sold will give the customer a sense of commitment. There are some days where it is a struggle, but over time, a good pace and a sense of optimism develops with success. A customer can sense enthusiasm and a positive attitude. Phone prospecting is not a numbers game. It is a conversation and qualifying process.

Tell it Straight

Explain clearly and succinctly why you are calling in a manner that makes it easy for the customers to understand why you are calling them. All organizations need printing. Giving a customer a good idea or sharing relevant information saves both the salesperson and prospect precious time. Manipulative and phony sales tactics will not work in our industry.

Ask a Question

Based on our research, those salespeople who ask a question very early in the call have the highest success rates for gaining appointments. Questions like, ”How are you using print in your marketing campaigns?” “How are you integrating customer data into your direct mail programs?” will increase the curiosity of the customer,

Closing is Key

There are two objectives of any call. One is to qualify the account to determine if they are even worthwhile to pursue, or to successfully close for something. Simply asking for an appointment once it is determined that there is a basis for doing business is a simple, but often overlooked step in the sales process. And finally, let the other person hang up first. Many times a person will think they have ended the call when they have not actually disconnected. You might be surprised with what you hear from the other end.

For many salespeople, it is difficult to get started and block out time for prospecting over the phone. Most are more comfortable to be in front of customers in person and reacting to nonverbal signals. Great salespeople get over this. There is no way around it; using the telephone consistently is an essential element in building sales and keeping your pipeline full.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( is a consulting and training company. They work with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness.  Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS. This article was published in the June Edition of Printing News.

Ten Questions to Get the Printing Sale Moving

Customer time is scarce and many prospects resist spending it with salespeople. Consequently, making a great face to face sales call has never been more important. This is not the time to be unprepared or execute poor sales behavior.  Being able to gain interest quickly and to ask outstanding questions is vital to identify customer needs and move a customer to a close.  

Developing and asking good questions requires practice and preparation. We see many salespeople ask the same manipulative and annoying questions on each and every sales call. Asking direct questions such as “when do you need this by?”, “who is the decision maker?” or “what is your budget?” are turn offs.

Most important information can be obtained through a natural business conversation with a customer. The objective of most sales calls is to close a deal or move the process forward; not interrogating the customer.

Developing Good Questions Starts with Preparation

Salespeople must bring value on each and every call.  A poor initial face to face sales call means that the salesperson may never get in front of the customer again. .

The first step in preparing questions is to thoroughly prepare. Here are four necessary steps to accomplish this

What’s the objective of the call?

Determine what will be accomplished by the face to face sales call. If the potential outcome is not substantial, or is vague, then perhaps the call is not worth the time. Examples of good objectives can include gaining access to other decision makers, gaining exact information required for a proposal, or even closing the order.

Do your homework


Since it is so difficult to gain access to a customer, why take any chances? Work the web and talk to current and former employees, friends, suppliers, and anyone else that could provide important insights about the account. This is how salespeople can prepare to bring interesting insights that will build credibility and create interest with prospects.

You need to be different

Every customer perceives their needs as unique. Be different.  For instance, just printing direct mail is not enough. Linking your capabilities to the success of your prospect will make them want to continue the conversation. Prepare questions and information that will create curiosity and interest that focuses on the customer opportunities to improve business and professional results.

Prepare questions

Questions are the foundation of a great sales call. Having interesting questions prepared that can gain information and methodically walk through a logical needs analysis will establish credibility and build the customer’s curiosity. Encouraging and guiding the customer to talk will determine if the opportunity is a good fit for both the printer and the customer.

Ten Great Questions

Though each sales call is different, most salespeople have their favorite pre-prepared questions. Here are some of my favorites for salespeople selling graphic communications products and services:

1.     How is the customer currently communicating and marketing? How are you presently using print and digital media to promote your new products?

2.     How does the customer measure the results of their marketing programs? How do you determine how your current print and media marketing programs are working?

3.     Where are the challenges and problems in your current marketing process? What would you envision as an outstanding cross media campaign using print and digital media?

4.     When and how often does the customer communicate with their customers?       How many communication touches do you expect your new and existing customers to receive?”

5.     Why does the company generate communications in a particular way? Can you share your organization’s strategy in determining the mix of print and digital marketing when communicating with your customers?

