Every day is a new day when it comes to sales. In a commercial print landscape that is ever-evolving, today’s sales professional must be able to adapt. But how do today’s print shops keep their front line salespeople sharp, armed with information and ready to serve? To get a feel for the ins and outs of the game, we sat down with a handful of the industry’s leading sales pros. Our panel includes Gina Danner, CEO, Next Page; Bill Gillespie, VP Sales, Bennett Graphics; Dean Petrulakis, SVP Sales, Lake County Press; Tom Moe, President and CEO, Daily Printing; and Scott Hudson, Director of Corporate Communications, Worth Higgins & Associates Inc.
Q: HOW HAS THE SALES PROCESS EVOLVED? WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST CHANGES YOU HAVE SEEN?
GINA DANNER, NEXT PAGE: The sales process has evolved from the sales rep holding all the information—think 30 years ago and needing information on equipment—to the clients having access to information, but no time to research at a level to make a true discerning decision. In the old days, if any- one in business wanted to buy something, we called the three companies that had a brand position in our brains. We met with them and collected info and then decided what we wanted to buy.
Today, we see something cool, we search the Internet, and we find a couple other items that are similar. We decide what we want to buy. We try to find a price and cost justify. Then, we put out an RFP to collect more information. The last thing we want to do is sit in front of a sales rep who still sells like they did 30 years ago. Sales reps today need to be valued consultants and must approach business opportunity as an educational effort.
BILL GILLESPIE, BENNETT GRAPHICS: For most of my career, the sales conversations were about processes, technology and production issues. That’s because it took a technician to deliver a quality product. Technology has leveled the playing field with respect to quality. If you’re having the right conversation today, you can talk about client goals, creativity and endless possibilities in messaging. This elevates the rep’s value, by the way.
DEAN PETRULAKIS, LAKE COUNTY PRESS: The biggest change is just how informed and educated the buyers are before you meet them. The days of showing up and throwing out your product and capabilities pitch are over. The clients have done their homework already. By the time they bring you in, they want to know how you will solve their problem better than their other qualified options. You have to be much more consultative today. And you must be willing to give lots of value in terms of content and education to win a buyer’s trust.
All that said, from a pure print stand- point, there are lots of younger designers and marketers who don’t know print to the level that the more seasoned print buyers did. This presents a great opportunity to educate and win their trust. In essence, it’s incumbent upon the rep to steer the specs in the direction that helps create the most impact while also honoring the budget.
TOM MOE, DAILY PRINTING: Sales is no longer about selling print or being an expert in how to put ink/ toner on media and delivering a nice printed piece. The fact that 65-80 percent of the information stage of the sales process is completed before most salespeople get involved means that the process is not about equipment lists or presses any lon- ger. Today, the process is about delivering business solutions that meet your client’s business objectives and helping them be successful. Nobody wants to buy print; they want to acquire more clients and sell product. Print is just the process of communication that works for many of these objectives.
The biggest changes to the process have been related to analytics and test response. We have to be more concerned about mea- suring if the process worked or not. What used to be five to six steps is now nine to 10. It is no longer about speed, quality and price. Those are now the very basic expectations to be in business. Everyone can tell you why they are the best. Salespeople must have a much higher business acumen and understand the client’s business goals in order to be successful, not just be able to talk about paper brightness, ink dot distortion and who makes the best doughnut in town.
SCOTT HUDSON, WORTH HIGGINS & ASSOCIATES: One of the biggest challenges we have seen is that the traditional “print buyer” position has disappeared. Most often, we are dealing with buyers whose main job function is not purchasing print. This type of buyer is often looking for the cheapest price or fastest turnaround
as print is a last thought in their minds. As much as it’s been a challenge, we work with sales to dig deeper because many of these buyers are more receptive to a “one-stop shop” if you can offer diversified services to make their job easier.
Q: WHAT TYPE OF SALES TRAINING DO YOU OFFER (INTERNALLY AND EXTERNALLY)? HOW OFTEN?
GINA DANNER, NEXT PAGE: NextPage has offered both internal and external sales training to varied levels of success. The best training has involved the account executive having some skin in the game and paying a portion of the cost. If they have a financial investment in the training program, they will study and engage at a much deeper level. Besides, if they apply the principles of a sound program, they will reap the rewards.
