Case Study: Case of Owners Who Won't Sell

He’s obviously not going to sell, for he hasn’t in five years. What he needs to do is just hire a salesperson.” Showing once again that technology hasn’t changed basic business owner behavior, let me address why owners should be involved in the selling process regardless of whether sales is their primary task.

Isn’t selling based on personality traits, as in, “I don’t have the personality to sell”? No. The need to perform far outweighs any Ouija board profile. The profile will tell how a person will approach the job and is very helpful in training, but it doesn’t tell whether they will act.

Now, does an owner need to sell? Depends on what you mean by sell. It’s not going door-to-door begging for business. It’s the simple act of assertively asking someone to buy and maintaining contact with the accounts.

Many employ the “hint-hope” method: make it known that you are a printer and then wait for customers to walk in asking to buy. Unfortunately, sometimes the hint-hope method works because luck is involved and some folks are lucky. One owner told me his marketing strategy was search engine optimization and content marketing. Yet 50 percent of his business came from the person who stopped by the week before he opened and asked him if he did certain types of work. He did, they bought, and it expanded into a big account.

What’s needed is a simple selling plan to reach out to prospects in a systematic method. I’ve described such plans in previous articles, so let’s just say any business owner can devise such a plan. If you give me that, then the issue is what happens to business owners who refuse to participate in selling to customers.

Here are two common scenarios with poor salespeople.

1. We usually can’t afford a real salesperson. Great salespeople are expensive. In a $500,000 shop, we don’t have the budget for a great one, so we settle for a beginner or a mediocre producer—and that’s even more expensive. It takes time to train and answer questions. Usually, they gather quotes. Unfortunately, this is one of the basic ways a prospect has of getting rid of untrained salespeople, for they know most never come back with a quote. If they do, the reply is, “Oh, that’s too high.” The salesperson walks away convinced their prices are too high, when that’s usually not the case. They haven’t uncovered any pain. Although quoting is necessary, it is not a way to get on the buyers’ speed dial.

2. If we, the owners, don’t know the basics, we will not know how to supervise a salesperson. This ends with owners being talked into letting the salesperson do busy work and not selling.


The Other Side of the Coin

Most dramatically, should an owner get a good salesman, that person often ends up controlling the business.

In California, a good salesman was hired. Twenty years later, the owners want to sell the business, but the only person they can sell it to is the salesman because he says he’ll walk away with the customers unless it is sold to him.

In Florida, an owner hired a mediocre salesman. A call came in and the salesman went to see the customer. That customer grew up to be a New York Stock Exchange listed company. Oh yes, the salesperson had all the contacts because the owner refused to get involved in the process. Today, the salesman works a few hours each week tending to the one account.

The owners want to sell the business in order to retire, but they can’t because no one wants it with the salesman controlling the big account.

Anytime owners refuse to act and hire someone to do what they won’t do for themselves, it ends up in a quagmire. This doesn’t mean the owner has to do cold calls. It does mean the owner has to be involved in the selling process and be in command of the accounts. Otherwise, the owner ends up working for the salesperson in some form or fashion.

Selling is a process that involves getting in front of new customers and asking for new business, or getting in front of old customers asking for new business. In all cases, it’s about new business. It’s not about reprints, delivering, press checks, or any other thing salespeople can stay busy doing.

And that’s why owners have to accept their role in selling, whether they are printers, bakers, plumbers, or lawyers.


Tom Crouser is chairman of CPrint International, teacher of business courses at CPrint University, and principal of Crouser & Associates, Inc., 235 Dutch Road, Charleston, WV 25302, (, 304-965-7100. Contact him at 304-541-3714 or Connect on Facebook and LinkedIn and follow his tweets at