Mike Corthell

Mike Corthell
Editor & Publisher at Fryeburg Free Press MEDIA

Monday, February 4, 2013

MEDIA: Print Industry - Sales

Print Industry

Gaining Sales Advantages

Edited by Mike Corthell

IN TODAY’S market, there is an overwhelming selection of print suppliers from which to choose. As more and more new technologies become available and the printing industry diversifies, traditional sales methods are becoming less effective—and less efficient—with the new breed of print buyers. Gone are the days of cold calls and fruit baskets.

So what can give a print supplier the competitive advantage in today’s market?

At Print Buyers 
Online.com  (PBO), we set out to answer this question by polling major print buyers. One of our Quick Poll surveys confirmed 68 percent of people agreed with the following statement: “Most print sales reps believe price is the primary criteria for a printing company to be awarded a job.” But how has this belief become the industry standard when extensive surveys conducted by PBO yield different conclusions? When asked why a particular supplier is chosen, could it be buyers said it came down to price because that is the easiest answer to give? In truth, the reason is much more intangible and complex.

PBO is in the unique position of representing both sides of the buyer/supplier fence. Due to this, our members feel comfortable sharing the real reasons behind their decision-making processes. After hearing several versions of “most of the time, a good working relationship with the sales rep is a huge factor in working with a print supplier on a regular basis,” we decided to delve deeper to determine what characteristics go into choosing a new printer.

To do so, several surveys were conducted of major print buyers, designers and marketers that work for printers. The questionnaires addressed the process a print buyer goes through when selecting a new supplier. The results revealed a very interesting fact: The majority of survey respondents said much of it depends upon the relationship they foresee having with a sales rep. As one of our members put it, “I choose a print supplier that has the capabilities to do my work, and it is the sales rep who articulates those capabilities. A rep needs to provide good communication, get back to me in a timely manner and be a total partner in the project.” 

Here are some tips from our print buyer members on how sales reps can fine tune their skill sets to gain credibility and maintain customer loyalty: 

Don’t drop by unexpectedly. Seventy-one percent of print buyers said it is not appropriate for printing sales reps to “drop by” in an attempt to circumvent scheduling an appointment. Most print buyers believe this behavior shows a lack of respect for their time—and a lack of professionalism on the part of the salesperson. 

No more free lunches. Fifty-eight percent of our survey participants stated they would not go to lunch with a sales rep if they hadn’t worked with them in the past. Most believe lunches at a printer’s expense should only be accepted as a thank you for projects already given. Even if the intention is to provide the buyer with knowledge about your company, buyers tend to believe it isn’t worth the feelings of obligation that will accompany the lunch.

Update your collateral material. Sixty-one percent of our members stated a printer’s collateral material is important in identifying them as a prospective partner. Such material is a printing company’s portfolio, and potential clients will make assumptions based upon its content. From packaging ideas and diecuts to printing technologies and printing techniques, good collateral is an excellent marketing tool—but only if it is of good quality and representative of the capabilities of the print supplier.

Don’t go over their heads. This is a controversial issue because many sales reps are being told by their companies to approach top management. We asked print buyers to share their feelings about this issue, and 62 percent found it unacceptable and offensive for a sales rep to attempt to work with or sell to upper management. 

Typically, upper management doesn’t have the background to make these types of decisions, so sales reps are wasting their time by approaching them. Also, when a sales rep goes behind the print buyer’s back, it may be seen as an attempt to undermine his or her authority. If so, it is highly doubtful future calls will be returned.

Don’t give lip service. People don’t trust someone who says yes to everything. Decline a job if it isn’t a good fit, and say no when it really should be no. Whether the plant can’t accommodate the job or there is a schedule conflict, customers would rather get an honest no than an undeliverable yes. And, they will respect you for it.

Have industry experience. Our print buyer members have told us time and again that the best printing reps have previously been prepress or press operators. Possessing in-depth industry knowledge and experience working in the trenches pays off. For instance, 75 percent stated a salesperson’s knowledge of paper can serve as a competitive advantage.

One of our respondents wrote: “A sales rep needs to respond to my technical needs and questions quickly. If he or she has to repeat my questions to their plant personnel, then I would prefer to deal directly with those individuals.”

The rep is the liaison between the buyer and the supplier. If a sales rep can’t be counted upon to accurately communicate the needs of the buyer to the printing company, or the project specs and deadlines to the buyer, it doesn’t matter how good the printer is; the buyer will find a rep who is dependable. 

Stay current. Most print buyers have expectations that the sales rep will be unknowledgeable. Prove them wrong. Provide information on new technologies in the marketplace. Inform them of new purchases of equipment the supplier has purchased—and be sure to include the logic behind the purchase. Don’t just list what equipment you have; describe what it can do for the buying company.

Be honest. Trust should be established immediately—and must never be compromised. Never forget that every seasoned buyer will know when the printer is not telling the truth. Break any bad news as soon as possible, and be honest about what is going wrong.

Listen. Show interest in the end goals of the print project. Seventy-six percent of survey respondents stated it is very important that a sales rep ask questions about a print project and provide valuable advice and solutions. Make cost-saving suggestions and provide alternatives. Find out the end use of the job; what shelf life will it have? What kind of lighting source will be used to view the piece? 

Help them plan for the most effective way to print their projects. Making their lives easier will guarantee customer loyalty.

Offer suggestions. As one buyer said, “A sales rep must know our business and be proactive on how best to run jobs and save us money. The rep must be completely involved in the day-to-day activities of our account.” Of those surveyed, 74 percent stated it is very important for a sales rep to explain how their company can provide the best solutions for print projects. 

They want to be offered alternatives they may not have considered. Surprisingly, 99 percent of buyers are open to suggestions that may help improve the results of the print project, even if the cost of the print job is increased as a result. 

Keep the client posted. A good rep is one who will be communicative in all stages of the project. As one print buyer put it, “Good personal rapport is nice, but competency is a must. The rep is the liaison between me and their shop. I need to be able to count upon our rep to communicate the needs of our agency, the specs and deadlines of jobs, and to keep me informed.”

Demonstrate dedication. Be willing to go the extra mile. Call the print buyer after their project has been completed to see how satisfied they were with the end result. Did it meet their expectations?

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