As you may have noticed over the years, my inspiration for these columns tends to come from some strange places. This one came from a conversation I overheard between two young men who were sitting in the row behind me on a recent flight from Chicago to San Francisco. One young man (who I would guess to be about 10) was claiming the right to hold the iPad on which they were going to watch a movie. The other young man (who I would guess to be about eight) screamed out: “Gimme a good reason!” Their mother shushed them both, and negotiated a compromise.
It struck me, though, that the second young man had identified the most critical obstacle that most printing salespeople face, the challenge of getting printing buyers to do what we want them to do. That may mean giving you an order. It may also mean agreeing to meet with you. It might even mean just returning your phone call.
It’s been my experience that you can accomplish a lot by giving people a good reason to do what you want them to do. Sadly, most printing salespeople don’t, but that’s a correctable problem.
Return Your Call
Let’s think of prospecting as an activity which consists of three stages: the identification stage, the connection stage, and the conversation stage. Identification is pretty straightforward: identify “suspect” companies and then the person/people in those companies who buy what you sell. Connection takes you from there to the first substantive conversation, or to put that another way, connection is all about calling to set up an appointment. That’s where voice mail usually enters the equation.
So let’s start with the understanding that “please return my call” is not a very compelling reason for anyone to do that. Nor is “I’d like to talk to you about your printing/graphics/marketing services needs.” Both of those represent something that’s mostly of value to you. A much better strategy is to position what you want as a value to them.
“I’d like to talk to you about your printing/graphics/marketing services needs,” you might say. “Now, let me tell you why I think you might want to talk to me about those needs. I have XX years of experience in the printing industry, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to think that my experience could be of value to you. Give me a call, and let’s start that ball rolling.”
Alternately: “I have xx months of experience in the printing industry (read that: way less than XX years), and that may not seem like something I should brag about, but with where I am in my career, I don’t think you’ll find anyone who’ll work harder to earn and keep your business.”
Still another possibility: “I’m not a printing salesperson who’s hoping to sell you on using print to market your business. I’m a marketing person who wants to talk to you about your entire approach to business, and to help you to integrate all of the new media into growing your business.”
Now, none of these tactics are guaranteed to work every time. At best, I think they might get you from one out of 10 people returning your calls to two or three out of 10. The point is this, give people a good reason to call you back and more of them will. (By the way, two out of 10 is 100% better than one out of 10. I’d be pretty happy with that!)
Agree To Meet
The second challenge in the connection stage is to give them a good reason to meet with you. Again, “I’d like to talk to you about your printing/graphics/marketing services needs” doesn’t seem to be compelling enough. So how about this: “I want to learn about your business so that I can evaluate the role that printing plays in it now, with the ultimate goal of suggesting ways that you might save time, or aggravation, or even money. And by the way, you won’t save money because we’re cheap. If anything, you might save time, and aggravation, and money—and grow your business—because we’re smart. But we’re a long way from me telling you exactly what I think I can do for you at this point. To do this right, I need some face time. Can you set aside half an hour for me sometime over the next couple of weeks?”