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Bill Farquharson

The Sales Challenge

By Bill Farquharson

About Bill

As a 30 year sales veteran, Bill has the perspective of a been-there, done-that sales rep in the commercial print arena. Following sales fundamentals and giving unapologetically "old school" advice, he writes and speaks in an entertaining fashion to make his points to sales people and owners who sell. "Bill Farquharson will drive your sales momentum."


THE Biggest Print Sales Issue Today

While driving to an appointment just outside of Wilmington, DE, I almost drove off of the road upon seeing this billboard. Turning around, I pulled off the road to take this shot:

Bill F Blog Photo 2.4.14
[+] click to enlarge

There it was, screaming its message against the blue sky: THE biggest issue in Print Sales today: We need sales people!

This is my sixth month working at the NAPL and if there is one statement I hear above all others, it is this one: “I can’t find good sales people A-N-Y-W-H-E-R-E!” Other popular sales-related comments include:

  • “My sales force is aging and I am worried about what my team will look like in five years.”
  • “What skills will my reps need in order to compete?”
  • “My sales people tell me they cannot get anyone on the phone. No one returns messages anymore.”
  • “I am having a hard time getting my reps to listen to me. My efforts to motivate aren’t working.”
  • Oh, and there’s this issue, too: “We tried to hire an intern. Two arranged for interviews. Both interviews were confirmed the night before. Neither of them showed up!

None of these comments are new or unique to NAPL members, of course, nor are they new or unique to 2014. It’s just that the issue seems to be more prevalent right now. Selling print requires an unprecedented amount of product knowledge. Not only is there the need to know your papers and production/postproduction equipment, suddenly reps need to be tech-savvy as well.

Poach—”What I’d really like is a rep who comes with a book of business.” Yes, that would be wonderful. Do you want a pony, too? It is not likely that this scenario will play out. A veteran rep “out looking” is “out looking” for a reason, and it is not always a good one. If your shop is tech-heavy, consider hiring certain fruit-logo’ed employees. They are already 'wicked smaht' in the field of files and they come pre-trained. Sweet!

Hire, Train and Pray—The vast majority of new hires are gone within 12 months. While this is the least expensive option, be sure you have time and the skills to manage and make an early thumbs up/thumbs down decision. Whatever you don’t like, it’s not going to get any better. Your best bet here is to invest in (self-promotion alert!!!) training.

Promote—How about moving a CSR up to Sales? They’d have great product knowledge. Just watch out for “CSR disease.” That is, they might want to mother their orders through the plant, thus limiting their ability to sell more.

Go With No—Ever thought about eliminating the outside sales force entirely? Before you guffaw that idea off of the blog, ask yourself if you could even do it. Or, at minimum, rethink the sales approach of your company. For example, what if you hired farmers who uncovered opportunities and then you became the Closer? Hmmm?

Selling print ain’t sexy. We’re not Google. We’re not Apple. But we’re not Buick, either. Name me another job where you get to discuss client needs, propose a really cool solution, and see it put into place.

Your best and cheapest option is to work with what you’ve got.* At the same time, you need to constantly, constantly, constantly be on the lookout for talent and new blood. One client I know of was so impressed with a young man working at a mall kiosk that he hired him. Keep your eyes open. There truly is an “it” gene to sales. Look for it.

Finding your “tomorrow sales team” might require a billboard on the side of a highway. Or it might be found on Monster. Or it is at the mall right now. But if you still want to be in business five to 10 years from now, you absolutely must consider the issue and then look for answers. E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E!

*February 11-12 please join me at NAPL Headquarters in East Rutherford, NJ, for a two-day sales workshop. Go to for more information or call me.

Bill Farquharson is a VP at NAPL. Contact him at or (201) 523-6357.

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