Sales Relationships : Don’t Cut Out Print Buyers
Attaining success in printing sales is not all that different than becoming the next Rory McIlroy on the PGA Tour. Sure, NO ONE is going to become the next McIlroy, but perhaps a golfing/sales analogy is apt, since 99.5 percent of salespeople can be found on the links at some point.
What both have in common during that make-or-break road to success is the shot that’s taken on their approach. The aggressive golfer can quickly find himself in the drink or with an unplayable lie (insert your own Tiger Woods joke). A printing salesman won’t have to go looking for his balls—not in the literal sense, at least—but could find a cold shoulder or dial tone greeting him in short order following an approach shot that totally misses the mark.
The new reality of the economy and the ever-changing printing industry is in danger of turning a legion of salespeople into Roy McAvoys, the fictional character played by Kevin Costner in the movie “Tin Cup” who refused to take a more cautious (read: safer) approach to a hole “guarded” by a water hazard.
As the print pie shrinks and the economy fails to pave the way for sustainable revenue flows, graphic arts industry sales reps will continue to push the competition envelope and perhaps attempt a shortcut or two to land the account.
As many printers have morphed into marketing services providers (MSP) in light of the shrinking pie, some salespeople are bypassing the prospect’s print buyer in order to reach what is perceived as a more accepting and appreciative audience for the printer’s value-added products and services. The popular reasoning is that a traditional print buyer is too far downstream; the newly evolved MSP can offer far more than just printing, and some argue that in order to avail themselves of the printer’s agency-level marketing tool belt, the client’s “requisitioner” or other upper-level decision maker needs to be brought into the equation.
Simply put, is it wise or profitable to seek out requisitioners or corporate-level types, as opposed to print buyers, in search of work? Taking it a step further, as printers take on more of the services that have traditionally been identified with advertising agencies, can our marketing-evolved printer play nice with an ad agency client?
It’s all in the approach.
Print sales representatives and media buyers often feel like they’re being pushy when contacting an advertising agency, and that shouldn’t be the case, notes Larry Meador, brand catalyst for Lake Mary, FL-based evok Advertising. That’s too bad, Meador says, because he needs talented people to better serve his own customers.
“My job is to listen to you and understand what your job capabilities are, so I can deliver the best quality product for my client,” Meador remarks. “Don’t be timid about calling me. If I don’t listen to you, then I’m failing my customer. I provide sales for my agency too, so I know what it’s like to make cold call sales. It’s in the way you approach it. You’ve got to bring me a solution.”
Meador hardly sounds like someone defending a turf that is being infringed upon. In reality, Meador and other ad agencies are relying on print and numerous print-related service technologies to put a bow on the agency client’s job. Meador doesn’t want to hear a recitation of a printer’s equipment list. He wants to get excited about a cool or neat application that can perhaps serve as that bow. A creative fold, a unique foil stamp, an example of a recent cross-media campaign. The best way to get Meador excited is to show him your work in action.
“It’s tough, because as an ad agency, we’re supposed to be on the forefront with the latest trends. But, it’s hard for us to keep up because the industry is evolving so fast,” Meador says. “Really good relationships are those where (printers) spend that extra time to come in and let us know what’s going on, so we can incorporate those elements into our marketing plans or our designs. Then, we can produce the best, most creative designs and integrated plans to maintain our client relationships. We’re leaning on those vendors a little more now than we used to.”
evok actually hosts a “brown bag lunch” twice a month, where vendors (many of which are printers) can come in and speak to relevant agency types in regards to their products and services. It’s a 90-minute opportunity for suppliers to showcase how they can make life easier for evok and its clients.
There are other ways to wow Meador without stepping on his toes. He suggests printers send monthly e-newsletters to their clients and prospects, including agencies, highlighting a recent job or discussing how a certain technology could augment a marketing initiative, for example. White papers are another way to an ad agency’s heart, according to Meador. These case studies can bring to light the hows and whys behind a recent project, and give the reader food for thought.