6.     How does the customer determine communication and marketing programs or initiatives for new products? How are print budgets determined when launching new products and programs?

7.     Who else is involved with budgeting decisions? Can you share with me the makeup of the team that is responsible for initiating and working on marketing and communication programs?

8.     How are budgets created for marketing programs? When launching new marketing programs and products, how are print and media budgets determined?

9.     What print and digital marketing programs have been successful? In your experience, what past print programs have delivered the best ROI for your investment?

        10.   What does success look like? What are your top three goals for this
        communication or marketing project?”

Expanding on answers to these questions will allow the salesperson to probe more deeply into the implications and impact of the problem or opportunity that is being addressed. The goal of the salesperson is to provide compelling business insights on why the customer should do business with them. This is best done in a consultative manner, and being face to face with a customer will allow you to guide the conversation in a way that showcases your unique capabilities.

Perhaps the best definition of this type of selling was described by the “Dean of American Printers” of the early 20th century, Charles Francis. Francis in his classic 1917 book, Printing For Profit, said that one of the essential qualifications of a successful salesperson is, “the ability to see the customer’s problems from the customer’s own viewpoint, and lead them for their own interest to place an order”.

Clearly, some things do not change.

In today’s world of unread emails and disregarded voice messages, a primary objective when selling large or complex printing projects is to obtain face to face meetings with customers. Once inside, great questions help salespeople build credibility and learn the true scope of potential opportunities.

Joe Rickard is a training leader and consultant dedicated to the graphic communications industry. He and his company Intellective Solutions (  works with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness. He can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS. This article was published in the April 2016 edition of Printing News

How to Identify Those Hard to Find Decision Makers

Knowing who will make the decision to buy printing products and services is a key step in any sales process. Countless hours in sales time and frustration can be saved by quickly sizing up an account and learning how buying decisions are made. Though there is no magic formula, there are some simple steps salespeople can take to ensure they are working with the right people and not wasting valuable time.

Determining the decision process starts with learning who has the authority to make the final decision, who is a driving force and who will actually execute the proposed offering. Though the decision process varies from company to company, the buying of print always starts with a problem. The bigger the problem the more people will be involved in the decision.

Categories of decision makers

Sorting through the multitude of potential players who affect the decision process takes time and skill. The decision process for print-related offerings can be organized around five general categories. For many large sales, each of these categories of customers will need to be engaged. For smaller accounts, these categories of decision makers are often combined.

1.     Tire kickers and general time wasters

These are the folks that can’t make or won’t make a meaningful buying decision. It is best to identify these people and politely avoid them.

2.     Influencers

There are plenty of potential influencers around decision makers. Recognizing who has influence and then gaining their support will minimize wrong sales steps. Most buying decisions will have multiple influencers.

3.     Champions and mobilizers

These are folks that are vital. Without an influential person who supports you and your offering, there will not be a sale.

4.     End users

For every decision, there is someone in the organization who actually implements and manages projects. Never overlook this role in the decision process. They may not be able to say “yes” but can certainly say “no” to a proposed solution.

5.     Decision makers

Finally, there are individuals or groups of individuals who actually have the final operational and financial decision-making authority. Depending on the type and size of offering, they can be senior executives, middle managers or end users.

Additionally, often there is a gatekeeper to contend with. A gatekeeper is a person who permits salespeople to talk to decision makers or influencers.

There can be multiple decision making processes in the same account

We recently worked with a large retailer to help them construct a company-wide Request for Proposal (RFP) for printing products and services. The company uses multiple printers for a variety of work. We counted at least four different decision processes based on what was being bought. For instance, in one case, a print buyer was responsible for the purchase of a substantial set of defined printing products that included point of sale, price books and promotional materials. In another, the customer bought direct mail services where the decision came from the marketing communications department.

Here are three ways to gain insights on how decisions are made:

1.     Customers, Colleagues, Friends, and Family

When an opportunity presents itself, determine anyone who is or has been connected with this account.  This takes creativity and a little time. Being able to reference another person to a targeted customer contact opens doors and enables the gathering of critical information to guide the sales process. Printing is still a relationship business.

In existing accounts, salespeople must relentlessly expand personal contacts and relationships. Incumbent salespeople always have the advantage in knowing how decisions are being made. Over time, it becomes apparent who are those champions or mobilizers who can help guide and drive sales efforts.

