Among the many opportunities that digital printing can bring to commercial printing operations, and among the investments that companies have made in technology, a weak link in the chain of success exists in sales. Simply put, digital print sales are different, especially for print sales professionals who “came” to sell traditional print. Who better to talk to, then, than the print industry business consultants who help print vendors get past the digital sales roadblock?
“A lot of current sellers,” points out Kate Dunn, president of Evolve Sales Group, “are older and started selling prints in another era.” She says their previous mindset involved “waiting for the fish to jump into the boat”.
Good with clients, not prospecting
Linda Bishop, president of Thought Transformation, notes that one trait among those entrenched in traditional print sales is that they’re more likely high-level account managers who focus on current customers, but not so much. on building a volume of business. “They have impressive skills in many areas,” she says, “but maybe not for trying to build business in 2022.”
Barb Pellow, director of Pellow and Partners, argues that as the priorities of print service providers (PSPs) shift to better align with the needs of today’s customers, traditional strategies for sales no longer work.
In the early days of digital printing, the technology was met with skepticism by many people, including sales teams, who were reluctant to sell shorter runs. “I point to direction,” Pellow says, “because there was a lack of understanding and a lack of training.” Given the initial short-term reality of digital printing, the sales mindset was, “Why sell 500 copies when I could sell 500,000?”
According to Dunn, in many cases, customers were ahead of sales professionals in understanding, for example, release management, which resulted in more tasks, but shorter ones. Bishop says the early days of digital had a noticeable difference in quality compared to offset. “Now it’s a similar product made using different processes.”
Compensation structures have also allowed sales professionals to remain traditionally focused, even as digital production has become increasingly important. Bishop says, for example, “With a commission-based compensation model, opening the door to new clients is a time-consuming process.” For small jobs, salespeople don’t believe the results match the work required. “When sales are more strategic and long-term,” she says, “a different compensation model is needed.”
Dunn agrees, pointing out that offering the same [commission] percentage on all jobs “is the wrong choice”. To change behaviors, she says, it’s up to management to focus sales — through incentives — toward the types of work and technologies that represent the company’s future. “Give them a reason to work hard to figure out how to sell it,” Dunn advises.
Good compensation plan, good behavior
For sales professionals to thrive – and perhaps even enjoy – selling digital print, a shift in attitude or thinking may be required. According to Pellow, there are two key factors in changing hearts and minds: the compensation plan and training. She is certain that “having the right compensation plan will change behaviors”. Training, adds Pellow, will help teams get over the hurdle.
Bishop says the old model, where the seller manages the account, has become obsolete. Sellers need to engage when the customer engages. Once the transaction is closed, however, it must be passed to a CSR to manage what can be a complicated and very detailed production process. Bishop adds that sales professionals must learn to think in terms of a customer’s lifetime value, noting that those who focus on achieving goals quickly will gravitate to larger, compensation-focused accounts. She says they may not know how, for example, workflow automation is used in production to simplify processes and manage tasks. Again, this is a case of effective training.
Dunn thinks sales teams need to learn to focus on selling value rather than selling print – highlighting “this is what we do, and this is why we’re good at it”.
Adjusting or rethinking sales and changing a company’s sales culture means getting rid of outdated strategies or behaviors. This may include a change in management approach. According to Pellow, “Fixing sales teams is done by fixing management.” Bishop says it’s no longer enough to believe that customers buy from a particular printer based on quality and service. “If you’re still in business, then you’re a good printer,” she adds.
Dunn argues that sales professionals need to improve their prospecting, noting that many companies aren’t structured to spend the time on it. In the digital world, a single job can be complicated, requiring extra time and effort.
Despite the challenges, have print sales professionals reached a tipping point in their approach to digital printing? The answers here are mixed. Dunn believes the improvements in digital printing — particularly in terms of quality — have served to improve efforts to sell it. Bishop sees a lot of complacency: “We have a lot of people in the industry where the old model still works quite well.” Pellow says today’s big business is past the tipping point.
Sell solutions, not just individual jobs
Not all sales professionals have to deal with the quantum shift to digital printing. Some sellers are “digital natives” who have never sold traditional print. Asked how these professionals operate differently, Bishop thinks they see themselves as selling a technology solution, not printing. In digital-only print businesses, she says, “the value proposition is clearer.” For Pellow, the difference is that they think differently about printing: understanding the problem the customer is trying to solve, then selling the solution, rather than just selling work.
Dunn agrees, adding that it also depends on the type of business: while some businesses sell the same print using different technology, others, such as those selling multi-channel campaigns, are geared differently. They can also serve customers using different models and measurements.
Whether digital-focused sales teams are comprised of digital natives or skillfully retrained old-school veterans, proper compensation is key. Bishop recommends companies carefully consider their strategy before considering incentives, with a “goal of increasing revenue and profitability.” Pellow stresses that companies need to put their compensation plan in place and adds that the pandemic, in his view, has shifted selling from outbound to inbound, thus better complementing a CSR approach.
Regarding training, Dunn says, “Sales reps really just want the money, so [it] is not really valued. She says much of the training provided by OEMs, while informative, doesn’t help with sales.
Sales priorities – in this case, selling more digitally printed products – need to be demonstrated by management. Dunn recommends setting goals and holding teams accountable. This includes sales quotas based on multiple product lines and the percentage of each that should be numeric. As for responsibility, she says it cannot exist without consequences – “and we fight against the consequences”.
According to Bishop, analysis must become a key part of the strategy. This includes knowing how much revenue will be generated from digital production and understanding how to achieve this. She adds that the strategy should involve “getting the whole team involved” and that it shouldn’t be “a dumb idea that doesn’t last”.
Finally, Pellow says priorities are best demonstrated with “money – you do what you get paid to do”. She notes that if management invests in training and motivates people to do it, then it will happen. »
Dunn thinks the general way print is sold has changed. “Years ago,” she says, “when a sales rep owned the client, the owners were terrified to leave.” This is simply not the case in today’s printing environment. By selling value, she concludes, sales can transcend the individual and align more closely with the business.