Finding & Keeping
Good Salespeople “As I look at the
industry,” a printer told me, “I see great things being done on the printing
end. We have fantastic capabilities. We’re just not very good on the selling
end, or at sales management. I think most of us struggle with finding and
keeping good salespeople.” It’s an age-old problem. Where do you find good
salespeople and how do you keep them? The answer to both of those questions
starts with this one: What exactly do you
want your salesperson to do? Please read on!
Sales Compensation: Money Talks Sales compensation seems to be a mystery to most of the printing/graphics industry. I get calls and e-mails frequently asking about compensation strategy. The fundamental problem is that most sales compensation plans in place in the industry don’t work very well. In other words, they don’t motivate the performance and behavior that employers are looking for. That’s why I’m getting all the calls and e-mails. My salespeople aren’t performing. What are other people doing to that I’m not? Somebody must be doing this right, right?
What Makes A Great Salesperson Tick? “There are two kinds of salesmen in the world,” the printer said, “there’s the good ones, and then there’s all the ones I’ve hired. I wish I could figure out what makes a good salesman tick.” I said: “Let’s not limit ourselves to ‘good’ ones. Let’s talk about what makes great salespeople tick. Because it’s been my experience that most printers are working with flawed assumptions, and that has a lot to do with the high failure rate in the industry.”
A Natural Salesman There’s almost nothing that scares me more than hearing someone described as a “natural” salesperson. That’s because selling itself is somewhat of an unnatural act. At the core of every sale is a salesperson asking for money. There’s a lot more to this than an outgoing personality and the gift of gab!
Bang For Your Buck There’s a lot less “entertaining” going on in the world of sales than there was, say, 20 years ago. There are still benefits to entertaining, though, as long as you go about it wisely. What does that mean? Every company—and every responsible salesperson—should be thinking about the return on investment connected to an entertainment expense. You shouldn’t take someone to lunch or dinner or a ball game just because you can. You should only take someone to lunch or dinner or a ball game when it makes good business sense!
Sugar And Spice, And All Things Nice Do you remember the nursery rhyme? Sugar and spice, and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of. I think it follows, then, that any little girl who grows up to be a salesperson will still possess those attributes, but what other attributes should you be looking for in a salesperson? It’s probably obvious that neither sugar and spice—nor “snips and snails and puppy dog tails”—is enough to insure success.
Every Little Bit Helps I’d like to offer you a choice. You can either have a salesperson with exceptional closing skills and terrible organizational skills, or the other way around. Which would you choose? I posted that question on my Facebook page this morning. Limiting the data to those I’m pretty sure are printshop or signshop owners, respondents chose closing skills over organizational skills by a 3-1 margin. The general consensus seems to be that outstanding sales performance excuses a multitude of sins, but I’m not sure I agree.
But You Gotta Know The Territory! My father was a big fan of Broadway musicals, and half of the soundtrack in our house growing up was the Original Cast Recordings of My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, The Music Man, Camelot, Gypsy and many other great shows. (The other half, of course, was the Beatles and Bob Dylan and Buffalo Springfield and Joni Mitchell and the rest of that 60’s rock and folk music that my dad never quite understood.) What does any of that have to do with printing sales? Well, I quoted a line from The Music Man just yesterday. I was talking to a client who doesn’t believe in assigning salespeople to territories, and I think it’s very poor management strategy not to.
Tracking A Territory In an earlier article (But You Gotta Know The Territory!), I wrote about the wisdom of assigning a territory to every salesperson. This article continues that discussion, and stresses that management and accountability are critical!
Objectives And Subjectives I first learned about Management By Objective back in my Moore Business Forms days, and it’s been the foundation of my management style and strategy ever since then. Sometimes, though, you have to use “subjectives” in order to set and monitor your management objectives. This article tells you how!
Oh The Weather Outside Is Frightful! As I wrote this in late December, the weather outside was lovely…in Cary, NC. Denver, however, was experiencing it’s second major storm of the winter, and there’s sure to be more miserable weather in everyone’s future. The reason I wrote about weather today was a comment by one of my Denver-area sales coaching clients. “I guess this will be another short day,” she told me this morning. “I’ll probably stay until noon and make some phone calls, but after that I’ll be going home myself.” This article contains a few thoughts on more productive ways to spend at least part of the day.
