Soothsayers aside, normal people cannot accurately predict the future. We can speculate, however, and even hypothesize about the direction it will go. So here, with input from four seasoned industry veterans on both sides of the buying-selling desk, is MPR’s educated guess about the future of...
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What buyers do, or don’t do anymore, has changed, too, Dana explained, “Some have been moved into procurement, where they now do X, Y, and Z, including non-print purchasing. Oh, and the printing projects still fall in their laps as well.” Joe Duncan, SVP and director of Strategic Vendor Management at advertising agency Leo Burnett USA concurred. “Very few people just buy print anymore,” said Duncan, a 2013 IDEAlliance board member who has had “ink under his fingernails” for more than three decades. His past print production and sales experience included stints at Madden Communications and Sells Printing in suburban Chicago and Milwaukee, respectively.
These days, “specializing in one particular vertical [market] or platform is a bottom-line pressure, a luxury,” Duncan noted, adding that the broader structure represents an opportunity for vendors. “The best suppliers work across verticals and/or enhance the value of print. They also take over [functions], such as online support and e-commerce.”
Wearing many hats sounds familiar to Chris Rocco, senior print producer at Omnicom-owned ad agency DDB Chicago. “Especially at smaller agencies, buyers have become more adaptable, getting involved in areas like art buying, broadcast, and digital banner ads,” said the 22-year industry veteran. “Working knowledge of design programs – Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign – often is required now, too,” added Rocco, who said she has seen a substantial amount of buying taken internally as well.
In the past three years or so, many corporate decision-makers filling purchasing positions no longer place a high value on sophisticated printing knowledge, Dana continued. More and more frequently, the newer buyers they are tapping have never before had responsibility for print. Some of these people did not actively choose their career paths; they just fell into them, she said, “some of them kicking and screaming.” DDB’s Rocco, now focused on the out-of-home (outdoor) category, is self-proclaimed “old school,” knowing the difference between RGB and CMYK and understanding to what the spec “right reading, emulsion side down” refers. “But if you ask a younger buyer to name a web printer, they wouldn’t know,” she insisted. (“They’d know sheetfed and HP.”)
Through no fault of their own, these buyers are nervous, anxious, and ignorant about the printing process, literally not knowing where to begin and relying heavily on their vendors to educate them. In these scenarios, “hand-holding and [providing] service has never been more important,” Dana emphasized. “PSPs and sales reps need to be aware of this [trend], accept it, and work with it.” Bill Farquharson, sales trainer and principal of Aspire For, Inc., added, “With education, the goal is to be brought in at the design stage instead of [at] the quote stage. You have to earn that right.”
Other buyers have moved into marketing departments, Dana noted. Like Duncan on the agency side, she sees this corporate shift as an opportunity for print as a medium to make a great impression on marketers. “Marketing is where campaigns and budgets are decided. Pay attention to marketers and marketing associations,” Dana advised. “I don’t see enough [print] representation at local chapter meetings and events of AMA and DMA, but the smart printers are there.”
Consultative selling techniques are not new ideas, but you have to know who your customers are before you can get to know them (and their needs) better. So much has changed, yet many of the basic selling fundamentals remain the same. “The good … sales representative becomes an expert at learning and analyzing customer needs. [He or she] … seeks out the key people in the customer’s organization, asks penetrating questions … listens and probes for the facts,” wrote the late Gaylord Donnelley, former chairman of RR Donnelley & Sons Co. and an heir to the Chicago-based family printing fortune, in his 1977 book, To Be a Good Printer. His father, Thomas Elliott (T.E.) Donnelley was a Yale alumnus renowned for his salesmanship and the tireless concern he gave to customers during a career that spanned more than 50 years.
Selling Today to ‘Mr. Jones’
In the mid-1970s, when North America’s largest printer still was family-run, the story goes that a hard-driving, young salesman was pulling down more money in commissions than the CEO’s salary at the time. Kmart was one of his more lucrative accounts. The cash-rich rep, John Walter, would ascend to become a chief executive with a bulldog reputation. Walter, who played football under legendary coach Bo Schembechler at Miami of Ohio, followed a catchy sales mantra that he said was a key to his success: “To sell Jones what Jones buys, you have to see Jones through Jones’s eyes.”