Get More Value From Your Customers The best way to gain and keep customers is to provide them with value. It’s really pretty simple, they give you money, and you give them something in return. This value thing should not be a one-way street, though. It’s just as important that you get value from them. And I believe that each one of your customers provides you with three distinct levels of value. First is the value of what they’re buying from you now. Second is the value of what they could be buying from you. Third is the value of influence; the ways in which current customers can help you to develop new customers. Question: Are you getting all of that value from all — or even most — of your customers?
Interruptions Revisited This is the first in a series of columns “The Top 5 Ways To Talk Yourself Out Of A Sale” It relates to a recent column where I wrote about setting priorities and dealing with interruptions. That was a discussion of time management strategy and technique. This month, it’s interruptions again, but from a different perspective. Over the last couple of weeks, I have observed several salespeople and a couple of candidates for sales positions committing what I consider to be a cardinal selling sin, interrupting the person they really should be listening to.
Too Much Features, Too Little Benefits This is the second installment in my series on “The Top 5 Ways To Talk Yourself Out Of A Sale.” I am hoping to turn you away from one of the most common mistakes I see printing salespeople make. It has been said that a printing salesperson has to make three sales. First, you have to sell yourself. Then, you have to sell your company. Then you have to sell the printed product. But if you do not sell yourself, is any of the rest likely to happen?
Pitching vs Storytelling This is the third installment in my series on “The Top 5 Ways To Talk Yourself Out Of A Sale.” The topic for today is Pitching vs. Storytelling. The Official Rules of Baseball state that a pitch is “a ball delivered to the batter by the pitcher.” In slang, though, we often refer to the words a salesperson uses to try to get someone to buy something as a “sales pitch.” It is usually not considered a complimentary term!
Do You Make It All About Price? This is the fourth installment in my series on “The Top 5 Ways To Talk Yourself Out Of A Sale.” The topic for today is “Making It All About Price” — which you hopefully do not do. Or do you? I hear many complaints from printing salespeople about buyers who care only about price. Sadly, at least some of the blame for this lies with printing salespeople and printing companies. One of my early sales trainers had a favorite expression, that he (or she) who mentions price first loses. In my experience, too many printing salespeople are guilty of that selling sin.
“We” Is Bigger Than “Me” The first thing a salesperson has to sell is himself/herself. OK, that’s obviously true, and it’s a very fundamental sales concept, but what exactly does it mean? Here’s what I think. To sell yourself effectively, you really have to sell me on two interrelated elements. The first is that you know what you’re talking about. The second is that you’ll do what you say you will do. If I decide that I can believe both of those things, I’ll probably think seriously about buying from you. If I don’t believe either one, though, I probably won’t.
Is Persistence A Positive? This is the last installment in my series on “The Top 5 Ways To Talk Yourself Out Of A Sale.” Today, the topic is persistence, which is generally considered to be a positive attribute for a printing salesperson. Sadly, I have seen far too many salespeople talk themselves out of a sale through blind persistence, which I define as ongoing contact which adds nothing to a relationship. On the other hand, I have seen many salespeople succeed through creative persistence. This is an important difference! You do not want to be the “pushy” salesperson who calls and calls and e-mails and calls to the point where your message is deleted the very second you are identified. You do want to be the salesperson who engages through creativity and differentiation.
Defensive Sales Management One of the maxims of the sports world is that championships in the major team sports are won with defense. The offensive part of the game may be a little more glamorous, but it will always be true that you're likely to win if you can keep the other team from scoring. In the business of selling printing, offense relates to gaining new customers. But scoring isn't everything. In order to win in the long run, you also have to keep the other team from scoring more than you do. In other words, you have to gain customers and keep them in order to win in the printing game. Defense!
Orphans In The Marketplace I have written in the past that all printing buyers will fit into one of just five categories: solids, liquids, gases, players and price monsters. It turns out that there's a sixth category: orphans. These are the people whose printer has gone out of business. There are solids, liquids, players and price monsters among the orphans, but they all have at least one gaseous characteristic now—they have to try a new printer the next time around!
Legacy and Reputation Here’s something you may never have thought about. You have built a reputation at work, and that reputation precedes you and follows you and affects whether people will want to work with you—as customers or co-workers or employers. And while you may not be thinking so far into the future right now, you are building your legacy. Heavy stuff, but worth thinking about!
It’s All About The Plan In an earlier column, I wrote that you should be talking with your customers right now about their goals for next year, because those goals are the starting point for their eventual marketing plan—and you want to be part of that plan! “Eventual” is a key word here, though, because it’s been my experience that lots of business people talk about creating a marketing plan, but few of them actually do it. So this is an area where a “marketing consultant” can be of great value. Please note that I used the lower case on those two words. I’m not suggesting that “Marketing Consultant” becomes your title. I am suggesting that “marketing consultant” becomes part of your role as a print salesperson or Marketing Services Provider.
The Future Of Print(ing Sales) The future of print and the future of the printing industry are obviously related, but I think it’s important to separate the two in order to consider your future as a printing salesperson. The future of print is partly technical and partly sociological. On the technical side, we’ve seem amazing changes in the scope of what printing machines can do. On the sociological side, we’ve seen a lot of what we used to print migrate to different “substrates.” I think the future of the printing industry, and your future as a printing salesperson, have a lot to do with mastering those “substrates.”
Demand For Print — And More In 1987, I was the Vice President of Sales at a company called Spectra Graphics. I took my sales team to a seminar presented by Dick Gorelick, the printing industry’s leading sales consultant at that time. (And maybe all-time!) The one thing I still remember clearly about that seminar was Dick talking about “creating demand for print.” I remember thinking, “We don’t have to create demand, there’s plenty of it.” And there was, in 1987. But things are different now, aren’t they?
