Sales can often become the whipping boy of the printing business, being accused of not making the most of the technologies the company has, either from buying business on price, or missing opportunities that let other competitors in.
As business strategy moves on, sales risks not having relevant conversations with the customers anymore, and existing staff can struggle to adapt to new ways of doing business – especially with social media, cross media and new media and so forth.
Trust me when I tell you that you’re not alone, whether a business owner or a strategic part of the business, this is a common set of quiet thoughts and fears that are rarely admitted.
Over the years, within the traditional print industry, the conversations between print sales people and customers have worryingly changed very little, and tackling some of the areas below will help to elevate and enhance the value of these conversations. Despite the challenges in keeping sales effective as the food that sustains the business, some improvements in how sales are trained and incentivised can deliver significant rewards.
If your business is underperforming, or generating low profit from sales and operations, assuming you have competent sales people, it’s relatively straightforward to peel back the onion to understand why these things occur, and how you can start fixing them.
For example, your issue could be slow or no creation of digital or online Web2Print print sales.
Reasons it could be happening:
How are you managing incentives for these sales? No commission structure will reduce the likelihood of sales or focus in this area from the more traditional print sales person.
Individual ‘flat earth thinking’ on the part of the sales person – “ always done it this way so why change” / “too old to bother learning it all” / “don’t get it” / “don’t get paid on it”
Fear or a lack of understanding or confidence in both the technology itself, and where and how it can be applied and sold.
Actions to fix:
The solutions to all of these issues tend to fall into two areas: structuring incentives (not always just financial) and committing to an educational approach for your customer facing teams and business.
From an educational perspective you might consider getting your technology supplier in and ensure that everyone gets trained on the new technology. Ask them to help you put your first pitch together, and to share with you the various use case scenarios they have seen, maybe even have them visit a customer of two with your team members. This will make it much easier to talk about Web2Print to your customers.
Get recommendations for ‘good’ independent consultants who can help you to identify how to position your Web2Print offering, and to help you create materials to promote it. However, be sure they are totally unbiased and not aligned to companies that could influence their advice, or if they are aligned, make sure they are upfront about it. Referrals here are important to make sure you get the right person/s for your business.
Join a couple of industry bodies, such as the British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF); The Independent Print Industries Association (IPIA); Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM); and The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) etc. All of these organisations run training events and provide a lot of material, and access to industry experts that can really help propel your business forwards.
Spend more time researching and follow online resources such as blogs, social media and groups and forums. As well as getting useful tips, you’ll also talk to professionals in these areas and fellow print companies about the problems they may have had, and how they’ve succeeded in overcoming them.
Below are some quick and simple changes you can start to make across your business:
• Target sales teams on profit instead of turnover.
• Introduce incentives for all customer-facing teams, not just sales.
• Encourage an “ideas culture” by adding agenda items focused on success story and ideas sharing in sales meetings.
• Look at what others in your industry are doing, and don’t be afraid to copy what you may see in other peers and competitors as a winning formula.
• Set up “job swaps” where different team members get to experience their colleagues normal day, this is great for creating a stronger link between sales and operations as they more clearly understand each other’s challenges – and those of the customer. More often than not they will also see things through fresh eyes that their team mate may have missed!
• Reward new business introductions, so that people begin to take advantage of their networks, make it clear what job functions and business challenges you’re looking to solve so people are clear on what you need them to do. Remember nearly everyone within your company will know someone within their friends and family who are decision makers or own a company.
• Network… everywhere you get an opportunity… you never know that person next to you in line or on the train could hold the key to an amazing opportunity!
You do have to commit to the process, but as you can see from the list below, there’s a lot to be gained:
Results seen from making these changes:
• Increase in profitability of jobs/work
• Re engagement and securing of customers
• Education of customers
• Expansion of success stories/case studies
• Replication of approach and success with other customers
• Customer introductions and recommendations
• Happier tighter knit, supportive teams, happier customers and greater success
• Differentiation clearly established against competition
• Customer conversations become more applied and consultative; avoiding the commodity trap by becoming their partner and often part of their future planning!
Most printers would do well to take a step back, honestly assess their existing and future client base engagements levels, and evaluate those in the business who interact with the client base
Sadly many business owners I speak with often state that they believe their sales team could do better, and adopting the above snapshot of considerations and changes goes a long way to understanding how sales are performing, where the problems are and a few ideas on how to address them.
The more engaged your teams are, both with the business and any technology platforms, the more likely you’ll get the business outcomes you were planning, or presently wish for.