2.     Social and personal networking

If there are no relationships at the targeted account, networking into the decision circle is the best approach.  Using LinkedIn and other networking channels to ask for help to gain access to decision makers is a good approach.

Take time to research each name provided by networking contacts to ensure you have the right messages, interesting opening statements and insights to share when you make contact. Having a name for a reference and specific knowledge into the customer’s business can help get through to busy decision makers.

3.     The last resort

When all else fails, the cold call is the last option. Though it is the least productive in selling complex printing products and services, cold calling may be the only way to get into an account. We recommend being straightforward and direct. Simply asking who is responsible for making decisions on direct mail or marketing communications is a good place to start.

Joining groups online and industry associations is also a good way to find contact names and insights into a customer’s business. This is a good way to move a very cold call to a warmer one. 

Before moving through any sales process or forecasting deals, it is a good practice to ensure that the decision process is clearly understood. Failure often results in wasted time and effort. The chances of consistently being successful selling high relationship offerings associated with printing are greatly enhanced by simply knowing who are actually making the decisions.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( works with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness. He can be reached at 845 753 6156. This article was published in the Printing News Magazine in February, 2016. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS

Focus on Specific Markets to Bring in More Business


At some point, all salespeople and their companies must make a decision on where to go to develop new business.  Often a choice must be made between specializing in specific markets or not.  This is a tough decision for a salesperson if the print provider they work for has not specifically optimized their production, fulfillment, marketing and sales efforts to focus on a specific market. It is then up to the salesperson to take it upon themselves to identify the best target markets.

Get Better Results by Targeting

More and more salespeople and printing companies are trading in their “sales shotguns” and replacing them with “precision rifles”.  

History has told us that the sharper the focus and deeper the knowledge of a particular market the better the results.  Though some have resisted targeting specific markets, there is no question that targeting and specializing generates better results.

Most Small and Medium Printers Use a Shotgun Approach

Most printers and salespeople we know are generalists. They possess certain production equipment, and intend to sell as many types of generic products as possible at the lowest cost. If they can sell large sheet size brochures or on line finished booklets, their salespeople target any and all markets that may use these types of products. Unfortunately, this approach assumes the customer knows printing and how best to use it. Consequently, more and more customers are choosing other forms of media.

With a shotgun approach it is very difficult to know and meet each customer’s specific requirements. Many successful print providers, particularly large ones, have abandoned this approach and have organized around specific vertical or horizontal markets.

What is a Vertical Market?

A vertical market is a particular industry in which similar products or services are marketed using similar sales and marketing approaches. Examples of vertical markets are: colleges, hotels, retail, hospitals, wholesalers and government.  Targeting a vertical market is generally focused on providing printing and related services that are commonly used within a specific industry. Examples are providing cross media recruitment marketing programs for colleges, direct mail campaigns for retail operations or web to print programs for wholesalers.

The idea is for salespeople to become experts in specific industry niches and to anticipate their printing and related marketing needs. This concept can be applied to almost any market when selling printing solutions.

What is a Horizontal Market?

A horizontal market, by comparison, allows salespeople to sell the same products and services in more than one industry, and is therefore focused on a wider range of business segments. In a horizontal market, customers use print products in much the same way regardless of what industry they are in. Providing brochures and booklets to marketing departments is a typical example of horizontal marketing. Vista Print, Staples and FedEx sell print mostly to horizontal markets.

This is a very challenging approach for most commercial printers. There is plenty of competition and accompanying price pressure. A potential solution is the combination approach which allows salespeople to segment and target accounts by vertical and horizontal markets within a local geographical market. This can be a very good strategy for small and medium print providers.

What not to do.

The clearest path to failure is to try to develop a product that someone else has been successful with. Or even worse is buying a new press thinking that this will provide a competitive edge. At Graph Expo this year, we have met printers who are thinking that installing an ink jet press will solve their business problems. This may help in the short term. Only a carefully thought out targeted marketing and “go to market plan” will provide sustainable results.