More For Your Money I want to teach you a new word today: lagniappe. It’s pronounced lan-yap, and its origin is Cajun French, a dialect spoken mostly in the state of Louisiana, with its own origins in the French-speaking parts of Canada. What does lagniappe have to do with printing sales? The strict definition of the word is “a small gift given to a customer by a merchant at the time of a purchase.” A more common definition, though, is “a little something extra.” In marketing terms, we might express that as “more for your money.”
The Importance Of Titles I had an interesting exchange of emails yesterday with a new sales hire at a large commercial printing company. He asked: “What title should I have on my business card? My boss wants it to be ‘sales representative,’ but I that’s not how I want to be seen. What do you think about ‘print satisfaction specialist?’” I have never fully understood why some salespeople don’t want to be seen as salespeople, but that’s only part of the lesson in this column. The rest is that the customer’s title is at least as important as the salesperson’s!
Rose-Colored Bi-Focals When I was a kid, “You must need glasses!” was a pretty common insult. I remember saying it to other kids, and once to a Little League Baseball umpire. (That got me thrown out of the game.) It turns out, though, that printing salespeople do need glasses. Specifically, they need rose-colored bi-focals, because success in the modern marketplace requires good near vision and far vision, and a fair share of optimism.
Communication Failures I’m an American. I think Australians talk funny, and I have no doubt they feel the same way about me. We both speak English, but it’s not quite the same English, is it? Whenever an Australian and an American speak, there is potential for miscommunication. The same is true whenever a print seller and a print buyer speak, regardless of what language they’re speaking. And miscommunication has probably killed more sales—and more buyer/seller relationships!—than any other factor.
Solids, Liquids, Gases, Players and Price Monsters It’s been my experience that all printing buyers will fit into one of five categories. I call them solids, liquids, gases, players and price monsters. Why is this important? Mostly because it tells you who you should be spending your time and resources on, in terms of both prospecting and customer maintenance.
Honesty Is The Best Policy Which is more important in printing sales, to be honest with customers, with the production side of your business, or with yourself? I think too many salespeople are dishonest with at least one of those parties, and you might be surprised at which one I think causes the most damage.
More Value, Less Rejection I went out on a sales call with one of my clients last week. We met with the Purchasing Manager of a large hospital. He had an interesting item on the wall behind his desk, a framed graphic which read: “Rejection — Get Used To It.” When the prospect stepped out to get us coffee, my client told me that he was intimidated by that sign, so I told him why he shouldn’t be.
Things Can Always Be Better There’s a new commercial running on TV these days. It’s from Honda, and the theme is that “things can always be better.” It’s in praise of people who are never satisfied with “good” and always searching for “better” — which, of course, is what Honda believes its cars to be. Good vs. better is a situation that printing salespeople have to deal with too, and this is a reflection of one of the basic realities of printing sales — that everyone already has a print supplier. It’s either you already, or else someone else is getting the orders that you’d like to be getting!
Setting The Mood In an earlier column, I wrote that the ideal printing sales conversation should be built around a single question. If you could change anything about your printing or your dealings with your printing supplier(s), what would it be? I also wrote that I’m not sure you can walk in, sit down, and ask that question without first creating an environment that will get you an honest answer. This column is about setting that mood.
It May Seem Disorganized, But I Know Where Everything Is! I took a photo on a recent onsite visit. It was the cubicle of the company’s top salesperson. He assured me that it only looked disorganized, and that in fact, he knew where everything was. So I bet him that he couldn’t find a hard-copy document I sent him two or three weeks earlier. Lunch was on him that day, and this column is on the value of being even a little bit better organized.
ACT More Organized! In a previous column, I promised to write more about how I use ACT as my primary Time Management and Organization tool. I have been using ACT for 20+ years, and I often tell people that I couldn’t run my life without it, let alone my business. I also know people who are similarly dependent on Outlook, SalesNet or salesforce.com. The point here is that it’s not the specific product, but rather the capability that is so important to printing salespeople.
A No-Lose Proposition I was in Toronto, Ontario recently, presenting seminars at Graphics Canada. I sat in on the last 10 minutes of the seminar before mine on the last day of the event, a presentation on “The New Printing Buyer.” The speaker’s summary included this nugget of wisdom: “If the deal doesn’t work for both parties, it’s not a good deal. The new printing buyer is all about win-win situations!” I’m not sure I’ve found that to be true in the marketplace. In fact, it’s been my experience that the new printing buyer is all about taking advantage of what is clearly a buyer’s market. But that doesn’t change the fact that printing sales is a no-lose proposition.
Prospecting Skills and Attitudes Are you doing enough prospecting? For 99% of all printing salespeople, I think the answer is no. That’s my experience anyway. I hear a lot of talk about wanting to make more money, but I don’t see as much action toward making it happen. And I think there’s a simple equation at work here—more money requires more customers!
Five Fundamental Questions I have long believed that the best selling is interrogatory rather than declaratory. In other words, it’s more about questions than statements. Yes, there comes a point where you have to tell someone why you think they should buy from you, but the great salespeople get to that point by asking questions to identify needs and wants. To put that another way, they ask questions to identify hot buttons, and then make statements that push those specific buttons. What I have found even more interesting is that great salespeople question themselves as part of the process. In fact, of the five most fundamental questions a salesperson should be asking, only one of them is directed to the buyer.
Professionals, Amateurs and Civilians I got an e-mail from a printing salesperson the other day, and it included a very complete signature block — his signed signature over his name, title, company name, e-mail address, website address and phone numbers, all set to the right of the company logo. What I found most interesting in all of that was that he listed his title as Print Professional. That set off two thoughts. First, is Print Professional a better title than, for example, Sales Representative? And second, what are some of the factors that differentiate the true professionals from the opposite in our industry at this point in time?
