Sales Clinic: What’s The Best Approach To Sales Responsibility?

A few months ago in the June 2009 issue, I started writing about whether a salesperson should be involved in “non-selling” activities. Sometimes, I wrote, that’s necessary for the profitable operation of a printing company, but often it happens without management intent because many salespeople gravitate to “sales support” activities. Why? Some of that may be because they feel it’s necessary in order to provide good service to their customers. For others, though, it’s more a matter of comfort—hanging around with people who say “yes” instead of pursuing people who might say “no.”

There may be some validity to the customer service issue. From a sales and marketing perspective, the key to success in any business has two components: customer development and customer satisfaction. The first challenge is to gain customers; the second challenge is to keep them! In the printing business, you can take that a step further by recognizing that a printing company faces two ongoing challenges: creating and maintaining customer relationships and handling the jobs each customer sends your way.

Two Approaches

If you look at the printing industry as a whole, you will find two basic approaches to meeting these challenges. In some companies, the salesperson is responsible for the relationship, but someone else manages the individual print jobs. In other companies, the salesperson is responsible for both the relationship and the jobs themselves.

Which approach is better? I can tell you that the first approach is pretty much standard in the “big press offset” world, where most salespeople are supported by inside sales/customer service personnel. The salespeople are responsible for the overall customer relationship, while the inside sales/customer service people handle the individual print jobs. In wide-format printing—particularly with smaller companies—a salesperson typically has a much greater operational involvement in individual print jobs. As noted, though, that’s not always by design.

Now, does the fact that the “big press” companies do it one way mean that their way is better? Not necessarily, because the ultimate issue here is profit, and the “outside-supported-by-inside” approach has to cover the cost of both the outside people and the inside people. If a salesperson can manage the relationship and the jobs, it’s likely to cost less.

The break point between the two approaches is productivity. A salesperson with inside support dedicated to managing his/her customers’ print jobs should have more time available to sell…to develop new customers and new business. And the bottom line is that if that’s what you really want—or need!—your salespeople to do, it doesn’t make very much sense to burden them with other responsibilities.

Where do you go from here? Give some thought to exactly what you want your salespeople doing. If they’re doing something other than that, find out why. If there’s a good reason, you may have to consider that in your ultimate strategy, but at the very least, you should know what’s going on!