The advantages of focusing on specific markets and accounts in a specific geographical area are:

  • Customers like to do business with salespeople who know their specific applications and business issues

  • Target marketing leverages the products and solutions that a print provider can provide

  • Focusing on sales and services to a specific market helps to  gain production efficiencies which leads to greater margins

  • Once engaged in a market, new products and solutions can be developed and expanded that are specifically tailored to a target market’s customer needs

  • Additional services such a data management, design, supply chain, and digital content can more easily be offered because of superior knowledge of the market

Here are some key steps to get started:

  1. Take a careful look at your production capabilities, equipment and workflow. What products and solutions best meet the needs of a specific market?

  2. Review key accounts and markets within a specific geography and determine what their common problems or opportunities are.

  3. Once the buying dynamics are discovered, look to tailor and customize the products that your company can produce to create effective business solutions for a specific vertical market.  We have a client that has launched a successful campaign to further penetrate the hospitality and restaurant market with personalized packaging solutions.

  4. Create a sales and marketing program that addresses specific print related and marketing products that a prospective customer requires.

A great way to beat competitors is by becoming a leader in a specific market. We are seeing more and more print providers develop sales, digital and eCommerce programs, distribution, advanced workflows and dedicated production to create competitive advantages in many niche markets in both business and consumer markets. As the New Year begins, this is a good time to take another look at what you can produce, who it can be sold to and if your salespeople know how to reach them.  

Joe Rickard is a training leader and consultant dedicated to the graphic communications industry. He and his company Intellective Solutions (  works with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness. He can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS. This article was published in the Printing News in December, 2015

How Great Salespeople Follow Up and Reap the Benefits

Follow Up.jpg

The speed of the internet has greatly affected the way salespeople and customers interact. We often ask customers what they expect from salespeople. They respond that they want sales people to take accountability and respond quickly.

One of the least discussed behaviors of salespeople that has a huge impact on sales performance is follow up. Within the printing industry, following up means responding to leads, moving customers through the sales cycle and responding to customer problems.

Great Salespeople Follow Up Better

If 20% of salespeople generate the vast majority of business within our industry, what are they doing differently? Great salespeople seem to be able to prioritize and effectively manage customer communications at every step of the customer life cycle.  

I am not completely sure why many salespeople do not follow up better. My suspicion is that salespeople are so busy managing customers and issues that they do not always prioritize their time most effectively. We do know that top salespeople set customer expectations, identify opportunities and are able to pounce on ready prospects faster than lower performers.

Areas Where Follow Up is Required

For salespeople, there are three critical customer interactions that require great follow up:

The Lead

Quickness and timeliness is vital when a lead comes in. These are when customers express interest on line, on the phone or through a reference. All research affirms that a quick response increases the chances of closing business.

The Harvard Business Reported, “U.S. firms that tried to contact potential customers within an hour of receiving a query were nearly seven times as likely to qualify the lead (which we defined as having a meaningful conversation with a key decision maker) as those that tried to contact the customer even an hour later—and more than 60 times as likely as companies that waited 24 hours or longer.”

The Sales Process

Moving customers through a sales process and follow up requires good judgment, great listening skills and the ability to set expectations.

For instance, how quickly should a salesperson follow up on a quote or presentation that has been presented? Ideally, follow up should take place within 24 hours. Each customer may be different, but all sales steps require timely follow up.

Customer Complaints or Questions

Anytime a customer has a concern or complaint, a direct call or email should be made by the salesperson within an hour. If that is impossible, a designated CSR should respond letting the customer know when someone will get back to them and respond to their problem.

How To Ensure Great Follow Up

Here are three recommendations for better follow up:

1.    Build a Professional Process

Don’t wait for sales managers or customers to complain. Create a personal follow up plan. Make changes and adjustments based on results and customer feedback. The first step is to set a follow up guideline for leads, customer complaints and sales process follow up. The last step is to review your results.

For instance, you may want to set an objective to follow up with a phone call or email within an hour for every lead that comes in. The idea is to quickly qualify the lead and arrange with the customer a good time to talk or meet to further discuss the opportunity. For customer problems the goal could be for a CSR to contact the customer in one hour and you follow up in two hours.

Another potential objective is to contact a prospect who has not responded to your calls at least three times and then wait a period of time to contact them three more times.

2.    Set Expectations Early And Often

After each customer contact always gain agreement and set an expectation for the next step in the sales process. Too often salespeople forget to do this.