Reeling ‘Em In (vs Shooting ‘Em Dead!) In the sales community, we talk about hunters and farmers. Hunters find new customers. Farmers maintain and service existing customers. It’s generally assumed that one salesperson can’t be great at both things. And that’s often true, because hunting and farming do require different skillsets and attitudes. But it’s not always true, or even a good way of thinking about selling and salespeople.
Rose Colored Bi-Focals When I was a kid, “You must need glasses!” was a pretty common insult. I remember saying it to other kids, and once to a Little League umpire. (That got me thrown out of the game!) It turns out, though, that printing salespeople do need glasses. Specifically, they need rose-colored bi-focals, because success in the modern marketplace requires good near vision and far vision, and a fair share of optimism.
It Only Looks Disorganized On a recent onsite visit, I took a photo of the cubicle of the company’s top salesperson. He assured me that it only looked disorganized, and that in fact, he knew where everything was. So I bet him that he couldn’t find a hard-copy document I’d sent him two or three weeks earlier. Lunch was on him that day! The theme of this article is that better organized probably equals better sales results. Do you agree?
The $3MM Quick Printing Salesperson The available data suggests that the average sales volume of quick printing companies in the United State is somewhere between $500,000 and $700,000 per year. That’s not a very tight range, of course, because there’s not a lot of really good data. But let’s not worry about that today, because whether the truth is at the high or the low end of that range, I’m here to tell you about a single salesperson who has sold somewhere between 4-6 times the volume of the average quick printing company. Brynn Hudson has sold more than $3,000,000 in 3 separate years!
Driving The Sales Cycle There are no short cuts in selling, but there are ways to accelerate the process. The best way is probably to drive the "sales cycle" smoothly, to have a plan, and to eliminate the stops and starts that slow everything down. A long sales cycle is simply a reality of printing sales. That means you have to fill the cycle with building blocks, so that each touch ads something to the relationship you’re trying to build. Accelerate is a key word here, but so is escalate; in other words, the best strategy involves taking every touch up a notch.
Put More KIDding In Your Selling I was reminded recently of a column I wrote for Quick Printing back in 1998. It was titled “IQDD — An Acronymic Approach To Successful Selling.” IQDD stands for Identification, Qualification, Discussion and Decision, and I still think that’s a solid formula. But, like anything else from 15 years ago, it’s probably due for an update. So here’s a new acronym. KID = Knowledge, Interest, and then (and only then!) Discussion.
Direct Mail Still Works! I found an interesting article at the Bloomberg website. The lead paragraph said this: “Even as retailers debate the efficacy of social-media marketing on Facebook and Twitter, they have no doubts about the power of a decades-old technology to drive sales. The killer app is called email.” That last part may not sound like good news, but it is—as long as you recognize that you’re not in the printing business, you’re in the business communication business. You have opportunity in pretty much every medium that a business can use to communicate.
Teach The Kid, Not The Lesson My wife is a 4th Grade teacher, and she recently told me that too many teachers just teach from the lesson book. “They present the lessons,” she said, “and the kids either get it or they don’t. It works better when you engage them in the conversation. That way you can tell whether they’re getting it or not, and if not, you often learn why they’re not getting it, and that helps you to refine your teaching strategy.” In other words, she said, “you have to teach the kid, not the lesson.” To put that in sales training terms, you have to sell the customer, not the printing company. So please ask yourself, are you doing that, or are you locked into a presentation style as opposed to a consultative selling style?
Same Stuff, Different Continent I was three days and two seminars into a trip to Australia when I wrote this. As always, I was struck by the differences and similarities between Aussies and Americans. We all speak English, but it’s not nearly the same English. And we all sell printing, but it’s not quite the same printing. Sure the technology is the same, but paper sizes are different down here, and they refer to the various printed products by different names. The sales challenges they face, though, are very much the same as the ones you face.
Good Selling, Or Not? I walked into one of the Big Box stores one morning not too long ago, intending to buy a top-of-the-line Dyson vacuum cleaner for $600+. I walked out with a Shark vacuum that listed for $250 and was on sale for $200. The salesperson sold me on the Shark, telling me that it was probably 90% as good as the Dyson for 1/3 of the cost. Here's the question: Was that good selling, great selling, or poor selling.
Rolling Stones and Printing Sales What my client actually said was “I’m not getting very much in the way of satisfaction from this.” What I heard in the soundtrack section of my brain was da da, da da daaaaah. I’m pretty sure Mick Jagger and Keith Richards weren’t thinking about printing sales when they wrote “Satisfaction” back in 1965, but the sentiment is probably familiar to everyone in sales. So here’s the question, if you’re not getting much in the way of satisfaction from your sales efforts, what should you do?
Things I Think I Think I borrowed the title for this column from Peter King, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated. King writes mostly about football. I write mostly about selling. But I think there’s a connection between the title of his column and the challenges printing salespeople face. And the connection is that printing salespeople don’t think enough.
And The Winner Is… One of my sales coaching clients recently competed for a very large order. She didn’t win it, and she was pretty discouraged. This column explains why she didn’t win what was a never more than a longshot to begin with. It also identifies several positives which came out of the experience.
Talkin’ ‘Bout My G-G-G-Generation I recently attended a seminar on Generational Selling Tactics, because I think there’s a perception in the printing industry—in many industries, for that matter—that everything we thought we knew about sales and marketing has changed over the last few years. The good news is, that isn’t true! The bad news is, it’s not as simple as that. Everything hasn’t changed, but much has and is changing. Interestingly, though, I think very little of the complaining I’m hearing from printers is directly related to the change that they think they’re complaining about. In other words, it’s not the new generation that’s the problem. It’s the last generatio!
