April 2005
No magic bullet for selling well
An unhappy seminar attendee learns that sales is all about hard work
Last November, I was hired to speak at Print Ontario, the graphic arts show for the not-so-large printer, with special relevance for companies that operate in the 29" press size and smaller. As one of four seminar leaders, I was instructed to give two seminars on how to sell more printing. I called my seminar Twenty Sales Ideas That Work.

When I accepted the assignment, I knew it would involve a great deal of work. I figured I’d need enough material for at least an hour, and hopefully the audience would ask some questions that would take another half hour.

I believe that anyone who’s given the responsibility of doing a presentation where people pay their hard-earned money hoping to learn from the seminar leader, should take the responsibility very seriously. I am no exception. After preparing the first draft of my presentation, I asked two professional sales reps to critique the material for both content and relevancy. This led to revised drafts and more input from other colleagues. However, I’ve worked with and competed against some of the very finest sales reps in our industry, and observed first-hand how they became sales leaders. I must say that during my thirty-plus years of selling printing, making more cold calls than anyone I know, and making every possible mistake, I did eventually learn what worked and what didn’t.
Sales ideas rejected

At the end of each seminar, the attendees are asked to fill out a questionnaire evaluating the presentation. I’m very anxious to see how my material is received because my goal is to provide “real” suggestions for how to arrange new appointments, follow up with customers, and create an environment for securing work. My goal was to exceed the expectations of those who had taken the time to come to my seminar.

Overall, the questionnaires were very positive. There were some recommendations that I will certainly incorporate into any future presentations. However, much to my chagrin, there was one response that was particularly damning of the content and the quality of the ideas I presented. This particular individual felt that my ideas and rationale for following certain procedures were juvenile at best. If there was any merit at all to my ideas, it was only for those starting out in sales. I was both surprised and shocked. Surprised, because the attendee had learned nothing, and shocked because he felt the ideas were of so little value.

I was so disappointed I wanted to give him a refund. After several failed attempts, I made contact with my disgruntled client, told him how badly I felt that he was disappointed, and offered to give him his money back.

Looking for the easy way
We had a pleasant conversation for a few minutes and I learned that he had been selling printing for just under three years. I mentioned to him that during my career, I had attended many sales and management seminars and always felt that if I came away with at least one really good idea, then my time and money had been well spent; if I picked up three or four ideas, I considered it a home run.

Strangely enough, he agreed with me. Now I was really confused. What this person was saying to me was that of the 20 sales ideas that I had presented, not one of them was of any use to him. I had to pursue this further and asked him if there was any value to my suggestion about how to deal with voicemail, and how to get the initial meeting with a customer. He said yes, there was some merit to them, but when I asked him if he followed a procedure I had suggested, he said he didn’t. I then asked about my suggestion for setting up and structuring the second and third meetings with new customers and he admitted that while he didn’t do anything similar to it he thought the concept was sound. We talked about another four or five suggestions and by his own admission there was some value in each and every one, but he was not adopting any of them.
His next comments will not surprise you. He said, “I am looking for the one great idea that will let me sell printing.” I told him I didn’t believe such a thing exists and being a success in this industry results from being sensitive to the needs of your customers, wanting to solve problems, wanting to add value to every step of the process and being committed to exceeding your customers’ expectations in everything you do for them.

He grudgingly agreed. The bottom line of this story is that this person did not have even the slightest interest in learning about the different ways of approaching and dealing with a customer. He was simply hoping he would sell more printing and even when good ideas were presented to him, he was not receptive or interested enough to embrace them. When I realized this, I told him that I wouldn’t give him a refund.
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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