Selling graphic communications

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 (www.intellectives.com) 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.

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 (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.

Six Ways to Confront Customer Indifference

When selling print, a customer who lacks any interest in looking at new printing providers, print products, solutions or services can be the toughest barrier that any salesperson can face. For many salespeople, customer indifference is their greatest competitor.

The reason indifference is so frustrating to print salespeople is because it is based on customer perception about print.  They view print as a commodity and are not interested in looking at any new ideas.

Common responses from customers are:

“We are happy with our current print supplier.”

“We are not using direct mail anymore.”

“We are moving to digital marketing.”

“Talk to our purchasing department.”

Customer Indifference Can Be a Salesperson’s Toughest Competitor

Logic and Analysis is Not Enough

A big mistake both print and digital marketers make is they think that rational analysis by customers is how buying decisions are made.  Big printing decisions are more often made by emotion as by logic. Information and facts can prove your case but emotions move the customer to action

Six Concerns Every Salesperson Must Answer

There are always customer concerns that must be answered during the printing sale. If they are not handled correctly, the sale is lost.  Common concerns of the customer may be questions, misunderstandings and actual objections to doing business with a specific print provider. Each year we ask salespeople what are the toughest objections they face in closing business. It is amazing how similar they are year in and year out.