For instance, if you had a meeting with a customer who is asking for a print sample, negotiate a time-frame with the customer as to when they want to receive the sample. Some customers will expect it in one day and others may want a week. Gaining agreement with customers up front will ensure a satisfied customer.

A common printing sales scenario is when a customer is unhappy and requires the salesperson to fix a problem. Again, testing to make sure you understand the problem, setting expectations for resolution, gaining agreement on what and when things need to get done is good selling.

3.    Get Customer Feedback

There is no better way to know if you are doing a good job or how good your follow up process is than by just asking the customer.

In the printing business, salespeople and relationships make the difference. A key driver to higher sales performance is effective follow up. Getting better at follow up may very well be the key element required to move up to the next level of sales.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions ( works with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness. Joe can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joe.rickardis. This article was published October 1, 2015 in Printing News Magazine.




Great References Create a Selling Advantage

One of the most powerful selling tools is a customer reference. Customers like nothing better than networking and identifying successful solutions being offered to similar organizations. Putting a customer reference on a website, or providing references to existing prospects, is a smart thing to do.  Obtaining customer references to prospect and identify new opportunities should be a part of any sales plan.

It is time well spent developing customer references

Most printing companies are facing changing market conditions. Differentiation is difficult and price pressures are intense. Gaining opportunities to separate from the competition to build trust and credibility with their customers is a key to success. We define a good customer reference as an advocate who has a set of products and/or services that has solved a specific problem or generated a significant opportunity in a specific market. 

We are finding many print providers may have forgotten this proven marketing method to develop new sales opportunities. Research has shown that customer references help companies attract new customers and shorten sales cycles.

The best salesperson is a satisfied customer

Why would a prospect buy a high cost and high risk solution from a company that can’t produce a genuine customer reference? Sharing with potential prospects how a specific print-based offering has solved a problem that generated great results is a powerful selling tool. Not only will customers gain confidence in a particular solution, but salespeople will also build their own credibility and confidence with their prospects.

Customer references should be part of a company’s marketing strategy

Almost all salespeople agree that using customer references increases their chances of closing more business. The problem is that individual salespeople often guard their references. Then when there is a need for a reference everyone is scrambling. This usually does not end well.

What makes a great reference?

The value of a great reference can be substantial. For instance, a great reference would be an insurance client who is soliciting customers through direct mail. The problem is that they are getting a very low response rate. The print provider helps develop a direct mail piece that includes personalized content. The result is that the client gained a much higher response rate and subsequently gained 12% in sales revenue.

To capitalize on references, we recommend companies approach references in an organized way.

Set a guideline and target

You should look for clients that have had a business issue or opportunity which was solved by using a print solution that resulted in a great ROI.  The sales team should have a specific type of client they are targeting for a reference. This should include the size of an account, type and size of offering, the market, the problems solved or opportunities created. It is best to have a specific format for them to follow.

Ask them for a reference

Most satisfied customers are happy to provide a great reference. Sometimes customers will not have the time to provide a written reference. A good practice in these situations is to draft one for the customer and then get their approval. Occasionally larger clients do not want their successes publicized outside the company due to fear of competitors getting a good idea. We find getting a good reference is part of good selling. Great salespeople get great references.

Document each reference in a consistent format

We recommend a simple but well-branded three part approach: what was the problem or opportunity faced by the customer, what was the solution provided by the print provider and what were the results generated for the customer. Having some information about the client such as industry, type of services, location, size will make the reference that much more powerful.

Market your references

How a reference is presented and displayed makes a difference. The reference should be branded, designed and part of an overall marketing strategy. It should be created to potentially be used in case studies, websites, printed collaterals, social media, PR and sales presentations.

Integrate them into the sales process

Once the customer references are obtained and completed, then it is time to ensure that they are used within the sales process at the appropriate time. Don’t wait until a customer asks for a reference. Use these to develop new markets and prospects. They attract attention and interest of clients.

For some, it requires closing the first deal and gaining a reference that can open the door to a new market segment. For others, they already have great customers that just need to be asked. Printing is a relationship business built on trust.  Customer references have traditionally been an integral part of the selling process.

