Printing sales training

Applying Successful Low-Cost In-House Sales Training Strategies

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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.

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

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

VDP is Alive and Waiting to be Sold

The key benefit of VDP for printers and their salespeople is the opportunity for higher margins, new customers and additional services. There is nothing better than selling a large direct mail campaign along with the accompanying data, digital and social media services. The challenge for many printing salespeople is how to sell it. It requires a new way of thinking.

VDP has grown up and is ready for prime time. The equipment, the software and the workflow is developed and ready to use