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 (www.intellectives.com) 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.