Printers, What Do You Sell?

Joe Rickard

Joe Rickard

The very first thing that a printing salesperson must do before conducting a face to face sales call is to be able to clearly articulate what they are selling. Most of us have experienced situations where after talking to a salesperson, we were not really sure what the salesperson was actually offering. Customers find this frustrating and annoying.

Recently we heard from a printing salesperson who called us to practice their sales call with a customer.  It was a polite, very professional sales call except for one major item.

When asked what types of products and services they offered, the salesperson took us through a laundry list of printing jargon and buzz words. If this was an actual sales call, the new customer would have left the conversation still not knowing exactly what the salesperson was selling.

The First Step

A positioning statement, or value proposition, is a brief dialog that highlights who you are, what you sell, and the unique value you bring.  It should always conclude with a good closing statement or question to gain a reaction establishing enough curiosity and interest to move the customer forward in the sales process.

Knowing and communicating what you sell is the very first thing any salesperson needs to know and do before developing their positioning statement.  This is especially true for the printing industry since potential print programs and projects are often complex and not easily understood by many customers.

Our Survey

In the last few months, we have been doing quite a bit of research by questioning printing  salespeople who we know and work with. Their experience levels range from relatively new to the printing industry to people who have been successful for over 30 years.

We explained that we were doing an informal survey on sales behavior. We asked them what their positioning statement was.  A few gave us good ones. Many gave poor ones.

 We rated the positioning statement based on three criteria. One, did we understand what they were selling? Two, was the opening statement compelling and demonstrate value for a typical customer? Three, did it arouse our interest enough for us to want to continue the sales call and ask the question “tell me more”?

What We Found

In every case, the poor positioning statement lacked clarity on exactly what was being sold. If it wasn't crystal clear to us what a printing salesperson was selling, the chances of most customers understanding are very doubtful.

Common Terms Printing Sales People Use on Sales Calls

It was an eye opener for us how many salespeople could not define in a sentence or two what they were actually selling. There was a great deal of vague generalities. Common words and phrases used by printing salespeople  in our sample included:

  • Direct Mail Solutions                                                                                                        
  • Print Programs                                                                                                                  
  • Web to Print                                                                                                        
  • Commercial Printing Products                                                                                
  • Marketing Services                                                                                                          
  • High Quality Printing                                                                                                          
  • Fast Turnaround Digital Printing                                                                                
  • Printing Supply Chain Solutions                                                                                
  • Variable Data Printing                                                                                                    
  • Cross Media Marketing                                                                                                      
  • We Sell Everything 

Trying to give a prospect an understanding of what is being sold by using industry jargon is a path to failure.  If the prospect does not know what a vendor actually sells, there is no next step in the sales process. A good exercise is for sales and production people to spend some time together listing on a flip chart exactly the size and formats that are available within the shop for each product or offering based on press size and capability.

Questions that should be answered

Here are some questions that salespeople should be able to answer before developing tailored positioning statements for their customers.

  • In general, what are the exact names of the offerings and solutions?
    • Do you sell brochures, booklets, catalogs, postcards, packaging, and tickets? Using terms that a customer would use in their business is a way to gain interest.
  •  What specific formats do we offer?
    • If we sell direct mail products, what sizes do we offer? What type of envelopes?  For direct mail, what is the range of sizes and amount of customization that can be offered?
  •  What specific range of services do we sell
    • Within the offering or solutions you sell, do you offer graphic design, database cleansing, list acquisition, Web development, shipping services, case binding or mailing?
  • What is the scale and scope of our offering
    • Can you provide just one of something or can you provide millions? Knowing your capabilities and capacity to print large or small jobs will be a great help for your customer.
  •  What types and sizes of companies do we sell to?
    • Are your products and services being sold to large national companies, regional companies or specific departments with companies like the HR department or the sales department?  Perhaps you specifically sell to a few vertical markets like healthcare or colleges.
  • How are our offerings delivered?
    • Can orders be taken over the Web? Is there a well-developed store front available? Does the printer offer distribution and supply chain programs? What are minimum orders and what are the time frames? 

These are questions that both experienced and inexperienced buyers will want to know upfront. Once the salesperson is comfortable and knowledgeable in what they sell, then it should be a lot easier to tailor a short and meaningful positioning statement for each customer.

 Here is my suggestion. Before figuring out what makes you unique, how you create value for the customer, and where you have done this in the past, practice communicating with family and friends exactly what you sell. If they can’t explain back to you what specifically you are selling, then there is more work to be done.

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 him at 845-753-6156, or visit our web site at  or  visit