Sales Clinic: 5 Selling Principles in a Cost-cutting Print Market

A cost-cutting market is a serious challenge to printing salespeople and their companies. Reduced marketing budgets and rapid introductions of new digital media have encouraged marketing decision makers to reduce print and look for less costly alternatives. In some cases, customers have either delayed or simply eliminated print-based programs. This makes the tough job of selling print even tougher.

In addition, there is a growing number of customers who are unwilling to pay any extra for good service, quality, or past relationships. This makes it very difficult to gain even small price increases. The stories of long-term customers choosing competitors based purely on price are common.

Fundamental selling principles must be re-evaluated

Refusal to adapt your selling strategies in this environment is a prescription for failure. The key question for many of the print and direct marketing companies we work with is how to not only survive but to grow in a cost-cutting market. Using the same sales strategies and techniques that were useful in better times is clearly not the answer.

Since buying behaviors have changed, why not look again at how we are selling? It is in these times that salespeople often reflect on their philosophy and the basic principles of their sales approaches.

Sales principles are business rules based on reality. It is on reality that we develop our selling behavior, tactics, and strategies. Every salesperson has principles. Some are formal and some are simply based on what we have always relied on. For many salespeople, the assumption is that the principles we are operating under are true. This is a good time for salespeople to test their selling principles.

Based on our observations of the print providers we work with at Intellective Solutions, listed below are five principles that successful graphic communications salespeople follow in today’s market. I keep these principles in constant view on my desk, desktop, and mobile device.

Principle 1

A printing company’s products or services alone are no longer enough for salespeople to get the business. Great selling gets it.

The days of getting business by selling unique or differentiated products for extended periods of time are now gone. As soon as a company offers new substrates, larger paper sizes, or new integrated digital services, someone else quickly responds. A salesperson’s individual efforts and their company’s efforts make the difference.

Principle 2

Spending a significant amount of time, to first determine the most likely prospects to call on, is the best and most valuable use of time for salesperson and company resources.

The scarcity of time and resources available for selling is the biggest challenge. Wasting time on old, aging, or lost causes is a recipe for poor performance. Some salespeople and managers think spending a great deal of time on planning is not productive. It is not only productive, but is an essential characteristic of successful salespeople.

In all of the sales training and consulting engagements in which we participate, this is a common problem for print providers. Mapping the company’s strengths to specific customer or market targets increases the likelihood of success. That means targeting accounts, by clear criteria based on the best fit for products and services, versus a shotgun approach. This is never about the number of accounts called on, but calling on the right accounts.

Principle 3

Use as much of the company’s sales, marketing, and production resources as possible as early in the sales cycle as possible

Bringing in executives, marketing materials, and proof of concepts after the customer has a clear understanding of what they need and who the competitors are, is generally too late.

Don’t waste valuable and costly resources on lost causes, but as accounts become likely suspects, overwhelm them with marketing resources. This means that before the customer’s requirements are firmly set, use all your resources to influence customer direction. Make sure everyone is on deck to meet and work with top prospects including management, production, design etc. Establish roles and responsibilities for every key member of the company who will potentially engage customers.

In this market, everyone in the company needs to be part of the sales team. Owners, general managers, production managers, CSRs, designers, prepress—are all resources that can be used early in the sale process. To win big deals, everyone needs to be ready, know their role, and be prepared to uniquely position the company and the company’s products and services for the customer.

Principle 4

An Internet sense of urgency is required for all prospects.

What in the past was fast is not fast enough anymore. Many salespeople and companies have not yet adapted to Internet speed. Waiting until tomorrow is not good enough.

A sense of urgency has always been a characteristic of top salespeople. However responsiveness and what it means to move fast have changed in the last few years. Having been impressed with the urgency of doing, Leonardo DeVinci once said, “Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” He was talking about 14th century speed. Even then, great salespeople were impatient and hated to wait.

If you identify a hot prospect, move at warp speed. Don’t wait for next week. Do it today. Salespeople seldom get a second chance to make up for a lackadaisical effort. There is no reward for a good try in printing sales. If the prospect cannot be moved along the pipeline, pull the plug quickly. Accelerate opportunities in the pipeline.

Principle 5

There must be a personalized and creative approach for every account.

Great salespeople do not rely on generic brochures, standard applications and memorized value propositions. We have found that this not only turns off prospects, but in many cases caused salespeople to lose business. Customers have repeatedly told us they want salespeople who know their business. That means that printing salespeople are now required to personalize and customize each sales call to the customer’s specific situation.

Customizing each customer engagement requires preparation, creativity, and concentration. Presentations must be well prepared, timely, and interesting to arouse customer curiosity and interest. Successful salespeople are always upgrading consultative selling skills and industry knowledge. They do not wait for their company to train them.

Though the requirement for successful salespeople to exhibit a high level of sales and interpersonal skills still remains critical, all other aspects of sales must be reviewed. What industry knowledge a salesperson needs to know and the steps necessary to engage customers have changed over the last few years. This is a good time to take another look and re-evaluate basic selling principles.

As always, selling large print campaigns and projects is not a 30 day business, but salespeople must close business every 30 days. PN

Joe Rickard is a training leader and consultant who works with printing and technology companies in the graphic arts to improve their sales and operational effectiveness. He is the founder of Intellective Solutions, a provider of customized sales, operational and sales management training material and services. Contact Rickard at 845-753-6156, or visit.