I’m Still Not ALL a’Twitter I wrote a column a couple of years ago titled “I’m NOT All a’Twitter” in which I mentioned that I’d been asked a few times to put together a seminar on Social Media Networking, but I’d declined. My rationale was that printing salespeople were already wasting too much of their time, and anything that added more potential for time-wasting was a bad thing. When I was asked to do a keynote on the same subject midway through last year, I was tempted to decline again, but the organizer of the event talked me into it. “I want my people to hear the warning about wasting time,” she said, “but I also want them to hear your ideas on how to use these media, especially the part about projectors and receivers.”
Gimme A Good Reason! As you may have noticed over the years, my inspiration for these columns tends to come from some strange places. This one came from a conversation I overheard between two young men who were sitting in the row behind me on a recent flight from Chicago to San Francisco. One young man was claiming the right to hold the iPad on which they were going to watch a movie. The other young man screamed out: “Gimme a good reason!” Their mother shushed them both, and negotiated a compromise. It struck me, though, that the second young man had identified a critical obstacle that most printing salespeople face. It’s been my experience that you can accomplish a lot by giving people a good reason to do what you want them to do.
Without Really Trying? I haven’t read any of the Harry Potter novels, or watched any of the movies. I have, however, watched Daniel Radcliffe sing and dance on the stage of the Ed Sullivan theatre, performing on David Letterman’s show with most of the rest of the cast of “How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying.” As I’ve written before, my father was a big fan of Broadway musicals, and “How To Succeed” was one of his favorites. I’m not sure how he would have reacted to Harry Potter playing J. Pierrepont Finch, but I think I do know how he felt about the issue of succeeding in business without really trying. “It happens,” he told me once, “just often enough to prove that it’s possible. But it’s not very likely.”
What Do You Sell? I think most salespeople do a poor job of explaining what they sell—what prospects and/or customers could be/should be buying from them—and that most salespeople also do a poor job of networking. This column deals with both of those issues. Starting with the networking issue, I point out that the development of new customers can start at any time or any place. It doesn’t have to be a “networking event” like a Chamber or BNI meeting. As for the explanation of what you sell, most of the “elevator speeches” I hear need a lot of work. I’ve written before that most printing buyers are civilians—my term for people who don’t have professional knowledge of the printing industry. If all you say is that you sell printing, you’re leaving it up to them to define your product line, and that’s very bad strategy.
Buying Groups: How Big A Threat? One of the attendees at a recent seminar raised an interesting question. “Some of my customers are talking about joining buying groups,” she said. “What can I do about that?” Here’s my answer: I’m not sure you can do anything about customers joining buying groups. You can, however, position yourself so that in the worst case scenario, you might lose a battle, but you won’t lose the war—and in the best case scenario, you might gain a few new customers!
Shuffle Up And Deal! I’ve been playing poker since my college days, and I have enjoyed the “poker revolution” that’s been stimulated by televised coverage of the major tournaments, and of course, by the 24/7 opportunity to play online. Some people may be troubled by the gambling aspect, but I think poker is a great game, and over the last few years in particular, it’s given me an outlet for my competitive nature—now that I’m too old to play competitive basketball anymore!And, it turns out, some of the lessons and strategies of poker can be applied to the challenges of printing sales.
Purple Cows Revisited I wrote this after hearing Seth Godin speak at Selling Power Magazine’s 2010 Leadership Conference. Godin is the author of 12 books, including Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Becoming Remarkable, which I mentioned in a QP column back in 2004. Some of his other titles include Meatball Sundae, Free Prize Inside, and All Marketers Are Liars Tell Stories. As you might guess from the titles, Seth’s a funny guy, but he’s also a serious guy, and he had some things to say about business—and specifically about the printing business—that are worth passing along.
Customers Up For Grabs I have written in the past that all printing buyers will fit into one of just five categories: solids, liquids, gases, players and price monsters. It turns out that there's a sixth category: orphans. These are the people whose printer has gone out of business. There are solids, liquids, players and price monsters among the orphans, but they all have at least one gaseous characteristic now—they have to try a new printer the next time around!
Stay Positive There are plenty of reasons to hate your competitors. It's bad enough that they seem to have some kind of hold over your prospects which keeps you from getting your foot in those doors. Beyond that, some have the gall to approach your own customers, often with ridiculously low prices that threaten your established relationships. It can be tempting to tell both your customers and your prospects what incredible jerks those other printers are. But, please, don't do that! There's almost nothing that makes a salesperson look worse than bad-mouthing the competition. Here's a better approach. They're good, but we're at least as good, and maybe even better! If you establish that position, you can compete on a positive basis.
I'm NOT All a'Twitter! The hot topic in sales training these days seems to be Social Media Networking. In fact, I've been turned down for several speaking engagements recently because that's what the organizers think their constituents want/need to hear about. "Can you put a seminar together on how to use Facebook and Twitter in printing sales?" I've been asked? "I could, but I won't," has been my answer. Why? Because printing salespeople are wasting enough time already without adding more to the mix.
Not Just Another Printing Salesperson! In an earlier column, I wrote about invisibility, and in the closing paragraphs of that column, I posed a question: If you're a salesperson—or the owner in the sales role—how do you deal with customers who are content to just send in their orders when they need something, and prospects who don't want to spend any time with another printing salesperson? The answer, I wrote, is both complex and simple, and the simple part is to not be just another printing salesperson. That's a simple statement, of course, but it's likely to be complex in execution, so I wrote this column to explain how to make a visibility strategy work.
Transparency "I can see right through you," said the buyer to the salesperson. "I know exactly what you're trying to do!" Question: Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I think it's a very good thing, because I believe that the best selling is highly transparent—no tricks, no games, and no subterfuge. The great salespeople don't trick anyone into buying from them; they help their prospects and customers to reach an unmistakable conclusion. When a great salesperson makes a sale, there's no "buyer's remorse", just the confidence that comes from making a good decision.