Using satisfied customers is essential to managing new opportunities and overcoming competition. Print providers selling large and complex programs, products and services are missing a big opportunity if they don’t use references from satisfied customers.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions (  works with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness. He can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS. This article was published in Quick Printing Magazine and

Building Sales With Customer Events

Intellective Solutions Marketing

Intellective Solutions Marketing

There is no better way to increase prospect levels then hosting a great customer event. Given the proliferation of customer marketing messages found online, in email and through social media, having a customer event is an excellent way to drown out the noise and gain quality time with prospects.

For some, the idea of an open house or customer event is greeted with little enthusiasm. It requires a lot of hard work and can be very embarrassing if only a few or the wrong kinds of prospects attend. We have seen print providers spend large sums of money to promote a customer event only to see it result in an expensive party attended mostly by company employees.

What Makes a Successful Customer Event?

There is no shortage of creative ideas for events. A key question is, “Why hold an event in the first place?”

An obvious reason would be to generate qualified leads and prospects for your products and services. Other reasons include launching new products to existing customers, educating customers on personalization, web to print, or digital packaging ideas or simply to make existing customers aware of new capabilities.

Here are some steps that we have found to be essential in executing outstanding return on investments and time for customer events:

Set an Objective

The first step in any marketing initiative is to establish an objective. The objective will determine how much cost and effort an organization will be willing to exert.  Many organizations set a revenue target based on the amount of sales generated by the event.

A more reasonable approach would be to set objectives based on the number and quality of the attendees. Then later on, there can be a calculation on how much incremental business was generated over a longer time period.

Do the Research and Planning

Great customer events are built on good planning. That means determining who you will target, what is the budget, what is the purpose and what must be done to make the event a success.  Event types can range from a webinar, trade show, or off-site customer recognition event, to an onsite training extravaganza.

Successful event planners are great at creating “to do” lists. The list becomes part of a project plan based on what needs to get done, deadline dates and who is responsible. For most print providers, every person in the organization should be involved in some way and committed to its success.

Build an Event that Will Drive Interest and Excitement

Based on our experience working with many print providers, showing print products alone will not be enough to gain attendance. To get customers to come out of their office, there must be something in it for them.

Having a fancy theme and providing free gifts or food is not good enough anymore.  Look at the customer’s perspective. Give them a reason to go. Most of all, buyers are looking for value for their time. New ideas to make customers successful will attract even the busiest buyers. Creativity and excitement will not hurt attendance either.

Get the Word Out

Using a cross media approach makes a great deal of sense for print providers. Not only does cross media generate better results, but it is a great way to show off your capabilities.

Building an online registration site will help reinforce what the event is all about and allow for tracking of attendance. This combined with email blasts, video and direct mail, will provide multiple touch points.

For most small and medium size print providers, customers will not respond just to email and direct mail pieces. Salespeople and CSRs must personally follow up on invitations and reinforce the value of the event.  

Also, it often happens that customers will sign up to attend and then forget to come. Reminding each customer just prior to the date will increase the likelihood of attendance. In addition, online registration sites can send automatic reminder emails to guests.   

Make the Day Memorable

This should be a day that each attendee will remember and be inspired to take some new action. Ensuring that each guest is greeted by name and thanked for attending is a must. A common mistake is not having enough staff at the event to ensure that all customers are personally addressed.

Shortly after the event, quickly following up with customers is where business results are generated.  Here is where assigned sales and marketing personnel can qualify each attendee and ensure the appropriate next steps are taken.

Whether or not to hold a customer event is an important marketing decision. The question is can we attract customers, build loyalty and penetrate accounts as effectively using other marketing methods? Most successful print providers have at least one event per year.  Given all the choices, a customer event is a perfect place to differentiate and build a deep relationship with both new and existing customers.

Joe Rickard is the founder of Intellective Solutions. Intellective Solutions (  works with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness. The Intellective team enjoys providing Customer Event marketing services. He can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS. This article was published in Quick Printing Magazine and

Getting Ahead of the New Way of Buying

The way print is bought has changed forever. In recent times, customers have gained much more control of the buying process for print. For salespeople, this fact is a serious challenge. Getting to potential customers early in the buying process has never been more important. 

How the Web has Changed Selling Print

The cause of this trend is simply that buyers are using the Web and networking with colleagues and peers to research print solutions. In many cases, customers are making up their minds on what they want before they even engage salespeople. The sad fact is that customers do not need salespeople as much anymore. Many customers do not feel they have enough time to speak to a parade of salespeople.

