Production Inkjet Technology and the New Art of the Sale
Inkjet isn’t like other printing processes, and trying to sell it on anything other than its own terms is a recipe for failure with it. Three inkjet adopters who have learned to sell inkjet the right way freely shared the lessons they’ve learned in a heavily attended panel discussion that kicked off the second day of the 2018 Inkjet Summit.
Under the moderation of Barb Pellow (Pellow & Partners), the trio emphasized that properly educating and motivating the sales force is what primarily drives success in a market where the old norms of selling - particularly selling on price - aren’t meaningful in the value proposition that inkjet presents to customers. They also noted that if a printing company wants its customers to get excited about inkjet, the service provider must communicate its own passion for the process in every pitch it makes.
“We never go to market selling print,” asserted Christine Soward, president and CEO, DMS Ink. Solutions and executions based on a thorough understanding of customer needs are what the company offers, all delivered with the awareness that “if it it takes too long, it isn’t relevant.”
Soward, who was once the company’s sole salesperson, has built an inkjet sales force that she manages according to some specific principles. One is that every rep must do his or her homework to learn exactly what the customer wants and expects. (Otherwise, she said, “you come off pushy.")
Another is that today, selling is about networking and fostering personal relationships - a skill that she must be able to see from the get-go in anyone who wants to work for her. “If they can sell themselves to me without selling hard,” she said, "that’s a good way to get a job at DMS.”
Once hired, DMS sales reps receive biweekly briefings on the company’s capabilities and the things that make it unique. “Your best sales should go to your current clients” is among the pieces of advice they're urged to take seriously, Soward said.
When Formost mediaOne installed a high-volume inkjet web press in 2016, said Tyler Marshall, the company’s sales and marketing manager, it became a “full white paper factory” able to deliver solutions in a marketplace where “two-month SLAs” have a habit of turning into “two-day SLAs." The company’s sales force is divided down the middle in terms of experience, with each group having its own sales capabilities and temperaments.
On one side are the traditional, 100% commission sales reps with “a lone wolf mentality” and closely guarded relationships with their circles of customers. Marshall said that although they excel at selling the kinds of work they're used to dealing with, growing into an inkjet sales mindset can be challenging for them. On the other side are younger millennials, eager to perform and hungry for knowledge, but in need of continuous reinforcement.
Marshall said reps in both groups should be encouraged to talk to their clients about solving problems instead of regaling them with data about machine speeds and feeds. Formost, he said, likes to take a "small town" approach to customer relationships by inviting key accounts to the plant and introducing them to everyone serving them in supporting roles.
Print is the main channel that APEX Revenue uses to help hospitals and other health care providers collect money owed to them by people they've treated. Patrick Maurer, president, explained that driving payment results is not only a core business for APEX but a financial lifeline for the customers it serves. "We have to believe that we can help that hospital collect that balance," he said, because the remittances can be the difference between the institution's remaining open and being forced to close its doors.
To stay ahead of this task, Maurer said, acquiring inkjet "was almost a necessity for us." With the help of its variable-data capability, APEX can personalize billing statements with financing options, prompt-pay discounts, and other messaging aimed at persuading recipients to settle their accounts.
APEX's 12-member sales team operates with the knowledge that improved collections are guaranteed to customers and that the return on their investment will be measured in this way. This type of selling is best done at the CFO level, Maurer said.
In the session's wrapup, Marshall reminded the audience that no inkjet job can be priced until the printer has the files and artwork in hand and can accurately estimate ink coverage. Soward said that when sales reps meet with customers, price should be "the last thing they want to talk about." If price is the sole focus, it may be necessary to have the conversation with someone else in the organization whose understanding of the benefits of inkjet is more sophisticated.
According to Soward, the strongest selling point for inkjet may well be the service provider's own belief in it. At DMS Ink, she said, "we eat our own dog food" by internally testing and utilizing whatever solutions the company proposes to offer its customers. That way, the product or service can be sold with a passion - a passion that will be evident, and persuasive, to the person making the purchasing decision.