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SELLING DIGITAL VS. OFFSET -- Making the Right Impression

March 2004
BY MARK SMITH

Technology Editor

It's hard to fault any conventional print sales rep for being hesitant to embrace digital services, be they static or variable data production capabilities. Change is never easy, and digital printing presents a different selling proposition.

Static jobs are almost by definition shorter runs done on-demand. This means a lot more effort is required to reach sales volumes comparable to offset work.

Variable data work can bring larger volumes, albeit generally produced in smaller lots, and it tends to support higher margins. The problem is, additional expertise is required to sell and produce personalized marketing programs. Also, sell cycles can run as long as six months to a year and can require consulting on database and marketing issues.

On top of these concerns is the fear of selling against oneself and losing offset work. Why put a shop's—and sales person's—bread and butter work at risk?

Conventional offset printers face these challenges and more if they look to incorporate digital printing services. The issues may not be easy to overcome, suggests Terry Nagi, a consultant and author who focuses on strategic business and marketing planning in the print and graphic communications sectors. Offering proof it can be done, though, are the Great Lakes Companies and Worth Higgins and Associates.

Nagi says he has seen first hand the difficulty traditional offset printers have integrating digital printing. This is true for companies that have tried creating a dedicated digital sales force or even a separate division, he adds. All scenarios are likely to meet resistance from traditional sheetfed salespeople, the consultant asserts.

"Your best digital prospects are your current customers. They are the ones where you may have higher level contacts, i.e. somebody beyond the purchasing agent," Nagi points out. "However, sales representatives don't want their references used to get in the door because that could put existing relationships at risk. It's potentially an opportunity to lose some credibility and current business."

Treating digital as a separate market also runs counter to the trend of print buyers wanting to deal with fewer printers, the consultant notes. He suggests printers not think in terms of offset versus digital printing, but rather as a continuum of services they can sell. "Coming in selling short-, medium- and long-run work creates more opportunities for the sales person," he says.

It's All in the Name

Nagi believes the approach most likely to succeed may be to set up a separate consultancy organization that offers data management services and advises on personalization. "Use a new name that isn't linked to the original printing company. Once you have a business relationship in place, then you can bring up the affiliation with the conventional printing company," he recommends.
 

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