THE PRESENT selling conditions represent the most unusual opportunity in the history of the printing industry—the realistic possibility to acquire, lock down and sustain new market share at unprecedented rates.
Today’s printing services companies have the potential to transform from a commoditized print selling environment to one in which they are truly perceived as trusted advisors to clients and prospects—so much so that their competition is somewhat or completely removed from any discussion of the client’s future production requirements.
Many service providers have already begun the required makeover, although all indications seem to point to a sales skills maturation level of well under 15 percent.
Systems or establishment selling typically implies a deliverable whereby the service provider has elevated the conversation far beyond print, to circumstances where the client’s marketing objectives or business process challenges are given top billing.
An exponentially rising ability to seamlessly wrap marketing logistics tools together makes this approach increasingly viable. The upside to this approach is the ability to differentiate your company and secure large portions of net new business.
In the sector of “traditional” print sales, which represents tens of billions of dollars annually, there is an unspoken, grudgingly agreed-upon playing field in which most companies compete for print work in a very crowded market space.
In systems selling, the savvy advisor is trying to secure significant portions, or all, of the production supply chain for each prospect’s marketing efforts. The chance to grow new revenue by the hundreds of thousands of dollars (and in some cases more) from one sale, is being realized by some industry firms. Moreover, these types of sales usually increase the probability of:
• exclusive selling opportunities;
• unprecedented revenue growth;
• higher profit margins;
• increased client longevity;
• lower costs of sales and, most importantly;
• increased business valuations.
The salesperson’s “advisory” skills needs to be up to par, and senior management has to be aligned if a services organization is going to be successful in this new environment.
There are multiple factors involved in the sales- person who achieves success in this arena. These attributes include the ability to speak with senior executives in marketing, carry their weight in consultative conversations, understand complex selling cycles, the ability to be patient as the progression ensues, and the ability to understand and focus on the big picture objective throughout the cycle.
Most print service providers don’t boast a stable full of advisory-level salespeople. Approximately one out of 10 existing print sales personnel are sufficiently qualified to engage in this high-end sales discussion; often it’s the owner-entrepreneur who is the individual most qualified.
The good news: one “rainmaker” can more than adequately support an entire staff of salespeople who are trained to spot opportunities.
Implementing a team approach and adopting an appropriate compensation strategy, one in which the entire team shares in some portion of the victory, has become the norm for companies that have already triumphed in the system sales arena.
Increasingly, service companies are experimenting with hiring this new type of sales executive from outside the printing industry. In reality, knowledge of print is the least of the prerequisites of this 21st century sales call.
In system selling, the primary objective usually centers on becoming the main conduit through which all marketing logistical requirements of the client/prospect flow. This “big piece of the pie” mentality means that you’ll need to place careful consideration on the sales staff, right down to reinventing a selling process and perhaps a division of your company.
(It’s essential to note that the size of an organization is not a factor in its ability to make headway.)
The sales drive that focuses on any combination of client objectives—increasing marketing results, increasing sales, more accurately measuring marketing ROI and/or modernizing the marketing communications supply chain—are the predominant factors that produce the condition of competing in unchartered waters where the competition is obsolete.
Doing this well will achieve sales coups where the competition doesn’t find out about the opportunity until it’s too late to do anything about it. This tactic can even go so far as preempting the notion of an RFP/RFQ.
Technology, which has impacted every aspect of American business, has evolved slowest in marketing automation/marketing logistics. Since almost every type of mid-size and larger company has some requirement for marketing, the opportunities to acquire these sales coups are voluminous. Once a company has figured out how to thread the required capabilities together, the sky becomes the limit.
Emphasis should be placed on the business strategy to pursue and support this initiative. The lack of a plan and concentrated effort supported or driven by senior management usually means that success will die on the vine. By nature, service organizations are busy servicing clients; there’s always something to do, so that pressure can easily usurp the new strategic selling initiative. Chief executives need to support the initiative or risk exposing their companies to this emerging new competition.
Beyond the actual sales call, branding, targeting and messaging all change in this new environment. The brand commensurate with this potential is akin to a “marketing effectiveness organization,” but have no fear, there are many layers a printing organization can evolve through without risking the presumption of their “print” bread and butter.
Targeting should be directed toward senior levels of marketing and almost never go through purchasing or the print buyer. The conundrum is determining what to do when your “in” with the target company is the print buyer. Just remember, if you don’t make the migration to the marketing department, sooner or later you will eventually lose the relationship anyway to the service organization that does get through to marketing.
Messaging can take many forms and cross multiple mediums (beyond print). Ammunition is abundantly available throughout this publication, the supplier community and print associations that describe the benefits customers are obtaining with the use of 21st century marketing logistics. If a company’s messaging focuses on these benefits, it will eventually break through to the marketing executive level that needs to be reached. The goal is to get to the point where the benefits being described come from first-person testimonials by customers.
Making the competition irrelevant by employing systems selling is a distinct reality. Plan strategically and practice, practice, practice. It is certainly sufficient to tell existing clients that the industry is evolving and you’re innovating with it.
The promise of increasing a customer’s marketing effectiveness has arrived. Focusing on what the client is trying to achieve with its marketing objective—while avoiding being “print-centric” in the process—will enable a savvy supplier to acquire more printing business than its management team might ever have thought possible.
The time will come when the industry acquires advertising and marketing agencies; a natural evolution of what’s to come. Companies are now competing on a big stage and there is enormous real estate available for those service organizations bold enough to make the grab. Happy hunting! PI
About the Author
Peter Winters is a principal at Winters Group & Associates, a performance-based advisory firm that specializes in teaching printing companies how to re-engineer the selling process. He can be reached for further comment at email@example.com.