A (Fictional) Day In The (Fictional) Life Of A (Fictional) Printing Sales Manager What should a sales manager be doing on a day to day basis? The best way I could think of to address that question was a description of a perfect sales management day. I hope you’ll look at this fiction as a model of what effective sales management looks like, and then try to adapt that model to your own business.
Balancing Act: Customer Care vs. Customer Development In my seminars, I often ask salespeople how they view their priorities. “Of all the things you’ll do on any given day,” I ask, “which category of activities represents your highest priority?” The typical answer I get is: “Taking care of my customers” with “Prospecting for new business” a distant second. I’d like to see prospecting as a close rather than distant second, but I do agree that taking good care of current important customers should be a printing salesperson’s top priority. As I note in the seminars, though, there are two tricky words in that last statement: good care and current important customers. The sad fact of the matter is that a lot of sales time gets spent on not-really-very-important customers, and on a level of care that represents what I call “customer care overkill.”
Excuses, Excuses… The bottom line on this article is that you shouldn’t tolerate excuses from underperforming, underachieving salespeople. If you let them hide behind excuses, their performance will never improve. Part of a manager’s job is to separate the problems from the excuses. If you identify real operational problems that are holding your salespeople back, those problems have to be corrected. If they’re only excuses, though, well, then you have an entirely different problem which will also need to be corrected in order for your business to prosper. This article describes my responses to some of the typical excuses I hear all the time.
How Much Salesperson Can You Afford? The starting point for this article is that an outside sales presence is a near-absolute requirement for substantial sales growth in the printing industry in the 21st Century. And, as I point out, that’s actually the good news, because the bad news is that most printers can’t afford to hire the salesperson they really want—a knowledgeable and experienced “self-starter” who will do the job without much supervision. Knowing that might keep you from making an expensive mistake!
Critical Selling Skills In an earlier article, I wrote about the Printing Sales Knowledge Base—product knowledge, market knowledge, operational knowledge and selling knowledge. This article expands on the topic of selling knowledge, noting that it’s really a combination of two distinct knowledge/skill requirements: organizational skills and convincing skills. Is one more important than the other? Read on!
You Have To PUSH For Increased Sales Most quick/digital/small commercial printing salespeople don’t push hard enough for business. Their relationships with prospects and customers are driven almost exclusively by those prospects or customers. In other words, the salespeople wait for the decision-makers to make their decisions. This is a column about teaching salespeople how to push harder and how to identify and deal with problems and objections. Because, as I tell my sales coaching clients, the decision about whether to buy from you is far too important to just leave it up to them!
Accountability Increases Sales Productivity I get a lot of phone calls and e-mails from quick/digital/small commercial printshop owners who complain that their salespeople spend too much time in the shop. This article explains how setting “action standards” and holding salespeople accountable for achieving them can solve this problem.
A Feminist Perspective On Printing Sales I became a feminist on June 12, 1985, the day my daughter was born. Like many men of my generation, I didn’t have a whole lot of interest in “women’s issues” until I had a tiny one of my own to care about. It was pretty amazing how my perspective changed, and how important things like equal opportunity and equal pay became. This column reflects on how, from my perspective, the quick/small commercial segment of the printing industry—especially the sales side of the business—is a pretty good place for women to be in the early 21st Century.
Networking Groups: Solid Selling Strategy Or A Waste Of Time? It’s pretty widely acknowledged that most successful printing salespeople are accomplished networkers. Does that mean, though, that they owe their success to “structured” networking groups or events, ranging from participation in a BNI chapter to attending a local Chamber of Commerce’s “Business After Hours” programs? This column discusses some of the plusses and minuses of structured networking groups, and makes some suggestions about networking goals and strategy.
Sales Management Is An Attitude What skills are required to be an effective sales manager? No big deal, you just have to be a combination of teacher, coach, printing expert, parish priest, hero, villain, and mind reader. But read those over again, and think about that word "skill." By my definition, the only "skill" among those seven is printing expertise. The rest are attitudes. And here's a key point...it doesn't take a great deal of skill to be an effective sales manager. The most important thing is an attitude that you’re going to find ways to help those people do their jobs well.