Anyone can find a wide variety of videos, blogs, print samples, print education, research and best practices immediately on the Web.  There is plenty of research that confirms that the majority of B2B buyers search on Google, LinkedIn, and other digital channels when planning to make a purchase. We are seeing many blind RFPs arrive at printing companies without any prior salesperson contact.

In the past, print salespeople controlled much of the information flow that customers needed early in the buying process. We have moved from a lack of information to an abundance of information. To complicate the problem, suppliers of other forms of media, such as digital marketing, do a better job positioning their solutions on the Web than print providers do.

What Does The Change In The Print Buying Behavior Mean for Salespeople?

If salespeople are not providing the information required for customers to make good decisions early in the sales process, it minimizes the opportunity for customers to hear about the new ideas and products. Consequently, salespeople must adapt.

Many customers have perceptions and even requirements firmly in place before they talk to a print salesperson

Dealing with customers who have already made much of their decision about what they want and want to pay creates a serious dilemma for the salesperson. It is very difficult to change specifications or make recommendations on a project or campaign when requirements are already set.

More people within accounts are involved in making decisions

The greater availability of information to more people within organizations has added to the decision process. In many organizations, there are no professional print buyers available to guide print decisions.  Younger customers are very comfortable using the Web and talking to more stakeholders to educate themselves without the aid of a salesperson.

There are less prospects within the order cycle

We have seen this trend working with many of our clients. The customers feel they are in control of the buying process.  There is less need for salespeople to create needs, qualify opportunities, bring new ideas or build new applications and solutions that would create more selling opportunities. Consequently, the number of total prospects has been reduced.

How Great Print Providers Are Responding

For commercial printing salespeople, there is good news. Printing sales is a relationship business. Since printing is a repeat business, customers are not just looking for one time programs and campaigns, but long term relationships.

Here are six recommendations based on what we are seeing to avoid the internet traps and bring added value to customer relationships.

1.       Get closer to your customers

Selling print is a marathon, not a sprint. Knowing and responding quickly to customer problems and opportunities consistently over time builds deeper relationships. The less they love you and know you, the more likely they will move on. Customers need and want trusted salespeople to help them solve complex problems.

2.       Get ahead of the Web

Relentlessly engaging leaders within your accounts with new ideas is paramount. New buyers and influencers are constantly changing in both small and large accounts. Therefore, getting in front of them before they go to the Web is a chance to provide valuable, tailored and customized information that they could not find anywhere else.

3.       Attack leads with a fury

Perhaps the most frustrating behavior of many print organizations is the length of time it takes to respond to a Web or social media inquiry. Customers’ expectations of response time for information requests have closed dramatically. Since buyers will often go to three or four sources on the Web for information, rapid response to a Web inquiry is a requirement to compete.

4.       Work to your market strength

Specializing in targeted markets and applications is a source of competitive advantage. Customers are drawn to print providers who can demonstrate a deeper understanding and success with a particular solution. It is not easy to find all the details of a complex and industry focused project or campaign on a Web site. Possessing a niche market is an advantage to direct sellers.

5.       Make each meeting a marketing event

We have said this before in previous articles. Never miss an opportunity to be a “smash hit” with every direct face-to-face meeting or phone call. Meetings are hard to come by these days. Being prepared with an exciting and engaging presentation is an important approach.

6.       Work your networks

If customers are gaining information through their professional networks before they talk to salespeople, then that is where salespeople need to be. Customers feel comfortable researching solutions with people they know and trust. If you are not networking, you are not selling. A good place to start networking is LinkedIn and Google+.

There is no question that customers are more in control in how they buy than ever before. With the availability of more channels of information, it is no wonder that customers are well along in their buying process before they even engage a printing salesperson. It is critical for salespeople to adapt and react to a changing shift in how customers gain information and ultimately make decisions.

Joe Rickard is a training leader and consultant dedicated to the graphic communications industry. He and his company Intellective Solutions (  works with printing and technology organizations to improve their sales, marketing and operational effectiveness. He can be reached at 845 753 6156. Follow him on Twitter @joerickardIS. This article was published in Quick Printing Magazine and MyPrintResource.