Sales managers in multi-million dollar commercial printing businesses usually don’t. Don’t what? They usually don’t manage sales activities. At least, it appears that way to me. Should they? Well, one would think so, but many are nothing more than senior salespeople concerned about their own accounts. Real sales management could make a big difference. Here’s how.
To begin with, a sales manager needs to be a professional salesperson first. Their skill begins with product knowledge in order to properly advise customers. When should you use a bleed? What’s the advantage of full color? What’s the optical center of a piece? If this sounds a lot like what a designer knows, it’s because a professional salesperson is the first “designer” to touch a project.
Additionally, a professional, by definition, knows more than the customer and helps guide the customer to informed decisions. The salesperson helps convert customer needs into product specifications so a project can be completed. Being a professional salesperson is the first step in sales management.
What Sales Managers Should Do
The overriding theme of sales management is to create demand for existing capacity. It’s not to create demand for capacity the shop doesn’t have, which trips up a lot of owners when they hire their first salesperson. I’m not against brokering jobs, but the first job of the salesperson is to sell jobs that can be produced in house. The sales manager’s job is to see that salespeople do this.
The sales manager does this through planning, implementing, and controlling selling and marketing activities necessary to achieve the sales, sales growth, and profit objective of the company. In order to do that, there must be what most called a sales funnel.
A sales funnel starts with suspects, as Dave Fellman calls them. Where are the people who buy what you do? (Companies don’t buy printing, people do.) It can be thought of as a mailing list or database. Absent a specific production focus (tags, forms, newsletters, or whatever), it is a list of businesses within a given area. Here the principle that it’s easier to sell where you are, not where you’re not comes into play.
If there are 2,000 businesses in a 10 mile radius of your shop, it doesn’t make sense to spend a lot of time and effort selling in a market that’s 50 miles away. It increases your cost and decreases your competitive advantage.
A printer in Los Angeles told me she served the whole market. Upon further review, there were 30,000 businesses in that area. Her top 25 real accounts accounted for 95 percent of her total sales, and they were located within five miles of her shop. We have to focus on our real market area.
If you do have a product niche, then get a list of all suspects for that niche close to you. An Ohio printer I worked with had a unique product, yet hired a salesman to sell trinket printing to local customers and was disappointed with the results. No wonder. The printer wasn’t competitive in the trinket market because he was producing on a nearly $1 million press when the competition was doing the same thing on $20,000 presses. He was overlooking his distinct advantage. By focusing on the 900 manufacturers with 20 or more employees within a 450 miles radius of his front door, he could focus his efforts on suspects where he had the most potential.
Another printer in Maryland focused on association work and found his suspects among the 1,500-plus associations/groups that met his criteria in the state. The same can be done with any focus. Once this focus is known, then the salesperson and sales manager have something to work with.
How do you approach them? It’s not always possible, but the tried and true way is to visit them at some point and assess their potential. Absent that, as well as in addition to that, direct mail is still the baseline of selling activities. Mail the suspects and give them a reason to call you.