Distributors Face Hard Times With the exception of the first five words and two closing paragraphs, I wrote the rest of this piece—which was published in Quick Printing in January 2009—for a forms industry publication back in October 1990. The point was not just to save me some writing time, but to remind everyone that the current down-cycle will end, just like the one in 1990 did, and to remind everyone of what you have to do to come out healthy on the other side.
7 (More) Pretty Good Questions I was reminded of a column I wrote more than 15 years ago, titled "15 Pretty Good Questions" — a list of questions that make up a very good needs/wants analysis, first conversation with a prospect. The printer who reminded me had a specific request: a list of questions to ask a customer as opposed to a prospect, for the purpose of gaining more business from that customer. That sounded like a pretty reasonable request, so I wrote this column.
Make It Work! My wife is a devoted Project Runway fan. If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s one of those reality TV competitions where one contestant is “voted off the island” every week. Heidi Klum is the host of the show, but another important player is Tim Gunn, who serves as the designers’ mentor during each challenge. At least once during each episode, Tim exhorts the designers to “make it work!” — and I think you should consider making that part of your mantra.
How To Take A Customer Away From A Competitor When I first started hanging around with quick printers, back in the late 80’s, one of the things that attracted me to this industry segment was the aura of friendly competition. “There’s plenty of business for everyone” was the attitude, and probably the reality as well. It’s not true anymore, though. If you want new customers these days, you may very well have to take them away from a competitor!
“It’s Crazy Out Here!” “It’s gotten crazy out here,” the quick printer said. “Two of my Top 10 customers just told me that they’re going to start bidding every job, and another one is going to do a ‘reverse auction’ for a contract for all of next year’s printing. How do I deal with this?” This column, written during the worst of the credit markets meltdown in October 2008, suggests some answers to that question.
Communication Is The Key This column started with a question: “What kind of printing do you sell?” Then I listed some bad answers. Why were they bad? Because the “civilians” who buy printing don’t always understand printing industry terminology, and because it’s the salesperson’s responsibility to communicate with the buyer, not the other way around! I also took a shot at one of my least favorite elements of sales jargon, the far-too-often-used term solutions. Read on!
ROI Is The Key To VDP/EP Personalization adds cost to a direct mail program, and extreme personalization—my preferred term for what many call VDP (Variable Data Printing)—can add extreme cost. The common justification for that cost is in better response rates, but printers’ customers don’t seem to be responding to that intellectual argument very well so far. Focusing on ROI (Return On Investment) is a much better selling strategy!
Tipping Points In an earlier column, I used the term “tipping points” to describe a pain point or hot button that might help you to wrestle a suspect or prospect away from their current supplier. The basic idea behind all consultive or “solutions-based” selling is to find something they’re less than 100% satisfied with, or something they would value but are not getting from the printer-in-place. The ability to relieve pain or solve a problem—or to simply offer a better way of doing things—provides you with a competitive advantage. This column suggests several approaches to finding that “tipping point.”
Don’t Tell Your Whole Story! It’s been my experience that most quick/digital/small commercial printing salespeople are very presentation-oriented. In other words, they can’t wait to shoot off all of their big sales and marketing guns. The unfortunate result is that the buyer usually doesn’t hear most of what the seller is saying. A lot of it simply gets lost in the volume of words. (Another way to say this, of course, is that most salespeople talk way too much!) This article suggests a “smaller slice” approach.
Printing For (Non)Profit This article was stimulated by a conversation with my daughter, a recent college graduate at that point, working for a non-profit organization in New York. I was struck by several similarities of her situation to printing sales—one being that she’s not getting a lot of training, so she has to be learning on her own. Another similarity is that fundraisers find themselves talking to people’s voice mails and answering machines just as often as salespeople do. With these similarities as a starting point, I wrote an article which provides some solutions to shared problems, and also some insight into the non-profit world.
It’s The Little Things… I’ve been privileged to observe quite a few great salespeople over the years. In fact, it’s been my practice to pay attention whenever anyone’s trying to sell me something. I watch and listen to what they do and what they say, and here, I think, is my most compelling observation about these great salespeople. What sets them apart is not some big thing. It’s really more that they master the little things that can make a big difference. This article introduces a few of those “little things.”
Cold Isn’t Bold, It’s Old! This article starts out with a joke (all the more reason to read it!) but it deals with a serious topic. The first segment stresses that walking cold into a building and expecting to meet with a decision-maker is a losing proposition. The second segment, though, suggest a strategy for telephone cold calls that can be very effective. As always, I point out, it’s about good strategy and reasonable expectations.
The “C” Myth Michael Gerber wrote “The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It.” This article is about The “C” Myth. That’s the idea that all selling should be targeted at the C Level (CEO, COO, CFO etc.). In theory, it certainly makes sense to be talking to the top dog. In practice, though, most quick/digital/small commercial salespeople can’t get anywhere near the C Level in big companies, and beyond that, very few quick/digital/small commercial printing salespeople are really equipped to sell at that level. That’s OK, though, because plenty of printing is being purchased at the “D” Level and the “M” Level, and that’s where I think most of your initial sales efforts should be focused.
More Business From Your Current Customers: Product Opportunities and People Opportunities There are really only two ways to grow a printing business. One is to gain new customers. The other is to increase the volume of business you do with the customers you’ve already got. What’s sad, though, is that few printers really work at growing their current customers. Oh sure, you work hard at providing a level of quality and service that will keep them coming back, but is that the same as really working at developing your customers? This article suggests that you should recognize that you have two main avenues for growth with your current customers. I call them product opportunities and people opportunities
Set Your Goals And Make Your Plans It’s been said that failing to plan is the same as planning to fail. That’s very true for salespeople—and especially true for “reluctant” or inexperienced printing salespeople. One of the keys to success in selling is to set reasonable and measurable goals, and then to make a plan to attain those goals, and that’s what this article is about!
