Case Study: Hobbled by Reluctance

Lisa presents herself extremely well. She is outgoing, articulate, well dressed, and bubbly. That’s why she and her husband, Mike, decided that she could best handle the selling part of the business and Mike would do production. After all, that’s where he grew up. Yes, literally grew up there. Mike is a third-generation printer who took over the business, married Lisa, and they lived happily ever after. Except they have no time for a life. That’s when they called me and I found something they weren’t expecting.

Lisa doesn’t have enough time to do everything that needs to be done. She figures out what customers want, but when she tries to get graphics to do it, she runs into design issues so she does a lot of the graphics herself despite the fact they have two people in prepress where I normally see one. She feels they need more people there, but if they hire more they would jump their labor percentage far above where it should be.

So, Lisa ends up doing it herself because it’s faster. So, while she’s the only salesperson, she is also self-taught in graphics and spends much of her time inside the shop designing. She also “looks at proofs before the customer gets it and revises them before we send it to the customer.”


The More Things Change…

Years ago I probably would have looked for operational impediments, but these days I sense a different root of the problem, so I tested both Lisa and Mike.

Sure enough, the root problem isn’t operational. They have two proficient typesetters, who have the ability to make things look pretty, but they’re not graphic designers. They need training. For jobs needing high-end design, the company could develop a stable of outside designers, which is easy to do in this Internet age. However, solving that operational issue won’t solve the real problem.

Lisa’s real problem is her reluctance to contact customers. Mike is afflicted with the same condition only more so. But then, he decided long ago that selling wasn’t his thing and decided not to do it.


…The More They Stay the Same

So, regardless of what solution is provided to any operational issue, it will be replaced by another, for Lisa subconsciously looks for other things to do besides selling. How can I say that? Well, there was the test I mentioned as well as independent evidence.

For instance, Mike puts a final price on jobs, the CSR prepares the invoices, and then Lisa must check the prices and the invoices to make sure nothing is left out before she prints the invoice. How often does she find something missing? Not often, she says.

Could she be taking on work that’s “necessary” so she won’t have to initiate contact with customers? That’s what the test shows. She generally denies her job as being a salesperson.

Don’t get me wrong. She generally describes herself with the attitude that, “Selling is vitally important to my business. Without a sale, nothing else matters. So I’m totally dedicated to selling. But you must understand, I’m a business owner. I have many important things to do. I will sell, but I can’t simply find the time to do so because of all these other things.”

Dave Fellman, sales guru and fellow columnist, hit the nail on the head when he said, “We must make time to sell, not find it.” He’s dead on. The late Al Ries, marketing guru, said, “A management guy is a sales guy who knows how to read financials.”


Back to Basics

A few weeks ago I was teaching a class to owners and did a little exercise where I ask them to tell me what they did. I got the usual answers of “I’m a business owner, printing company owner,” and a few who said, “I’m a market services provider.”

The teaching point is that we business owners are salespeople first. “I sell printing, do you want to buy some?” That was my response. Regardless if we own a business, what we do is to sell our product/service first. Owning is passive. Selling is active.

You don’t have to be the most outgoing, smooth, dashing, joke-telling salesperson to sell. No, first you have to admit it to yourself that your first job is to sell what you do. If you won’t, who will?

This condition is easy to overcome when it is talked out. However, unrealized, it keeps us from doing what we must do first. It stems from our attitude toward sales. Many people have negative stereotypes about selling.

Another exercise is to ask owners to give a one word description of a salesperson. Those who reject selling can even give you a few positive words like “energetic, helpful, and outgoing”. But after a few words the rejection comes out in words like “manipulative, overbearing, and pushy”.

Now I’m not saying some salespeople aren’t like this, but the real function of the salesperson is to help customers solve problems. And it’s this cooperation between the buyer and seller that needs to be understood to begin changing our attitudes.

When Lisa accepts her role as salesperson first, she then can be trained, using practical tools, to handle all the fears she may have. But if she doesn’t, she will continue to find things that she “has to do” in order to avoid what she doesn’t want to do—initiate contact with strangers.


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