June 2002
The making os star sales reps
Are good sales reps born that way or are they made through hard work?
During 35 years in the printing industry, I have worked with, competed against and observed an incredible number of printing sales reps. What I have found is that virtually every organization has account managers that are average, good or outstanding at their jobs. But, for your firm to grow, it’s almost essential that your sales team falls into the good or outstanding categories. Not only do good sales reps sell more work for your presses, they contribute more gross profit to your organization. While many will suggest that it’s the type and size of equipment that creates stars, the truth is that all three types of sales reps are employed by one- and two-colour shops as well as huge web plants. I think, and to my knowledge no one has ever debunked this theory, that those outstanding sales reps would retain their superstar ranking whether they worked for a small or large facility.

Based on this assumption, let’s analyze the qualities and characteristics of the superstar sales rep.

Fun-loving tough competitors
A few years ago, someone responsible for purchasing many millions of dollars of printing identified a quality that turned a regular sales rep into a most-valued supplier. It was quite simple. This particular sales rep had the knowledge and the integrity to inform the client about shortcomings in the specifications before the buyer asked for recommendations from other suppliers. What a wonderful position of trust this sales rep earned—his reputation for integrity was more valuable to the customer than his printing capabilities. It is not a coincidence that the sales rep I am referring to is today the president of a very large commercial printing company.

After many years of observing great sales reps at work, I have also come to the conclusion that members of this select group are by nature very good teachers. They take the time and are committed to making their customers more knowledgeable and informed about processes and technology. They never use industry-specific vocabulary without informing the customer of how and why some process impacts the job. I have seen first-hand sheet and web sales reps spend considerable time demonstrating and explaining the benefits or the reasons why things are done a certain way. Think of how this approach or attitude impacts the customer. How could a customer have anything but positive thoughts about a supplier who truly believes he has a responsibility to help keep customers informed and knowledgeable about his business and how it impacts their working relationship.

Another universal observation about great sales reps is that they seem to be happy and upbeat. They have their down days, like the rest of us, but in general they are a pretty content group. To be a good sales rep, it is essential to have a positive approach to almost everything. This is not to suggest for a moment that everything is wonderful all the time, but a positive outlook is a quality that many of us, including customers, find refreshing. Business may be serious and demanding but there should also be an element of fun.

Superstars are competitive by nature. Whether it is playing cards, racing a sailboat, or working hard to secure an order, these people clearly want to win. They are prepared to make greater sacrifices, work harder and longer and truly commit to learning and understanding the needs of the customer. Superstars are committed to bringing real value to the customer over and above a piece of paper with a price on it. They are fully aware that they have excellent competitors who are equally well-qualified and anxious to do the work. However, the best sales reps never take anything for granted. They never assume that new business will come their way because of past associations and continually commit to earning the work as a result of the efforts that they make for the customer and the account.

Can we conclude from the above that great sales reps are born with these attributes? Is it possible that their genetic makeup alone gives them the capabilities to excel in a very difficult and challenging industry? Not for a moment do I believe this. Great salespeople learn the skills that make them industry leaders and let them gain the confidence of customers. They work hard, take nothing for granted and put the needs and well being of the customer ahead of virtually everything else. While some of these attributes will come more naturally to some than to others, they are all learned skills, and by committing ourselves to incorporating these activities into our work, we will certainly sell more printing and enjoy our vocation even more.
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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