The relationship dynamic between printer and print buyer can be a contentious one when the former attempts to bypass the latter. Bill Farquharson, president of print sales training firm Aspire For, points out the double-edged sword involved in balancing print buyer diplomacy with the needs of the printer.
“You want to find the person who is filling out the requisition form,” notes Farquharson, who underscores the importance of salespeople researching client requisitioners via the Web. “Number one, you can better identify the needs of the customer. The buyer just has a bunch of specs. But the requisitioner is the one who is saying, ‘This is how the document is used.’ The key to selling profitably is to come up with the best print solution, and the print buyer is not necessarily going to have that information.”
Farquharson has enjoyed past success with courting requisitioners, who soon began to design job specs to better match his equipment. However, he does not recommend bypassing the print buyer in a stealth manner. “I’m not saying go behind (the buyer’s) back, because you’re going to need the buyer at some point,” he cautions.
It takes an advanced salesperson—Ph.D or master’s level equivalent, Farquharson muses—to convince a print buyer that your firm needs to demonstrate to the requisitioner just how much more value they can offer. Print buyers are territorial, he says, and want to maintain control. So how can it be done?
“That’s where salesmanship comes in, and I think it’s a matter of trust,” Farquharson remarks. “When dealing with a buyer, I can quote a job, but the best way for me to help a client is to understand how the printed piece works. There are two costs associated with any printed piece: the cost of buying it, and the cost of using it. Every print sales rep on the planet focuses on the purchase price. The ones who are selling profitably are focusing on the usage costs.
“The skilled salesperson can convince a print buyer that he/she has an idea that will either reduce the usage cost of the document or increase its value. You can only learn that by talking to the requisitioner. So, it’s in the print buyer’s best interest to let me speak to the requisitioner of the document.”
Margie Dana, president of Print Buyers International and the unofficial industry guru for print buyers, is sympathetic to the plight of printers and fully understands the desire to market themselves on a marketing plateau. But under absolutely no circumstances, she contends, should a sales rep circumvent the buyer.
“It’s a contentious topic,” Dana admits. “If the print buyers who source the print are not making those (marketing) decisions or are strictly involved with printed materials, then printers who have significantly more services to offer might have a hard time getting someone to listen if they stick with the print production unit.”
Still, a majority of corporate print buyers have the final say over who gets the job, Dana notes. And to go around the buyer is to risk getting shut out entirely. With few exceptions, she points out that most managers of print buyers a) generally don’t know much (if anything) about printing; and b) don’t want to be involved in sourcing work. Part of the print buyer’s job is to know how to place work appropriately.
To go around them is a slap in the face,” she remarks.
Dana acknowledges that when a client’s print buying unit is too far removed from the marketing department, a printer may be justified in assuming that the full breadth of their marketing-driven solutions (mobile, QR codes, Augmented
Reality, highly targeted marketing) is going to fall on deaf ears. Still, she cautions against selling buyers short; they understand the evolution printers are experiencing, and it’s their job to ensure that the finest, most competent vendors are secured.
“One thing we all agree on is that the earlier you get the professional providers involved (in a project), the better chance of success you as a customer will have,” Dana says.
“The most sophisticated buying professionals know that. I’ve polled these people; most have 10- to 15-plus years of experience, and they get it. Don’t underestimate them; they know an awful lot,” she adds. “They get their service providers involved very early on. (Print buyers) who are brand new don’t know, however. How experienced the customer is will tell a printing (sales) rep an awful lot. You need to have selling strategies for each.”
But the strategy of going behind the print buyer’s back? That increases the risk of getting your firm blackballed, according to Dana, and that’s no idle threat.
“It’s the kiss of death. That would be all I have to know—that a (sales rep) went around me,” Dana adds. “Does he think he’s going to get anywhere? Not while I’m around, and that’s the truth. It’s totally
insulting...step on someone’s toes and they’re going to fight back.” PI