Manage The Cost Of Quoting Every time you quote a job it costs you money. On the other hand, most of your customers and all of your prospects are going to want to see a quote before they give you an order. So how do you manage the cost of quoting? I think you start by recognizing that you don’t want to quote on every job that you’re invited to compete for. In fact, of the four possible situations that result in a quoting opportunity, I think you should only move forward on two of them. This article explains the how and why of that strategy.
Courage Of Knowledge Comes From The Printing Sales Knowledge Base I wrote previously about Courage of Knowledge (Have Courage), and I think that theme deserves a little more attention. As I wrote then, it’s a lot less frightening to make a sales call when you know what you’re selling, and that’s true whether you’re a “selling owner” or a sales employee. There’s a lot more to Courage of Knowledge than basic product knowledge, though. What I refer to as the Printing Sales Knowledge Base is made up of four elements, and it takes solid command of all of them to ensure printing sales success.
Quotable Quotes The passenger who sat in Seat 4A before me on this particular United A320 must have been a sales or sales management-type. At least, that’s the conclusion I drew from the copy of Selling Power magazine that was left in the seatback pocket. This isn’t a publication I normally read, but with both a free copy and a five hour coast-to-coast flight in front of me, I decided to see what was new in the world of high-powered selling. I ran into a number of “quotable quotes” that I think have bearing on quick/digital/small commercial printing sales and sales management.
Three Things To Look For In A Salesperson I get asked pretty often about what specific characteristics to look for in a quick/digital/small commercial printing salesperson. My answer always includes three things: intelligence, a competitive nature and an appreciation for the finer things in life. And if push comes to shove, I can live without Number 3, at least in the beginning, because I know that I can teach someone with the first two characteristics to develop the third.
It’s A Non-Competitive World Out There In the article above, I wrote about the three most important characteristics to look for in a salesperson, one of them being a competitive nature. This time, I wrote about non-competitive issues—specifically the issue of non-compete agreements between printing companies and their salespeoplle.
The First Three Things A Salesperson Must Learn Most quick/digital/small commercial printers face a pretty significant training challenge when they hire a salesperson, so where should that training start? Here are my thoughts on the three most important things a quick/digital/small commercial printing salesperson must be taught in order to be successful.
A Two-Week Plan For Teaching A New Salesperson About Printing It’s a pretty common occurrence for a printshop owner to keep a new sales employee in the shop for a couple of weeks—or longer—but my experience is that very little real training goes on during that time. We need to change that situation in order to improve the success rate with outside sales! This column outlines a two-week training program for bringing a new salesperson up to speed on the “printing” side of the printing sales equation.
Are We Looking For Closers…Or Openers?
One of my “selling owner” Sales Coaching clients made an interesting observation. “I don’t think I’m very good at closing the sale,” he said, “but I seem to be doing OK at opening accounts.” As soon as I heard those words, I realized that my client had drawn an important distinction between selling printing and selling a lot of other products and/or services. You hear a lot of talk about “closing techniques” on the sales training circuit, but we don’t need them in the printing industry—at least not in the traditional sense. What we really need are opening techniques, strategies and skill.
To Test, Or Not To Test You should always test a sales candidate before you hire. Why? To me, it’s really a simple issue. I know from personal experience that sales candidates can fool you in an interview. The odds are against you unless you have some means of looking “beneath the surface.” That’s what testing gives you, and that’s why it’s worth the time and money.
Two Common Sales Problems This article describes two common sales—or more correctly, sales management—problems, and their solutions.
What Does A Salesperson Do? When you make the decision to send a salesperson out into the marketplace, you have another very important decision to make: Do you want this salesperson to focus on selling, or do you want him/her to be responsible for other aspects of the operation of your printing company? Either choice is viable, but it’s important to establish the job description…and then stick to it!
Homegrown vs Experienced There's a long-standing debate in the printing industry over whether it's better to hire and train your own salespeople, or hire them away from other printers. I come down pretty heavily on the homegrown side, but in this article, I present the arguments for and against both approaches.
The Printing Sales Knowledge Base What does it take to be an effective printing salesperson? Many people talk about a “sales personality,” but I’ve found that the most critical elements of success in printing sales are knowledge-based. The most outgoing and enthusiastic salesperson in the world will have trouble selling printing if he/she doesn’t rate highly in what I think of as the Printing Sales Knowledge Base.
