A few months ago, I wrote about invisibility, and in the closing paragraphs of that column I asked: If you’re a salesperson—or the owner in the sales role—how do you deal with customers who are content to just send in their orders when they need something, and prospects who don’t want to spend any time with another printing salesperson?
The answer is both complex and simple. The simple part is to not be just another printing salesperson. That simple statement is likely to be complex in execution. So, I will explain how to make a visibility strategy work. Because the more time you spend “in front of” customers and prospects, the more business you’re likely to do with them.
In Front Of Customers
Let’s start with a clear understanding of your purpose in staying in front of your customers. Depending on how much of their business you’re getting, it slides along a scale that ranges from 100% defense to as much as 99% offense. (Remember, by the way, that I reserve the term customer for someone who is actually buying from you.)
Let’s say that you’re already getting all of Customer A’s business. Your challenge with that customer is to defend the relationship against any competitor, and the best strategy for meeting that challenge involves three interlocking lines of defense.
The first line of defense is customer satisfaction—meeting and hopefully exceeding their quality and service expectations. The second line of defense is customer contact—giving you the opportunity to identify problems, and giving them the opportunity to complain. The third line of defense is your proaction or reaction to problems that occur.
Proaction, of course, is when you identify an issue or problem even before they do, and do something about it! That could include fixing the occasional quality or service glitch. And it could also include learning that your customer needs to reduce costs, which might give you the opportunity to put cost saving ideas on the table before they start looking for lower prices.
So, how do you “sell” the opportunity to get yourself in front of this customer, even if they seem satisfied just to send in their orders when they need something? The key word is transparency—which was my topic back in June. You simply tell them that you think it’s important to get face-to-face on a regular basis, and you tell them exactly why. “This is really about customer service and customer satisfaction,” you might tell them. “I know I’m getting all of your business. I want to make sure that I continue to earn it and deserve it.”
Now let’s consider Customer B, and let’s say that you’re only getting 25% of their business. You still have a defensive challenge, but you also have the offensive challenge of penetrating that account. That might involve product opportunities—selling them more of your overall product line. It might also involve people opportunities—identifying others within the organization who purchase your products and services. How do you “sell” the opportunity to get yourself in front of this customer?
I still recommend a transparent approach, and here’s how I think you can differentiate yourself from the printers who are getting the other 75% of this customer’s business. “I’d like to do more business with you,” you might say. “And I’d also like to stay on top of the business you’re already giving me. What I’d like to do is meet with you every month for the next four months, and part of the agenda will be to review what you’ve done with us, to make sure you’re completely satisfied. The second part of the agenda will be to talk about what you’re working on—not just in terms of printing, but in terms of the overall marketing and operation of your business. The goal of that part of the agenda will be to see if I can come up with any ideas that will help you to market or operate more effectively, and if I do, the third part of the agenda will be for me to explain those ideas.”
Your objective, of course, is to position yourself as a business resource, not just a printing resource. I hope you’ll agree that that would make you much more than just another printing salesperson.
Now let’s look at a prospect. You’ve made numerous attempts to get yourself in front of this person—mailings, and letters, and emails, and phone calls—without any success. Your best strategy now may be… to give up!
Whoa, that probably wasn’t what you expected to read. Consider this, though, if you’ve given this individual plenty of chances to respond, and he/she hasn’t done that, you might be barking up the wrong tree.
Here’s a key question, though: Did you give the prospect reasons to respond, or just chances? I think there’s a significant difference. “I’d like to talk with you about your printing” is not much of a reason. “I can probably save you money” is more of a reason, but is it compelling enough? If all they care about is price, are those the people you really want to meet with?
It’s been my observation that a very large percentage of printing salespeople are leading with price these days. Even if you want to be one of them, do you think that does much to differentiate you in the marketplace? I think you need to come up with a better reason.
So please give some thought to what that might be, and please also give some thought to how you’re going to prove it. “I think I can help you to market your business more effectively” might be a good start, but you probably won’t be the only printing salesperson saying that.
How about this: “I’ve been doing this for XX years and I’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work, and I’m eager to share some of that knowledge with you. The first step, though, is that we need to talk about your goals and what you’ve been doing and what you’ve observed to be working and not working. Let’s put our heads together. I think you’ll find me to be a great ally in reaching your goals.”
Here’s a final thought. Everyone who buys a significant amount of printing already has a printer. If it’s not you already, your challenge is to convince them that you’re better than the printer they’re using. The first step toward convincing them that you’re better has to be that you’re different.
I think that’s worth spending some time on, and I hope I’ve given you a few things to think about today.