Building Blocks That Help Drive Digital Printing Sales
As digital printing has become more mainstream in the past decade, it has become less about if sales staffs accept the “new” output method and more on how to successfully grow that revenue stream. Are CEOs and sales managers focusing on educating customers, training their own sales staffs, creating incentives to push smaller digital jobs over larger offset runs - or maybe a combination of all three?
Printing Impressions checked in with sales experts Barbara Pellow, of Pellow and Partners, and Bill Farquharson, president of Aspire For and author of “Who’s Making Money at Digital Printing … and How?” as well as Cliff Hollingsworth, general manager of TruColor in Greenville, S.C., to get a better picture of how printers are building those digital printing revenue stream and what tactics have been effective.
“It is assumed today that [digital] output quality will more than meet the needs of our customers, so the obstacle that allowed salespeople to make excuses for adoption in the past has been removed,” explains Hollingsworth. “There will always be a need for offset production, but digital options give salespeople many more options to present to their clients and put commission money in their pockets.”
Well-Thought-Out Business Plan Is Crucial
According to Pellow, the most successful firms have a clear business strategy in place. They have identified the target markets they want to address; the applications and services that are critical to customers and prospects within those market segments; and have developed the right portfolio.”
These firms hold their sales staffs accountable, she notes, and continually adapt their organizations to keep pace with ever-changing market conditions. “Success requires that owners and sales managers recognize that building out and filling their sales pipeline goes beyond selling more products - it requires a focus on customer satisfaction and retention, as well as new business development.”
High-growth organizations have segmented sales forces with reps that have responsibility for account growth and promoting new products and services within existing clients, Pellow points out. In addition, a portion of the resources are dedicated to focusing solely on new business development. “Management recognizes that it is extremely challenging for a salesperson to focus on new customers while needing to service existing clients,” she explains.
Farquharson says there are two smart choices. One is to apply digital print solutions after first learning the story behind the printed piece and determining that digital is the best option. “When customers witness the value of digital, not only are revenue streams for that application formed, but they see other ways to use the benefits,” he explains. “This can cause the customer to ask, ‘What if?’ Good things soon follow that thought.”
Second, he points out, is that the smart printers are working to understand different vertical markets. The equipment vendors can tell you what various verticals purchase. “But only when the business needs behind the applications are understood does the revenue stream exist,” Farquharson says.
Educated Sales Reps Educate Clients
Customer education is an ongoing process and starts with a well-educated sales force that can continually deliver market insight about how to more effectively use technology and the solutions it offers to reduce costs, grow revenue or streamline efficiency.
In parallel, Pellow says sales managers and owners are responsible for market conditioning. “Management has a responsibility to build awareness with prospective prospects through public relations, participation in trade shows and networking events, and inviting customers onsite for ‘lunch and learns’ and events.”
Keeping customers up to date on the technology the print provider uses and its advantages is also essential. “If your organization has invested in a digital press that has gold and silver ink capabilities, send a mail piece that provides examples of what can be done with the technology to enhance the value of direct mail.”
Additionally, Pellow notes that websites need to contain rich content and should include case history examples, insight about the market and the role print plays along with other media channels.
Now, according to Farquharson, it’s no surprise that social media also plays a big part. “My favorite approach is when a quick video is created that tells the story of a successful digital printing application. It can be as simple as four PowerPoint slides that present the client’s challenge, describe a digital print solution, give the results and offers contact information - all with just a few graphics and a voice-over,” he says. Although, it’s also an option to engage an ad agency or social media expert, one need not get fancy while spreading the word, he contends.
At TruColor, before any salesperson talks with a client, senior managers decide what applications they plan to implement, grow or support a revenue stream. How the product is going to be used is critical to what digital press and process TruColor plans to purchase. “This is where I personally present the capability and value that digital output offers,” explains Hollingsworth. “If you can involve your clients in the story early, education and buy-in are easy.”
After this decision has been made and the digital press is up and running, TruColor provides a capabilities and applications training series for the reps. Don’t be discouraged if some reps “get it” and some don’t, according to Hollingsworth. What normally has to happen is that the slow adopters see others having success and they will want the same opportunities.
“Press manufacturers and software companies offer case studies to help print sales reps get started, but having projects work out successfully in-house so the reps can truly ‘own the story’ is mandatory for long-term success to be realized,” he adds.
Tactics to Get Print Sales Force Buy-In
With that said, most print salespeople don’t like selling digital, contends Farquharson. “It’s a smaller dollar sale and, therefore, yields less commission. The sales rep is way out of his/her comfort zone and that they are talking to a new contact point. It can also be a longer selling cycle if the customer has never used digital print options. Add all of these obstacles together, and the average print salesperson avoids the conversation.”
But, in the end, salespeople follow the money.“In a sales force of 10, you might find one or two reps who fully embrace the digital printing opportunity. That’s okay, according to Farquharson. “CEOs and sales managers should start there, working to make the two of them wildly successful so as to get the other reps to notice that, while the sale might not be as big, the revenue stream is more solid and the commission checks cash exactly the same either way.”
Hollingsworth notes that separating digital from offset in compensation is a distraction for salespeople . If the volume of orders in the digital space is also much higher than offset orders, sales reps will stay away from them and focus on selling fewer, larger jobs and make the same commission.
“I have said for years that the success or failure of digital printing sales revenue is directly related to the emphasis and involvement of the senior management team,” he explains. “If they don’t own it, focus on it and prove the value of the digital production channel to the entire company, it will flounder, struggle and continue as a ‘side show’ to the larger production channels.”