April 2003
Knowledge is key to your success
To earn a good living, you have to know more than how to prepare a proposal

Regular readers of this column will be familiar with my feeling that if an employee wants to be a sales rep and has a working knowledge of our industry, it is probably not to the company’s or the individual’s advantage to have him or her remain a CSR, an estimator, a production manager, or whatever position he or she may hold. I believe that the sooner someone gets started in his sales career, the sooner he will have the opportunity to bring work into the company, and help the organization grow and be more profitable.

I must add that I feel even more strongly about this course of action if the new member of the sales team is young. Most people, including customers, like to deal with young, energetic and enthusiastic individuals. Buyers are generally more forgiving and, in many cases, anxious to help someone whom they believe will make a positive contribution to the industry and who, at the same time, is working hard to not only meet but far exceed their needs and expectations.

The reason for this mindset is quite simple. Everyone who has achieved almost any level of success in business has had a mentor or someone who has taken a personal interest in their progress. It is my opinion that virtually everyone has an interest in helping a young person progress in his career. People want to be associated with those whom they believe will be industry leaders or those who will influence their business.

Forget about the nice house, if you think your job stops at handing the client a price

Now, it must be said that just because you’re young it doesn’t mean that you will be awarded large projects that are clearly too complex for you or your company. However, you will be given opportunities to work on more projects than many others, and that will help to further your education in this business. After you gain a basic knowledge of the industry, you will build on that knowledge quickly if you’re out providing solutions and helping to solve your customers’ problems.

The skills you need to acquire
So what should we learn and what skills should we acquire? It goes without saying that we need to learn a great deal more than how to prepare and price a proposal.

An ability to understand the production process best suited to the work is important. Along with this skill comes the capability to form a mental image of how the final piece will look before it’s printed. This will help you ferret out landmines before they have a chance to explode, which, of course, is extremely valuable to your customer.

With paper representing anywhere from 25% to possibly 70% of the cost of most printing jobs, it only seems natural that with your experience, the knowledge of your production personnel and the skill of your paper supplier, you should be able to offer some real value to your customer in terms of cheaper alternative stocks or ones that are more suitable for special colours, varnishes or coatings.

For example, most people today are knowledgeable about the superior results of using a high-gloss stock as opposed to a matte or dull finish paper if you’re going to put a glass varnish on the quads and a matte varnish on everything else. Substantial savings also can be achieved if you’re able to purchase a custom-sized sheet for the job. If the job can be printed on something other than one of the standard sheet sizes, there’s a terrific opportunity to realize some substantial savings to pass along to your customer. Other savings can be had by using a high-bulk sheet with a lighter weight than specified.

The point is that you’re able to offer some real alternatives to your customers that could enhance their projects and save money. Either way, the customer will appreciate the input and interest you’ve shown.

In many printing jobs, one of the largest costs is often associated with distribution. Whether the final piece is delivered by Canada Post or door-to-door carrier, huge differences in pricing can occur because of size, weight or delivery dates. Sales reps, generally have much better access to this information than their customers and can provide a valuable service to them.

The above examples are only a few of the options available for bringing value to customers. There are many more. One of the most significant and meaningful would revolve around your knowledge of your customer’s business and his competitor’s. Think of the value you bring to the project if you can give a strong recommendation about its merits or shortfalls based on previous experiences you’ve encountered. What a great resource you become.

The reasons for complete involvement with your customer and the project are simple. We all basically have the same needs and desires to, for example, drive a nice car, live in a nice house, take interesting holidays, send our children to university and finally enjoy a comfortable retirement. It is an absolute guarantee that none of the above will be available to us if we think that handing a customer a piece of paper with a price on it will provide the lifestyle that we hope to achieve.
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.
New Products
Special Feature