June 2006
Five important sales reminders
A few fundamental rules can smooth the way to the top of the sales profession
Recently, I was in the company of some very successful printing sales reps. This group, while admitting that the business is very demanding, is experiencing good if not exceptional years. Generally, each group member deals with large national or multi-national accounts. While discussing business not once did I hear comments relating to price. There were many opinions on how to fulfill the needs of the customer, remarks relating to the sheetfed, half-web or full-web business, and complaints that everyone wants everything immediately, but the price challenge was never mentioned. It may have been a coincidence, but somehow I don’t think so.
Customers recognize these professionals as valuable resources and important parts of the communications teams and don’t try to beat them up on every price. They do, however, work as a team with their suppliers, in order to produce the best product at a reasonable price.

The question that many inexperienced sales reps are undoubtedly asking now is, “How do I get into a trusted, well-respected position with my customers?” While there’s no question that time is an important element in developing this type of relationship, I can guarantee that if you follow the five suggestions below, you will become more successful more quickly, and derive greater satisfaction from your career.

1 After your first meeting with a new customer, send a letter thanking him for his time. (Sending an e-mail in place of a letter, can actually hinder rather than help to create a new relationship.) Mention one or more of the items you’re researching for him, as this lays the groundwork for the next meeting. For the second appointment, take in some new samples that relate to what you discussed in the initial meeting. It shows that you’re thinking about the customer’s needs.

2 When you’re asked to give a proposal or a recommendation (I have intentionally not used the words quote or estimate, as they historically seem to refer only to price), make sure that you provide some options for the project. Suggest, for example, a different type of paper, an extra colour, possibly how varnishes could be used effectively, or propose a slight change in size for the project. Giving the customer some options will send a clear message that you are really interested in his business and that your knowledge and experience are valuable resource to him.

3 Make sure that your proposals or recommendations contain at least five facts and benefits. Stating a fact—our company has CTP, we have an in-house bindery, or we work two shifts—without giving the accompanying benefit is almost meaningless information. The benefit must be identified after each fact, clearly illustrating how it will impact the customer and the particular project.

4 Never stop making new sales calls. When we’re busy, it’s easy to forget to do our research and strategize. But, nothing lasts forever. We all know that business failures, amalgamations and relocations can have a dramatic impact on a sales rep’s business. A good sales rep is always developing new accounts to minimize the impact of a sudden change. Making new sales calls also keeps your skills sharp and you’ll never be known as the sales rep who knows everything about hockey, cars, or whatever. You are there to make recommendations and help solve problems.

5 The final recommendation is an absolute necessity. It’s a decision that the sales rep and her company must both commit to. It is simply to exceed the customer’s expectations in everything that you do. These opportunities can be initiated by the customer, such as a request for an impossible delivery, or proofs that need to be delivered to multiple locations.

But the sales rep can also take the lead. She can offer to take proofs to a client’s home for final approval to save time, she can help co-ordinate the timing of a mailing, and she can be thought of as the on-staff, non-paid employee who the customer can turn to when something unusual or difficult needs to be done. If your skills are limited to knowing how to put ink on paper, you will have a very difficult time becoming one of the elite sales reps in our industry.

Printing is a fabulous business. It rewards hard work, intelligence, and creativity. While there are quite a number of must-do rules to follow if you want some success, I also believe it’s critical that both the sales rep and her company think long and hard on how they can foster a reputation for being unique and different with the industry and her customers.
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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