Fundamentals Beat Flash The bottom line to this discussion is that fundamentals beat flash in selling far more often than the other way around. The salesperson who asks the best questions is most likely to find real opportunity, and in turn most likely to present the best solutions to whatever problems his/her prospect may be having. The printing industry has changed dramatically over the last 5, 10, 20 or even 50 years, but the fundamentals of selling have not changed a bit. This column reflects my vote for more “old school” and less jargon and more prospecting and better questions and more professionalism and less emphasis on finding new sales paradigms and other non-existent shortcuts.
I Can Take No For An Answer The starting point for this article is that you can’t sell to everyone. I wish you could. I wish I could. The truth of the matter, though, is that no printing salesperson will ever succeed at “closing” every sale or turning every prospect into a customer. That’s OK, though, because there’s another “ground truth” to the printing sales situation, and that’s that no hard-working quick/digital/small commercial printing salesperson is ever likely to run out of people to sell to. As long as both statements are true—you can’t sell to everyone, but you won’t run out of people to sell to—the only real negative to hearing “no” from a prospect is the time it took to get there.
I Can Still Take No For An Answer I wrote earlier that most printing salespeople should probably be saying “no” far more often in the early qualifying stages of the selling process. A lot of sales time gets wasted chasing after suspects who are not really prospects and who will probably never be good customers. As I wrote then, qualifying decisions should be made on the basis of probability rather than just possibility. I make an exception to that rule, though, as long as we’re talking about companies that buy a lot of printing. In a situation like this, I would expect to run into a series of “no’s” before I got anywhere near any orders. But with patience and a plan, I’d be willing to hang in there with a few whale-sized suspects in the hope of generating enough real interest to consider them fully qualified prospects at some point in the future.
Meeting The Voice Mail Challenge This column was originally published in three parts. As the title suggests, it’s all about dealing with voice mail, which most printing salespeople seem to hate, but I absolutely love. In seminars, I often tell a story about how voice mail was invented by a printing salesperson—in fact, by a direct descendant of Benjamin Franklin! That’s not true of course, but I tell the story to reinforce the idea that voice mail can be a powerful tool for a printing salesperson. You just have to use it effectively, and I think the “problem” with voice mail is that most salespeople don’t.
Your Product Line, Your Strike Zone, and Your Selling Proposition The main point of this article is that product line is all about capability, strike zone is all about competitive, and selling proposition is all about why you think they should buy from you, or perhaps in the early stages, why you think they should meet with you and talk with you and take you seriously. The other main point is that the closer you stick to your strike zone, the higher your batting average is likely to be.
Be Specific This is a continuation of GPMP, SPMP & SCMP, and it describes both the Specific Prospect Marketing Plan and Specific Customer Marketing Plan. As noted in the description of my earlier column, the basic idea is that building and executing a plan will get you better results than “wishing and hoping” for success.
GPMP, SPMP & SCMP These acronyms stand for General Prospecting Marketing Plan, Specific Prospect Marketing Plan and Specific Customer Marketing Plan, and the basic idea is that building and executing a plan will get you better results than “wishing and hoping.” This column describes my GPMP strategy and sets the stage for Be Specific, which deals with SPMP and SCMP.
Is Your Jargon Getting In The Way? (Or Are You Just Not Talking To The Right Person?) I went out on a day of sales calls with a fairly experienced quick/digital printing salesperson a few weeks ago, and his emphasis on most of those sales calls was Variable Data Printing. His company recently installed a new state-of-the-art digital printer, and his boss has made it very clear that she wants to get that machine up an running at its full capacity in a very short time. So with me tagging along, he went out and told four of his customers and two of his prospects about the wonders of Variable Data and Variable Imaging and One-to-One Marketing, and I’m pretty sure that none of the people we talked to could care any less. Here are some thought on selling advanced capabilities more effectively.
The Difference Between Good And Great One of my sales coaching clients told me about a sales call he’d recently been on. “It wasn’t just a good sales call,” he said, “it was a great sales call!” The reason, he said, was that he’d picked up a large order. That got me thinking about when the real selling gets done…not on the day you pick up the order, but on the day(s) when you identify a suspect or prospect’s problems, present solutions, and build relationships.
“We’re Happy With Our Current Printer” From what I hear, “We’re happy with our current printer” is about the most common initial objection being faced by printing salespeople today. So what should you do when you hear it? It seems to me that most salespeople try some variation on the theme of “Please consider me as a backup, if there’s ever anything they can’t do for you, or if they ever let you down.” In this article, I explain what’s wrong with that strategy and suggest a better one.
Have Courage! In an earlier article (Have You Ever Seen A Purple Cow?), I noted that I don’t see a lot of guts and daring in printing sales, and I promised to write more about sales courage. In this article, I explain that it takes three kinds of courage to be successful as a printing salesperson: Courage of Knowledge, Courage for Contact, and Courage to Question. I’m pretty sure you’ll find that courage alone will make you a better salesperson!
FABEA Takes FAB To Another Level Everyone in sales should be familiar with the FAB formula. The basic idea is that every product has features, which in turn create advantages, which ultimately provide benefits. It’s been my experience, though, that most salespeople don’t use the FAB formula very effectively in their selling, and many don’t really understand the way it works in the first place. This article explains FAB and FABEA, and how to put both strategies to work for you.
