October 2003
The 8 commandments
In past columns, I’ve often made the point that selling in the printing and graphic arts industry is one of the most demanding sales careers anyone can embark on. While every sales position has its shares of challenges, it seems almost inconceivable that selling cars, stereos or footwear can be as demanding as making a living selling in the graphic arts industry.

You’ll achieve divine results by subscribing to these simple rules of conduct
I think many would agree that selling a product on a car lot, a shelf or behind a counter is significantly different from selling a customer on the capabilities and commitment that you and your company will bring to a project that may be, at best, in the planning stage. There is also a major difference in selling approaches if you’re involved in an industry where the sales cycle can span several years between sales as opposed to this profession where there is frequent and continuous interaction between customers and suppliers. While I acknowledge that different industries have in many instances operated within an industry norm or standard, this level of commitment to customers in the graphic arts industry would be unacceptable.

For example, how often has anyone ever had a follow-up call from a car sales rep inquiring about your level of satisfaction after making what for most people is the second-largest purchase they will ever make? Think about the other purchases that you’ve made over the years and compare it to the type of service and follow-up that you’re committed to for your customers and prospects. I believe that in most instances there is a huge discrepancy.

What I’ve learned

How often has anyone ever had a follow-up call from a car sales rep?
While the following list applies to anyone who has been successful in sales, I’d like to focus on how these characteristics form the basis of a work ethic that helps achieve superior results for those who embrace and are committed to them in the printing business.
1. Keep commitments This is quite straightforward. People want to deal with individuals and organizations that are dependable and do what they say they will do. Each part of this industry requires a high level of trustworthiness.
2. Be detail oriented One of the yardsticks that is often used to analyze the success of a printing project is determining if all the little details were done correctly. This could include meeting the schedule at the different stages throughout the production process to the continuous update of charges relating to customer changes, to the distribution of the samples and, naturally, the accuracy of the final invoice. Our customers are expected to perform more and more administrative functions within their companies that were previously handled by others. Now they need and require this assistance from their suppliers. The best sales reps commit to and endorse this standard.
3. Have passion and enthusiasm Good sales reps believe in what they do and know that their input and involvement with a project will be a benefit to the customer and help make the job a success.
4. Listen well Successful sales reps are good listeners. They know that buyers will tell them how to get their business and they listen and watch for these buying signs and signals.
5. Creative intelligence Understanding how to meet the needs of the customer by creating a win/win situation is essential. A sales rep must be able to understand the customer’s budgets, his expectations of quality and his anticipated level of service if a good working relationship is to develop.
6. Know the market Exceptional sales reps know what is going on within the entire graphic arts industry. They are familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of their competitors and have an understanding of activities among all the participants.
7. Show empathy Customers appreciate suppliers who show they understand and care about their business and can anticipate their needs. Being aware of an industry trend and how information learned from other clients and projects can be useful to this particular customer will be greatly appreciated. Customers want their sales reps to deliver more than a piece of paper with a price on it.
8. Perseverance Successful sales reps in any industry have a disciplined work ethic. They work hard and commit themselves to bringing value and exceeding their customers’ needs in everything they do for them. Those who have succeeded in the graphic arts industry, whether it be in sales, production or management, understand and embrace this concept. They know that in an industry that is as demanding, challenging and competitive as the printing business in Canada, anything less than a total commitment will probably end in failure.
While this list could no doubt be expanded with a number of worthwhile attributes of successful printing sales reps, these are intended to form the foundation for attaining a rewarding career.
But, however long or short you want to make the list, there is one certainty that is indisputable. If you commit to working hard and smart for your customers, you will enjoy a career that is incredibly fulfilling and rewarding both in job satisfaction and monetary gains.
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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