August 2005
A quarter century of changes
Quick delivery and quality on demand are just two trends with lasting impact

Attention employers, sales managers, sales supervisors and anyone responsible for hiring and training sales reps: this column is for you.
Anyone who wants to pursue a career in sales, must take some well-defined steps. If an individual is already employed in a print shop, he or she will be familiar with the type of work that can be done well in the plant. It will be easy for this person to learn the procedures for initiating orders and other office-related operations. More learning might be necessary about paper variety, press capabilities or some nuances regarding different bindery operations but product knowledge is not the biggest challenge facing a new sales rep. Learning how to sell is a candidate’s biggest challenge. This is certainly what my experience has proven.

Sometimes a sales rep is hired from another industry. This presents a very different set of circumstances. New recruits are overwhelmed by what they must learn and how they must compete.

Print rep flounders
Several weeks ago I met with a man who was newly hired by a printing organization. Prior to this latest career move, he had had more than two decades of successful sales, rising to the position of national sales manager. No doubt he had fulfilled that role very competently.

However, when we met, he had already spent about four months in the printing industry with very little success. In fact, he was starting to question the wisdom of working with his employer and wondered if he had chosen the right industry.
When he and I talked about techniques and sales philosophy, it was apparent that we shared many beliefs about what needs to happen to make a sale. I also remember that he put substantial emphasis in his relationship-selling ability. He then told me about a major corporation he was going to be calling on in the next 24 hours. I was anxious to know what opportunity there was with this company, how he would create some interest and excitement with the buyer, and how he and his firm could bring some real value to this customer.

Well, he hadn’t done any research into what the needs of this branch plant might be, let alone develop a thorough knowledge of the products it produced. He didn’t know whether the company needed one-colour price lists or multi-coloured brochures and he hadn’t thought about how his printing company had solved problems for other organizations in a similar sector. It appeared that the sales call would revolve around showing the customer some very well printed brochures that may or may not have been relevant to his needs. It was also interesting that this man did not know the process used to create this material—number of colours, type of paper, production problems—and he had virtually no understanding of printing jargon.

When I brought some of these concerns to his attention, he openly admitted that his employer had provided no information or training about what his firm did well, or the type of customer that he had identified as a target market. He had almost no knowledge on prepress capabilities, press sizes and number of colours that could be printed at one time, or any idea of how sheets of paper were cut, folded, stitched and trimmed, and the names associated with these operations. Similarly, he had no understanding of paper grades and why some were more desirable for some jobs than others. It is almost impossible to think that this man could create a situation where he could deliver benefits for his customer.

No training, no results
A situation like this should never happen. This individual’s employer should have created an information and training program for him that would have seen him spend time in every department of the organization. If services such as prepress or bindery are purchased from outside suppliers, he should spend time with these organizations learning about their production capabilities and the challenges they face. Paper knowledge can be gained by spending some time in the sample room of one of the major paper distributors. In two to three months, an individual could get a good basic knowledge of the industry.

Handing a new recruit 500 business cards and telling him to bring some work into the plant, is both unfair and unreasonable. People need to be trained to understand the strengths of their organization and develop some insight as to the needs of customers. If an employer does not see the value in this commitment to a new employee, then I would suggest that he save himself a great deal of frustration and not think about expanding his sales force at all. Training employees is a necessary part of any business and particularly one that is as demanding as the graphic arts industry. Expecting results from a sales rep who has not received any training about the industry or the market in which he is supposed to compete is unfair and irresponsible.
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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