April 2000
Selling is selling, right?
Perhaps if you're pitching shoes, but printing is an entirely different game
How often have you heard someone say that “selling is selling,” or suggest that a particular sales rep “would be a success selling anything?”
While this might be true for many sales reps in other industries, I have for many years believed that those who are successful at selling graphic arts are unquestionably some of the most skilled professionals around. Think about this. It’s quite easy to visualize a successful printing sales rep making a smooth and profitable transition to selling furniture at Leon’s or pushing financial products at a bank. However, is it at all possible to conceive of a shoe sales rep from Sears, or another local retail outlet, making a successful transition to our industry? While anything is possible, it seems highly unlikely that those sets of skills could prepare anyone for the printing world.

Now, it would be terribly unfair to suggest that some of these reps would not or could not make a success of selling print even after they are given first-rate training, a committed sales manager and time, but my feeling is that it would be difficult. It is a well-known and accepted fact that sales professionals in our industry are a cut above the rest. For proof, just look at the high incomes many sales reps earn and the well-above-average income others take home. And these healthy incomes are earned in an industry that is recognized as extremely competitive, demanding and challenging.

Must-have qualities
So let’s look at what it takes to be a success and what you should look for when hiring an industry veteran or a sales trainee.
While every sales manager or business owner has a personal list of must-have qualities, I believe many would agree that if a candidate demonstrates desire and passion for helping someone accomplish a task or meet a goal, chances are that an employer will be interested. What a wonderful attribute that is and how valued this mindset is to our customers. Naturally, simply saying the right words is not enough; they must be backed up by appropriate actions.

One characteristic is absolute for winning: consistent work habits

Another revealing trait of successful sales professionals is their competitive nature and their need to be at the top. Winners want to win. They want to tackle the challenges and take on the demands that are required to win work. Then they want to exceed customer expectations throughout every stage of the process. Successful and confident sales reps know that their input in coordinating effective printing solutions—which can involve consultations on using colour, selecting paper and creating an effective means of distribution—will help the customer and ensure the success of a project.

The arrival of e-com
Some companies that promise to smooth the consultative process are the new crop of e-com service providers. These companies were high-profile exhibitors at the trade shows in Chicago and Toronto and have received substantial media attention. Among the trendsetters in this field are Noosh, Collabria and Impresse. Elsewhere in this issue an article describes these and other companies in great detail. My spellchecker wants me to change Noosh into noose but I will not pay attention to that for now.

If the well-printed literature from these well-financed new businesses present an accurate picture of the print process, we live in a chaotic world. Their promos are sprinkled with phrases like “error-prone methods,’’ “turns into a nightmare for everybody,” “miscommunication is rampant,” and so on.
It is hard to imagine that the typical challenges facing our industry will magically be solved by these Internet-based services, but I recommend keeping a close eye on them. I believe that we are looking at early versions of major new trends for the coming decade. The rapid acceptance of the Internet and e-commerce during the last two or three years points to demand for more structured communication in the business-to-business sector. The sophistication of the online shopping sites is becoming impressive ( is my favourite) and Internet banking has moved from a novelty to an everyday solution for thousands of customers. If the volume of venture capital flowing into these new dot.coms is another indication, we are looking at a massive influence.

But we’re printers; we have lived with massive change for about three decades now. We eat change for breakfast! We were trained on Linotypes and now run computer-to-plate devices. There’s not much that intimidates us about embracing technological progress.
The Internet, and all that it brings, may well become the biggest change we will deal with during our careers. The possibilities of enhancing communication with our clients, suppliers, employees and stakeholders are compelling. It is a great opportunity for innovative companies able to recognize that potential. My advice is talk softly, buy a computer for every desk, train each employee to use it and get a fast Internet connection.
Duncan McGregor was president of the former Arthurs-Jones Inc., a Toronto-based, award-winning commercial printer. He led the $5 million-a-year firm to a five-fold increase in sales. He is now a consultant to the printing industry and can be reached at (416) 487-7666.
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