Shut Up And Sell! Most salespeople talk too much, and that seems to be especially true of quick/digital/small commercial printing salespeople. In all fairness, that may be mostly a reflection of the relative youth of our industry’s salesforce, and the fact that most young and/or inexperienced salespeople don’t really know any better. Even if it’s explainable, though, too much talking is still a major obstacle to sales success. This article presents “guide and listen” as a much better selling strategy.
The 7-Hour Selling Plan It’s admittedly hard for many quick/small commercial printers to make time for their selling efforts. I’ve had a lot of success with some of my Sales Coaching clients, though, with a program that requires only seven hours each week. The basics of that program are described in this article.
Buying Signals A lot has been written about selling strategy and technique over the years, much of it contradictory and some of it downright confusing. One of the things that has always confused me is an emphasis on the body language of the prospect. I don’t reject the idea that there are buying signals, it’s just that I’ve found them to be more audible and behavioral than visual in the printing sales arena. The bottom line in this article is that I think we should all be concerned less with interpreting buying signals and more with making the sale!
Taking It One Challenge At A Time There are very few shortcuts in selling, and there’s a name for the type of salesperson who is always looking for shortcuts. We call them underachievers! Selling successfully is not a single challenge. It’s a series of challenges, and the best way to approach these challenges is to take them one at a time.
Negotiations And Love Songs You don’t get what you deserve in business, according to Chester L. Karras, you get what you negotiate. Karras is the author of several books on negotiation strategy and technique, and according to his promotional materials, his organization presents more than 1000 seminars each year. This article represents some of my thoughts on the “art” of negotiation.
Scattered (Sales & Marketing) Thoughts This is an article that touched on a number of sales/marketing issues, including the “we’re under contract” objection, the idea of establishing a “unique selling proposition,” and a couple of common buzzwords that are either bring over-used in printing sales or not used enough.
How Do I Choose The Best Prospects For My Selling Efforts? One of the main points of this article is that you don’t “choose” prospects—the process has to start with identifying suspects! Then you qualify those suspects and continue to work the ones who are really prospects. The other main point was some suggestions on what sort of companies to target at suspects.
Catching The Big Fish There’s some truth to the idea that it’s just as easy to gain a large new customer as it is to gain a small new customer. But “just as easy” doesn’t mean that you can approach the challenges in the same way. This article (which was originally published in Quick Printing in two parts) explains some of the strategy for pursuing “big fish” prospects.
Think Like A Winner I’ve come to realize over the years that one of the keys to success in printing sales is simply to think like a winner. Most printing salespeople don’t, they think of themselves as “second class citizens” who have to take a subservient role to their customers and prospects. This is an article about thinking more like a winner—the first step to getting there!
Preparing For Your Proposal This is the follow up article to “A Proposal Regarding Your Quoting Strategy” (in the General Management section) in which I noted how important it is to prepare for your proposal by asking the right questions at the point where you’re taking the specifications on a project. The whole idea, as I explain, is to give yourself something to work with if your customer or prospect comes back at you with a price objection.
Value vs. Pain I’ve written about a selling strategy that emphasizes making proposals to your prospects and customers as opposed to simply quoting on their projects. I’ve also stressed the point that you win at the printing sales game by identifying pain—either actual pain and aggravation prospects have had with printers in the past, or potential pain if a “worst case scenario” should occur on the current project—and positioning yourself as the solution to either the past or potential problem.
Take A Longer View Of Selling If I walked into your printshop and tried to sell you something tomorrow, would you buy from me? The answer is that you probably would not. No matter what you’re selling—and no matter how good a deal you’re offering—most people will be wary of buying from any salesperson the very first time he or she calls on them. That’s why you have to take a longer view of selling…and have a multiple-contact plan!
Targeting The Very Best Prospects How do you wade through all of the myriad possibilities and decide who your best prospects for new business really are? To do this right, you have to consider two things: first, who’s likely to buy a worthwhile amount of your kind of printing; and second, who’s likely to be interested in buying it from you.
The Selling Factor This article was written specifically for selling owners, and it explains the importance of looking good, sounding good, and acting right when you have that selling hat on.
The Winds Of Change One of the most common—and problematical—situations printing salespeople face is when change occurs at the customer’s workplace; specifically where things change or people change in the customer’s organization. Here’s how you defend yourself against the winds of change.
Winning The “Quote & Order” Game Quoting is part of the reality of selling, and there are times when gaining the chance to quote really does represent what I call a “little victory” in the selling process. There are other times, though, when a quote opportunity is really only a ploy to make you go away. Here’s how to tell the difference, and how to win more often at this part of the selling game.
Turning In Your Homework One of the techniques I teach in my PRINTSELLING seminar is called turning in your homework. It's used as part of the opening phase of a sales call, and its purpose is to show a prospect that you care...that you care enough about your own business to be alert to your marketplace, and even more importantly that you care enough about getting his/her business to have invested some effort in learning something about it.
Samples That Sell! I think it’s a fair statement that just about every printing salesperson on this planet uses samples as part of his or her selling efforts, but samples of your work can’t demonstrate quality all by themselves. They can do a couple of other important things, though. As a start, they can demonstrate your capabilities—all of the various printed products you’re capable of providing to each of your customers.
Effective Sales Letters Help You Stand Out In The Crowd In my experience, sales letters are an under-utilized tool in most quick printing companies’ marketing strategy. When used properly, sales letters fall into the category of direct marketing. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anything more direct than a letter written to a busy decisionmaker, telling him—or her—why it’s worthwhile to take the next step in the buying/selling process with you and your company.
You Can’t Sell To Everyone You can’t sell to everyone. Not every prospect will eventually become a customer. But that’s OK, because you have no shortage of prospects! One of the great things about this industry is that literally every business, educational, or social organization has at least some level of printing need.
