*This post originally published in Printing Impressions
Let’s see if you’ve witnessed this situation before: The new sales rep is leaving the office to make sales calls. The owner meets her in the hallway and asks “what’s going on today?” She replies that she is on her way to see prospects and clients. The owner, just walking out of the morning production meeting where it was discussed that the production schedule is looking very light tells the rep, “let’s bring something back to estimate, bring back some jobs!” The owner is pressing the “we need more” button.
You Can Do It
Printers have been successful in taking jobs [almost anything that’ll fit through the press] and converting them to profits for years. While this still happens on occasion, it’s the “how we get the jobs” that needs to change in order to grow profitable accounts. This is frustrating for many today. The articles that talked about solution selling, consultative selling, selling up, and value-added selling all sounded great. The tough part is trying to understand and integrate those strategies into their existing culture and business models without total upheaval of the shop. With an open mind, I think you can get it done.
Printers are long accustomed to change. On the technical and production side they went from letterpress to offset, mechanicals to electronic files, film to CTP, offset and digital presses to ink jet. They know all about change. What still needs works is having a focus on the change needed in how they do business and the strategy used to attract, acquire, retain, and grow new business to profitable levels in an ever changing marketplace.
First Right of Refusal
Face it, many of your good client relationships allow you first right of refusal on the low bid. Thanks a lot! Your relationships are usually with the people who manage the transactions and not always with the true stakeholders of a project or campaign. As an owner, take this test. Of your top ten clients, do you know and have a relationship with the people whose bonus is tied to the success of the campaign or marketing efforts that you produce for them?
How do your clients make money? What is their business model, their marketplace, and who are their top 3 competitors? What business issues keep the VP Sales & Marketing or CEO awake at night? Not knowing any of these key issues could keep your role confined to selling commodity priced ‘jobs’ to unprofitable clients instead of becoming a key business partner with your profitable clients.
Discipline and Execution
Why is doing this so hard? You hold somewhat regular sales meetings with the staff to discuss your latest technology purchases, you talk about how cheap your competitors are and sometimes the CFO comes in to tell them if you get to a certain level of sales, you’ll have a good month. We’ve all been there. The hard part is changing the way you sell, your efforts and your strategies. The hard part is the discipline and the execution.
Here’s a thought: most sales reps are paid a sales commission based on a transaction. You encourage and measure your reps based on transactions. You’ve broken down your business so that you know you need X amount of transactions per day/week/month to make money. Yet you don’t measure or coach on establishing effective strategies, providing solutions that help your customers make money and generally, wrapping our arms around your clients. You don’t pay for nor do you have the patience for doing research on a client’s business model, goals, and competitors-it’s all “part of the job.” While a sales compensation plan is not a replacement for effective sales leadership, it should be reflective of what you want your sales people to accomplish. Something to think about. Check out Dan Pink’s Ted Talk on The Puzzle of Motivation.
The next issue to contend with is do your sales reps have the knowledge, skills, and credibility to transition from a sales rep to a trusted advisor? That’s another matter.
Achieve Trusted Advisor Status
To change this culture and achieve trusted advisor status, the sales reps, managers, owners and all client internal contacts need to be on the same page as to the importance of providing the correct solutions to the right people to achieve the business goals of our clients. The rep is not the only person who should be involved. The owners and key managers should also be involved in building relationships at different levels with clients so that collectively they can fortify their place at the table and help “connect the dots” between client needs and printer solutions.
A focus on building the right relationships with the right people for the right reasons can help your company escape the commodity crunch that faces many printers today. Good luck and have fun.