Beyond sales training, it is critical to hire the right person that has a big view of the world and an internal drive for success.
BILL GILLESPIE, BENNETT GRAPHICS: We have internal sales training. “Sales is a Process” is required of all new reps and offered to all existing reps as a refresher at least annually. In addition, we have specific sales skill sessions quarterly (listening, the right question, why is the client spending money etc.).
DEAN PETRULAKIS, LAKE COUNTY PRESS: Regular sales meetings and those with vendors and partners who keep the reps and account managers up to speed on what’s new in the market are important. Also, anytime we put in new equipment or update a service, the reps learn about it so we know what we have to offer.
TOM MOE, DAILY PRINTING: Our company does not have a sales manager, instead we have a sales consultant on contract. We use this model to stay fresh and in tune with the latest and most successful ideas out there. The consultant also has developed an award-winning sales process on how to sell business insight, not just print. This method has allowed us to learn faster, adapt to the new selling requirements and so on. We started out with a three-day intense session, then went to weekly remote conference webinars; now we do tune-up once a quarter. Our sales team meets weekly, and we share our experiences and help each other avoid or overcome issues.
SCOTT HUDSON, WORTH HIGGINS & ASSOCIATES: Most of our sales training is internal and formally offered quarterly.
Q: HOW IMPORTANT IS HAVING THE RIGHT CONTENT IN THE SALES PROCESS?
GINA DANNER, NEXT PAGE: The right content speeds along the process so that when clients are ready to engage, they know what questions to ask and what opportunities to push forward on. The more content that is available to the consumer, the more empowered they feel.
BILL GILLESPIE, BENNETT GRAPHICS: It’s everything. Being able to share the story—why you did something rather than what you did—provides context to every case study or sample a printing rep might show.
DEAN PETRULAKIS, LAKE COUNTY PRESS: It’s everything. It’s how you engage at the top of the funnel today with busy buyers who have learned to cocoon themselves. Plain and simple, if your con- tent speaks to them and is about them, you will start to earn their trust and earn the opportunity to potentially win their business. It’s about demonstrating empathy and knowledge of their industry.
TOM MOE, DAILY PRINTING: Very. No one has extra time, and if you do get a meeting or are fortunate enough to get invited to the strategy table, and you show up with anecdotal information or no information at all, you are wasting the client’s time. You need to do the research ahead of time. It is pretty easy to find over a million things on Google to help, so how anyone cannot be prepared is beyond me. If you do, it shows that you don’t really care about the client or their problem—you are just looking for a transaction.
SCOTT HUDSON, WORTH HIGGINS & ASSOCIATES: I feel it’s very important. Having the right and regular content in front of prospects and clients to stay top of mind is paramount today. Buyers are getting offers from so many channels, you need content and collateral to make them think of you first every time they have a project.
Q: WHAT’S THE BIGGEST PIECE OF ADVICE YOU CAN OFFER TODAY’S COMMERCIAL PRINT SALESPERSON?
GINA DANNER, NEXT PAGE: Read everything you can on marketing. Print is just one touchpoint out of numerous touchpoints that drive toward a sale.
BILL GILLESPIE, BENNETT GRAPHICS: Ask yourself why your client is about to spend money rather than what they are spending money on. Specs are just details. Why is everything.
DEAN PETRULAKIS, LAKE COUNTY PRESS: Stop talking about your equipment. The majority of people don’t care. They want to know what the end result will be by working with you. How was their life before working with you and how much better will it be after working with you. That middle ground is your story and that’s what you should sell.
TOM MOE, DAILY PRINTING: You need to stop selling print and start listening to your clients. You need to know what they are trying to do and why. Focus on understanding their business, and be able to talk in their language and terms. Print has the ability to help your client tell a compelling story, and that story will contain a business outcome. If you can do that, you will get invited back.
SCOTT HUDSON, WORTH HIGGINS & ASSOCIATES: Really take the time to know what you are selling. Being able to be a resource beyond ink on paper is paramount in today’s business environment. Buyers are looking for knowledgeable business partners who can guide them through the process and offer innovation to help them achieve their business goals.