A Salesperson’s Six Best Friends

Have you ever wondered why customers rarely ask printing salespeople for help in building their overall print communication strategy?  It may simply be because the print provider does not know enough to help.

 Coming up with new ideas and impactful solutions to big communication and marketing problems require a great deal of time and information. In printing sales, we call that stage of the sales process: the fact finding phase.

Unfortunately, this is the part of the sales cycle that is commonly rushed through by many printing salespeople.  Building potential printing solutions that are unique and targeted can only be attained through well executed fact finding by a skilled salesperson.

Preparing Questions in Advance is a Great Idea

Taking the time to gather information, qualify opportunities and build value is best accomplished by asking well-rehearsed and prepared questions to a multitude of customer personnel. Many printing salespeople we know spend a lot of time preparing for who they are going to see and how they will handle objections, but little time preparing the precise questions they will ask perspective clients.

Gaining facts through good questioning techniques is a critical skill for printing salespeople in building solutions that are difficult for competitors to meet. Once inside an account, great salespeople use a variety of questions to gain knowledge of their customer’s organization and potential problem areas. Asking good and probing questions, which can lead to innovative solutions early in the sales cycle, is a sure path to sales success. To accomplish this, printing salespeople need to turn to their six best friends: who, what, when, where, why, and how.

 Using Printing Salesperson’s Best Friends

Though salespeople must often be spontaneous in their questions, here are questions using our six best friends:

  •        Who else is involved with the decision?
  •        What are the current ways of communicating and marketing?
  •        When and how often does the client communicate with their customers, 
           stockholders and employees?
  •        Where are the challenges and problems in the current process?
  •        Why does the company generate communications in a particular way?
  •        How does the customer decide to initiate communication and marketing programs 
           or initiatives?

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

We have found that some salespeople find it difficult to probe for customer business problems. Thinking that the customer will get annoyed, salespeople often miss opportunities to add value. Much of this is common sense. Telling a customer that their recent marketing campaign was terrible obviously would be a bad strategy. But asking informed, researched and prepared questions focused on improving the customer’s business will be appreciated.

To minimize the risk of offending customers, asking probing questions around customer perceived opportunities and challenges can flush out problems and pain points. If salespeople focus on what customers perceive as big problems and challenges early in the sales cycle, they will have opportunity to build solutions difficult for competitors to match.

Only by asking great questions and then carefully listening can a printing salesperson learn what is necessary to advance the sale.

Here are five good practices that will help improve the fact gathering stage of the sales process:

1. Any person, who is part of or potentially part of the work process involved with a print job or application that could drive print, is a potential person to contact. Fact gatherings often must be done in multiple calls to the same person or calls to multiple people within the organization.

For instance, if a potential project uses the customer’s internal data for a direct mail campaign then a visit to the IT department may be a good strategy to understand the quality, format and availability of data bases.

2. Each fact gathering meeting should begin with a tailored value statement built on the print provider’s value proposition. This will reinforce why the salesperson is there and the importance of the meeting.

For instance, a printing salesperson could open the sales call with an IT manager by saying, “We at Acme Printing work with customer IT departments to develop personalized direct mail programs. By using their own customer data, our customers have found they can create relevant and targeted marketing programs that generate a very high ROI. How has the IT department been utilized to develop a strategy to generate data for marketing campaigns?

3. Have questions prepared and pre-written before the call  

4. Ask the question as briefly as you can and then....LISTEN

5. Questions should be built around your company’s advantages. The objective is to have customers provide information that will give the salesperson an inside track on developing print solutions, which would be difficult for competitors to match.

A salesperson may ask the IT manager, “How important is it for your group to work with an outside print provider that has extensive data base experience?” Or, “What technical skills are important to you, for a print provider to have, when working with your organization.”

Open Ended Questions are Best

Polite and friendly questioning will mark you as a professional by your customers. Using a combination of open and closed questions, salespeople can not only gain information but qualify and close accounts.

Open ended questions are questions that get the customer talking. The ability to ask open-ended questions is very important. Open-ended questions typically begin with words such as "Why" and "How” and require an explanation.  For instance:

 “How does the school inform parents of key events in the school?” Or “What is the reaction of the school parents to the school newsletters?” Is an open ended question

“Does the school sends out newsletters?” is a closed question, and the usual response is yes or no.

In the fact finding stage of a sale, the process is not “show and tell” but probe, listen and react. Listening to what the customer says in an objective and non-emotional manner is the key to success in understanding what will drive customer behavior.

Questions asked in a sincere and careful way will generate the prospect’s interest and start him thinking about his or her documents and how to better prepare and handle them. When reinforcing a key point, always point out the benefit to the customer in their terms versus the advantage or feature of your offering.

Key Areas to Probe

       What are your most common print jobs?

       What are the biggest challenges, opportunities or problems for the organization?

       What is the budget for communications and marketing programs?

       Which printing jobs could be designed and printed better to improve clarity and

       What is the impact of printing problems?

       Who decides how much is spent on printing?

The fact finding stage allows the salesperson to qualify the accounts. This will determine whether the salesperson continues to engage the account or disengage and move on.

In the past, printing salespeople who understood how TV broadcast, radio, and other forms of traditional media fit in the marketing mix were able gain competitive advantage. Now, a thorough knowledge of digital media needs to be added to the repertoire of what a printing salesperson can ask questions about. How customers use media, and where customers get the greatest return on their investments, must be comprehended by salespeople.

With the advancement of digital media, printing salespeople are now more than ever being challenged to coexist, complement or integrate.  It is critical for them to expand their knowledge and grasp of marketing communications and advertising within their accounts. With concerns over the economy and confusion about the best use of traditional and digital media, customers want and need help on how best to use their marketing dollars. Asking good questions can be the key to unlocking great print-based solutions.

Joe Rickard is a training leader and consultant who works with printing and technology companies in the graphic arts to improve their sales and operational effectiveness. He is the founder of Intellective Solutions, a provider of customized sales, operational and sales management training material and services. Contact Rickard at 845-753-6156, jrickard@intellectives.com, or visit. www.intellectives.com