A Never-Ending Opportunity You can’t sell to everyone, but you’re unlikely to run out of people to sell to. You might run out of selling time, though, if you spend too much of it barking up the wrong trees. This article explains how to take full advantage of your never-ending opportunity with a highly objective prospect rating system.
Can You Prove It? My strategy when faced with a price objection is to tell the buyer why he/she should buy from me anyway…why I’m worth a higher price. Experience has shown that you can’t just say those words and expect everyone to believe them, though. You have to offer some evidence too!
Head Start Selling Referrals give a salesperson a significant head start in building the trust and confidence that has to be at the foundation of a successful selling relationship. This article explains how to get them, and how to use them.
Hero Opportunities There's a great deal of long-term benefit to be found in taking advantage of the “hero opportunities” that occur regularly in the dealings between a quick printer and his or her customers.
Selling Situations: How Do I Handle... This article provides insight into a number of all-too-common selling situations, like following up on “occasional” prospects and dealing with bid situations—especially the bid situation where you’re competing with an “impossible” price.
If You Can’t Beat Your Customers’ Laser Printers...Join Them! The trend toward customers doing much of their own printing on their own laser printers is a disturbing one, but there are positive opportunities here too. This article describes strategies for selling printed products which can be used along with the laser printer, enhancing its value to your customer.
IQDD—An Acronymic Approach To Successful Selling This article describes an acronymic approach to prospecting, the first stage of the selling process. The acronym is IQDD—pronounced IQ Double D—and it stands for Identification, Qualification, Discussion & Decision. These are the steps a printing salesperson should follow in determining who is worthy of a concerted selling effort.
It Sells Itself! I often hear salespeople and marketing people talking about products that sell themselves, but I’d rather deal in products that require at least a little bit of selling, because in that selling process, you have the opportunity to show people why they should buy from you…either one individual product, or all of the products and services you sell.
Knowledge Is Power There's a tremendous amount of power available to any printing salesperson—and any printing company—in knowing all there is to know about the customer, and that includes knowing the customer as an individual, as a friend, as an organization, as an indicator, and as a critical business asset.
Little Victories Add Up To Big Wins I’ve observed that most of the salespeople I work with want everything to happen NOW, and so do most of the printshop/copyshop owners who employ them. Relationships take time to build, though, and the best way to make—and measure—progress is by working toward and counting up the “little victories.”
Magic Words It's been my experience that the common objections fall into four basic categories. There's the "price is to high" objection; the "I don't do the kind of printing that you specialize in" objection; the "I've already got a printer that I'm happy with" objection; and the one where the prospect doesn't understand what you're trying to say. This article suggests a set of “magic words” that can help you to address most of these objections.
The Selling Game: Playing To Win! Selling is a game. It’s a game with rules and a game which requires certain skills. And while there are new wrinkles being added all the time to the way the selling game is played—especially as technology has changed the way people who sell things and people who buy things communicate with each other—the essential skills required haven’t changed much, and there are also tried-and-true strategies and techniques that work just as well today as they did in the “old days.”
Stages Of The Game Continuing on the theme that selling is a game, this article likens selling to bicycle racing—a game measured in stages—and explains where you are and what you need to accomplish at each stage of the selling game.
Inquiries, Tips, And Finds A description of each of the three different types of sales leads, and how to follow up appropriately.
The Essence Of Good Selling A look at the “Four C’s” of selling, leading to the knowledge that a consultive, counseling approach is the best way to go.
No Soliciting A presentation on cold call strategy, including advice on what to do when you come up against the creaded "No Soliciting" sign.
The Rhythm Method You can't rush the development of a customer. It takes a certain amount of contact—especially early on—in order to keep from being too pushy.
Easy As 1-2-3 The next step in rhythm...how to put together three separate sales conversations to help you “get to six.”
15 Pretty Good Questions The purpose of any first conversation with a prospective customer should be to gather information. Here are 15 questions to form the core of an introductory sales call.
Turning Shoppers Into Buyers A presentation of techniques to get from quote to order and turn printing shoppers into buyers.
Telephone Selling The telephone is an incredible business tool, but it has limitations as a selling tool. This article tells how to work around those limitations and use the phone effectively.
TLC In TCM A continuation on telephone selling strategy, including discussion of telephone technique and timing, and description of PIM and CM software.
Got The Voice Mail Blues? Most printing salespeople say that they hate voice mail, but that’s only because they’re using it all wrong. Here’s how to use voice mail to your advantage.
Craftsmanship Or Salesmanship Is printing a craft or a product. The answer dictates what will be effective in terms of selling strategy.
The Printer’s Product Product knowledge has always been an important factor in selling success. This article points out that there are two kinds of product knowledge in the quick printing industry, and one is even more important than the other!
Your Price Is Too High! Do you know what to do when a customer or prospect tells you your price is too high? Here’s some real-world strategy for handling price objections!
If You Could Read Their Minds Selling would be really easy if you could read each customer’s mind. That may not be possible, but this article will tell you what many of them are thinking.
Stop Selling Quality...Start Selling Quality Control! It’s hard to imagine a printing company that doesn’t use samples in its marketing efforts, but most printers use them all wrong...expecting them to be viewed as evidence of quality. The real key to marketing quality is through quality control.
The Marketing Marketplace The purpose of the printing is the most important consideration for may print buyers, especially those who work in marketing themselves, and are using the printing as part of their own marketing efforts.
Building A Buying Habit It’s important to know who your customers are—not just the names of the companies, but the people themselves. It’s also important not to be satisfied just because you get orders every once in a while. The real opportunity with any customer is to build a buying habit!
Business Building Questions Part of the secret to selling is to ask the right questions, and that’s especially true when you’re trying to gain more business from current customers. This article features specific “business building questions” for specific product categories.
David Fellman & Associates
107 Linecrest Court, Cary, NC 27518
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