Tips from Trainers on Breaking the Digital Printing Sales Roadblock Among Your Older Salespeople
Amid the many opportunities digital printing can bring to commercial printing operations, and among the investments companies have made in technology, one weak link in the chain of success exists in sales. Simply put, digital printing sales is different – especially for print sales professionals who “came up” selling traditional printing. Who better to talk to, then, than printing industry sales consultants who help print providers on passing the digital sales roadblock?
“A lot of current salespeople,” Kate Dunn, president of Evolve Sales Group, points out, “are older and started selling print during a different time.” She says their previous mindset involved “waiting for the fish to jump into the boat.”
Good With Clients, Not at Prospecting
Linda Bishop, president of Thought Transformation, notes one trait among those rooted in traditional print sales is they are more likely high-level account managers who focus on current clients, but not so much on building a book of business. “They have awesome skills in many areas,” she says, “but maybe not for trying to build business in 2022.”
Barb Pellow, manager of Pellow and Partners, argues that as the priorities of print services providers (PSPs) change to better align with the wants of today’s customers, traditional sales compensation strategies no longer work.
In the early days of digital printing, the technology was met by many, including sales teams — who were reluctant to sell shorter runs — with skepticism. “I point the finger at management,” Pellow says, “because there was a gap in understanding and a lack in training.” Given the initial short-run reality of digital printing, the sales mindset was, “Why sell 500 of something when I could sell 500,000?”
According to Dunn, in many cases, customers were ahead of sales professionals in understanding, for instance, versioning — which brought more, but shorter, jobs. Bishop says that digital’s early days included a discernable quality difference when compared with offset. “Now, it’s a similar product made using different processes.”
Compensation structures have also served to keep sales professionals traditionally focused, even while digital output has become increasingly important. Bishop says, for instance, “With a commissioned compensation model, opening the door for new customers is a time-intensive process.” For small jobs, salespeople don’t believe the results meet the work required. “When sales is 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 call.” To change behavior, she says, it is up to management to focus sales — through incentives — toward the types of work and the technologies that represent the company’s future. “Give them a reason to do the hard work to figure out how to sell it,” Dunn advises.
Right Compensation Plan, Right Behavior
For sales professionals to flourish — and perhaps even enjoy — selling digital printing, a change in attitude or thinking may be required. According to Pellow, there are two key factors to changing hearts and minds: the compensation plan and training. She is certain that “having the right compensation plan will change behavior.” Training, Pellow adds, will help teams get over the hurdle.
Bishop says that the old model, where the salesperson manages the account, has become outmoded. Salespeople should get involved when the customer engages. Once the deal has closed, however, it should be passed to a CSR to manage what can be a complicated, detail-heavy production process. Bishop adds that sales professionals must learn to think in terms of the lifetime value of a client, noting that those who focus on quickly fulfilling goals will gravitate toward larger, offset-focused accounts. She says they may not be aware of how, for instance, workflow automation is used in production to simplify processes and manage jobs. Here, again, is a case for effective training.
Dunn believes sales teams must learn to focus on selling value instead of selling print — shining a brighter light on “here’s what we do, and here’s why we’re good at it.”
Adjusting or rethinking sales and changing a company’s sales culture means shedding outmoded strategies or behaviors. This can include a change in management’s approach. According to Pellow, “Fixing sales teams is done by fixing management.” Bishop says it is no longer enough to believe that clients 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 contends sales professionals need to become better at prospecting, noting that many companies are not structured to allow time for it. In the digital world, a single job can be complicated, requiring additional time and effort.
Despite the challenges, then, have print sales professionals reached a tipping point in their approach to digital printing? The answers here are mixed. Dunn believes improvements in digital printing — particularly in 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 well enough.” Pellow says that today’s leading companies have passed the tipping point.
Selling Solutions, Not Just Individual Jobs
Not all sales professionals must manage the quantum shift toward digital printing. Some salespeople 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 printing companies, she says “the value proposition is clearer.” To Pellow, the difference is they think differently about print: understanding the problem the customer is trying to solve, then selling the solution, versus simply selling jobs.
Dunn agrees, adding it also depends on the type of businesses: While some companies are selling the same print using a different technology, others — like those selling multichannel campaigns — are oriented differently. They may also serve customers using different models and metrics.
Whether digitally focused sales teams are comprised of digital natives, or old-school veterans expertly retrained, correct compensation is essential. Bishop recommends companies take a hard look at their strategy before looking into incentives, with a “goal of increasing revenues and profitability.” Pellow stresses that companies must get their compensation plan right, and adds that the pandemic, in her opinion, has changed selling from outbound to inbound, thus better complementing a CSR approach.
Regarding training, Dunn says, “Sales reps really just want the dollars, so [it] is not really valued.” She says that much of the training provided by OEMs, while informative, doesn’t help with selling.
Sales priorities — in this case, selling more digitally printed product — must be demonstrated by top 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 digital. Regarding accountability, she says it cannot exist without consequences — “and we struggle with consequences.”
According to Bishop, analytics need to become a key part of the strategy. This includes knowing how much revenue will be generated through digital production and understanding how to get there. She adds that the strategy should involve “getting the whole team on board,” and that it should not be “an idea-du-jour that doesn’t last.”
Finally, Pellow says priorities are best demonstrated with “money — you do what you get paid for.” She notes that if management invests in training and incentivizes people to do it, then it will happen.”
Dunn believes the general mode of print sales has changed. “Years ago,” she says, “when a sales rep owned the customer, owners were terrified that they would leave.” That just isn’t the case in today’s printing business environment. By selling value, she concludes, sales can transcend the individual and instead align more closely with the company.