December 2004
Wanted: a few good sales reps
Finding that star for your shop takes patience and perseverance
Without doubt, the question I’m asked most frequently is, “Where do we get good sales reps?” This is the universal challenge in our industry and while there is no easy solution, there are steps that should help most firms at least find applicants with the potential to be stars.
The reality, however, is that like everything that’s worth achieving, finding the right person takes patience, planning and perseverance. The chance that the “star” from one of your competitor’s shops will call up and ask to join your firm are so small it’s almost inconceivable. While this would definitely be a stroke of good luck, very few things come about this easily. So I’d like to suggest some more realistic solutions for this problem.

Look inside
In most instances, the person who is best able to represent your firm in the marketplace is someone who is already working for your organization. Take a broad look at your entire staff. Who does their work better, faster and with fewer errors? Who is self-motivated and continually looking for things to do? Who sees the bigger picture within your organization and who seems to have an interest in helping others with their work? The person we’re describing could be working in the prepress area, the press room, the bindery or even the shipping department.

The advantages of hiring from within your own firm are numerous. First, you’ve had a chance, possibly over months or even years, to observe the work ethic of the person you’re considering. You have been able to observe him or her day in and day out, how he or she performs duties and responsibilities, and whether or not there’s a real interest in learning and taking on more responsibility within the organization. You can see how this person interacts with fellow employees and, in some circumstances, how he or she fared when exposed to customers. Virtually every firm, large or small, has an employee who stands out from the rest and may be interested in a career in sales. The other huge advantage of hiring from within is that the candidate knows what kind of work your firm does well what type of customers fit with your capabilities. This is the most obvious route for finding potential sales reps, yet the one that’s the least frequently tried.

Another source for sales reps are graphic arts programs at community colleges. Attending the annual job fairs at these institutions, where you can collect resumes and spend time interviewing candidates, can be very rewarding. To be able to attract a person who has already shown an interest in our industry is clearly a start in the right direction. I have also found that in order to attract candidates from this environment, you must have a well thought-out plan as to how you will train this young person and what growth possibilities exist within your firm. Being able to articulate your short and long-term goals and how you see this person participating in that growth is very important. In many firms, the training program begins with a CSR position in order for the trainee to gain a good understanding of the work that’s done by the company and, at the same time, get some exposure to the customers. Needless to say, the person’s progress is monitored throughout this period to get some idea about his or her potential for a successful transition to sales.

Ask your customers
The third opportunity for finding sales people is through your suppliers, who call on print shops and related companies. They often come in contact with bright people who have been pigeonholed in their firms and who, given the opportunity, could perform at a much higher level. Many firms, especially larger organizations, seem to hire people to perform a certain task and frequently overlook their potential in another area because they are executing their current responsibilities very well.

The last source for finding sales reps, and possibly the best, is your customers. Making your customers aware of your growth plans can be a very worthwhile exercise. Letting them know you are expanding and that there are good opportunities for bright committed individuals can be very beneficial. If a customer recommends someone who is currently calling on him and who, for a variety of reasons, is not getting much work, he must think reasonably well of them. A likely benefit of this situation is that if the person is hired, and performs as expected, she can take over the account of the buyer who recommended her. This, of course, allows the person who was handling this account more free time to solicit new accounts.

Other methods may work to attract sales reps, but these are methods that we regularly used at our firm. Whatever methods you use, you must be organized and committed to following a process if you truly intend to strengthen your sales team.
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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