February 2006
Sales reps come in all shapes
The traits of good reps go far beyond excellence and commitment

A sales rep I know can converse on virtually any subject. He is a very successful sales rep.

As consumers, we deal with a variety of sales reps, whether we are in the grocery store, buying clothing, ordering an item over the telephone, shopping for a new CD, or buying a new car. (While there’s a trend to call them “sales associates,” or “team leaders,” they are employed to help customers with buying decisions.)

Having been a sales rep myself, I often evaluate how others do their jobs. One thing that’s always amazed me is the lack of relation between the value of the goods being purchased and the quality of service. For example, very few people have ever said to me that buying a new car was a pleasurable experience. But, occasionally you can be pleasantly surprised by the knowledge, attention and helpfulness you encounter in a small retail store where they seem to go to any lengths to assist you with your purchase, regardless of its value.

With that in mind, I will identify the outstanding characteristics of sales reps with whom I have had the pleasure of working with or competing against over the years.

Add value
A number of years ago, I asked the senior buyer at one of the country’s largest banks who he considered the best print sales rep that called on him and what made this individual so special. I wasn’t surprised when I heard the name because I had also known this rep for many years and had heard many positive comments about how he conducted himself and his business.

However, the buyer’s response was quite different from anything I have ever heard. In a nutshell, this buyer who bought many millions of dollars worth of print for the bank, told me his sales rep was so outstanding because he identified potential “mine fields” while projects were in the planning stages or, if the material had already been prepared, before it went into print production. This input probably saved tens of thousands of dollars for the bank. It’s not difficult to understand why the buyer felt so strongly about the professionalism and the value of this particular sales rep.

In another instance, I had the pleasure of working with a sales rep who was incredibly well organized. He was a huge producer and his work was the most profitable of all the sales reps in the company. His ability to organize and coordinate complex jobs and projects was quite remarkable and, as a result, his work was always delivered on time and with very good margins. Good companies want to work with good suppliers and this sales rep attracted and retained major national and international organizations to our company.

Occasionally, you meet a person who you just know will be an excellent sales rep. I had this pleasure when I was introduced to a young woman who had joined our firm for her internship while studying in the Graphic Communications Management program at Ryerson University. She was bright, aware and incredibly enthusiastic about life in general and the printing industry in particular. She made those around her happy and brought to our firm a high level of enthusiasm for practically everything we produced. While she had a technical background and could clearly have been a first- rate production manager, few would have disagreed with our intention of training her and getting her into sales at the first opportunity. While slightly reluctant to give up a job that she was specifically trained for, she began her sales career with her usual degree of optimism and vitality.

Just like anyone is who new to sales, she experienced challenging times, but one could see the day-to-day and the month-to-month progress she was making. Today, she has a very successful career in sales. She is still enthusiastic about the industry and continues to work extremely hard on behalf of her clients.

Educate and inform
While selling print is certainly a demanding and challenging profession, those who are fortunate enough to absorb vast amounts of knowledge and converse on almost any subject are able to form a special bond with their customers.
After the printing job has been discussed, and all the details are finalized, the conversation generally shifts to non-printing subjects. Customers have a wide variety of interests and activities outside of work, and a very successful rep I know can converse on virtually any subject. His interests are incredibly broad and include everything from politics, to literature, to art, to social issues. He is not only interesting to talk to, it’s hard to be in his company and not learn something. He is a very successful rep.

Is there a common element these four people share? There is. They are all technically competent, and each has a high degree of commitment to exceeding the customer’s expectations. However, each person is unique in personality and makeup. To me, it’s further proof that successful print sales people are not stamped out in a cookie-cutter mold, but come from a wide range of backgrounds and interests.
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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