Making Changes In Sales Compensation Plans A significant percentage of the calls I’m getting these days concern a desire to make changes in sales compensation plans. But be careful, because monkeying around with a salesperson’s compensation plan is without question the most dangerous activity on the sales management side of any business.
Quota Or Goal? Is there any difference between a sales quota and a sales goal? In terms of managing salespeople, I think there definitely is. It's one thing to point someone toward a goal and say "Here's what I'd like to see you accomplish this year." It's something completely different to assign a salesperson a quota and say "You need to reach this sales figure, or else your job is in jeopardy."
A Little Sales Management Goes A Long Way In Developing A Successful Salesperson How do you increase the chances that outside sales will work for you? The simple answer is to manage your salespeople. I know very few quick printers who have had problems because they “overmanaged” an outside salesperson. Most of the problems I encounter come from “undermanaging.”
A Few Of The Do’s And Don’ts Of Sales Management Sales management isn’t brain surgery. Like many other business activities, doing it well starts with gaining an understanding of the basic issues. This article presents a few of the fundamental do’s and don’ts of sales management.
Getting Your ACT Together I know many quick printers who have expressed the hope that a salesperson would get his/her act together. ACT is one very solid contact management tool to help make that happen, and this article explains how it’s used!
How Much Should A Sales Call Cost? I sat in on the seminar after mine at an industry conference, and the presenter raised the issue of the cost of an individual sales call. He quoted a national survey which indicated that the average cost of a sales call across the entire US economy is now approaching $600. This article looks at the real cost of a sales call in the quick printing market.
Let’s Not Keep Secrets From Our Salespeople It has always amazed my that so many quick printers provide so little information about their businesses to their salespeople. I’ve always felt that a printing salesperson should approach his/her job as if it were his or her own little business. And it has been my experience that the salespeople who really do think that way usually turn their “little businesses” into considerably bigger ones, much to the benefit of the printer who employs them.
It Takes Certain Skills To Be A Winner At The Selling Game This was a follow-up article to one titled “The Selling Game: Playing To Win.” This one was written for sales managers, though, and it addresses one of the “ground truths” of modern selling —that most of the best players in the selling game are using tried-and-true strategies and techniques that work just as well today as they did in the “old days.”
A Few Thoughts On The Difference Between “Servicing” And “Selling” Far too many quick/digital/small commercial printers let their salespeople operate according to their own perspective. The result is usually a focus on “service” and a lack of “selling,” with most salespeople reporting that they’re too busy taking care of their current customers to do any significant prospecting or business development. This article provides a few ideas on how to change that focus.
Motivating The Modern “Sales Athlete” Wouldn’t it be great if all you had to do to make outside sales work for your company was to hire a bright young person with modest compensation requirements, turn him/her loose, and then start enjoying the fruits of your new salesperson’s labors? That would be great, but all salespeople need management, and part of what that means is motivation.
Sales Management 101 Many, many quick printers have a tough time managing salespeople, but that’s to be expected, because very few had any sales management experience in their “previous business lives.” It’s a lot less complicated when you understand the basics.
Should You Hire An Outside Salesperson? As this article points out, the title actually reflects two questions: Should you have someone out calling on customers and prospects, and should you hire someone to do it…or do it yourself!
A Call Report System That Salespeople Won’t Hate The key to success with sales call reports is to position and use for real communications, not just as an unpleasant duty for the salesperson.
Maxing Out What do you do when a salesperson is “too busy” to handle any new business?
21 Pretty Good Questions To Ask A Potential Salesperson Effective interviewing has a lot in common with effective selling technique. In either situation, if you ask the right questions, you’ll be able to make good use of the answers. Here are 21 questions I like to ask when interviewing printing sales candidates.
The Physics Of Printing Sales (And Sales Management) There are certain physical laws that apply to the challenges of gaining and keeping customers. The better you understand these “immutable laws of physics,” the more likely you are—and your salespeople are!—to have success at meeting your sales-building challenges.
A Part-Time Approach To Outside Sales Makes A Lot Of Sense Many quick printers simply can’t afford a full-time salesperson, so a part-time approach can make a lot of sense—especially when it moves a current employee into a part-time selling position.
Implementing A “Part Time” Approach To Outside Sales
A part-time selling situation might make it possible for you to employ a
high-quality person at a manageable expense—or provide a solid
career-path step to a current employee! Here’s how to implement such a