April 2002
Can you spot a good sale
You need work to fill the presses, but not all sales are good ones. Here's why
It’s frequently said that few sales are better than no sales.
While this logic is hard to refute, it’s also true that some sales are clearly superior to others. Managing a printing company hinges on making daily decisions about where to get the work to fill the presses. Copy shops, small printing companies or huge web plants all face the same challenge.
In my opinion there are at least four major sources of work: 1. the designer; 2. the advertising agency; 3. the broker; 4. the direct account. Each has its advantages and disadvantages but it’s important to establish what strategic path you want your sales force to follow. Keep in mind that the expertise of your staff and, to a certain extent, the equipment you have will dictate your sales focus. Let’s look at the options.

The designer
The design community generally produces the highest-profile work in this industry. Think booklets, brochures or annual reports for companies that want to raise their profile with a printed piece.

To compete in this market a printer must be confident that his work will meet the highest standards in the community, province or, possibly, the country. No printing company starts out being great, but some decide early on that they want to be in the high-end of the market and gear their plants and staff accordingly. While it’s very rewarding to be on the team that produces high-end work, there’s also a downside both for the sales rep and the company. If the sales rep works for a firm that does not quite measure up to the standards of the design community, she might find herself spending a great deal of time preparing proposals and recommendations without actually doing much work.

This, of course, makes it difficult to sell high volumes, and the very nature of the work almost eliminates the possibility of getting an easy job to print. Also, reruns are almost never required.
The reality of dealing exclusively with designers is that your firm will become known only within the design market. The corporate account will have virtually no knowledge of your expertise or involvement and so it becomes virtually impossible to secure other work from it.

The advertising agency
Advertising agencies can be a good source of business—they frequently initiate new product launches, sales brochures, catalogues, and promotional and direct-mail materials. Their customer base can be as varied as a pharmaceutical company, a consumer-driven organization or an automobile supplier. With so many accounts, it is difficult for print suppliers, other than direct-mail producers, to develop any identifiable expertise.

The other reality of dealing with advertising agencies is their rapidly dwindling numbers. There are fewer organizations to call on, which obviously limits the potential for growing your business. The other reality of dealing exclusively with agencies is that your firm’s name never really becomes known or appreciated by the companies actually ordering the print work.

The print broker
The broker is generally someone who was part of a sales team but felt that he was either not getting backup from his firm or that he could do a better job by handling all the details of a printing project. The obvious advantage of dealing with brokers is eliminating sales expenses. On the downside, it is almost impossible to do any long-range planning or budgeting because you never know from one job to the next if the broker will continue to deal with you.

A printer must be very effective in manufacturing the work from brokers because there’s no cushion or markup on the paper or outside finishing. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to operate in this business environment or create goodwill with the organization that asked for the work.

The direct account
For companies that want to grow their business, the only real choice is to develop a sales team that deals directly with the decision maker and the person who approves the invoice. The customer has direct access to the firm that’s doing his work, shares more information about the projects and expects more input from the sales rep.

Dealing directly with the organization that pays your bill is less stressful than the other options. You generally get more time to do the work, pricing competition is less cutthroat and it’s more likely that hard work and initiative will be recognized and rewarded. There’s also generally less turnover among staff, which helps you create stronger, more secure relationships that can help you grow your business.

However, this is the most difficult approach to execute. It’s a real challenge getting in to see new accounts. Very few companies are looking for new suppliers, let alone another printer. This is why proper planning and execution of your sales calls is so important. You must be perfectly focused on how your company will benefit your new customer and deliver real value for him. Please remember that the length of time your firm has been in business, the number of employees you have and the type of presses you operate are really quite meaningless to a customer because none of it indicates how it can possibly help him. Company facts must be backed up with customer benefits.
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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