Printing Industry Veteran Salesman Jerry Westcott Reminisces on a Time Past
Despite the advantages of living in the modern era, technology and tough economic conditions have made print sales in 2014 something of a challenge. Those of us who have been selling for, oh, 30 years or so have the unique perspective of recalling life before the Internet. Fax machines were called telecopiers. Voice mail and Caller ID existed only in the mind of some engineer at Ma Bell, once the only telephone company in America. As for cell phones, well, they were still decades away from changing everything.
Jerry Westcott began his printing sales career in 1970 and continued until retirement in 2007. During that 37-year run, he saw the industry rise, morph and digitize. This month, the authors are honored to interview Mr. Westcott as he discusses a variety of subjects. So, step in to the Delorean with us as we crank her up to 88 pages per minute and go back to the future.
Jerry, you have been described (fairly or unfairly) as being an 'Old School Salesman.' Can you provide some background on your print sales experience?
My first day as a sales trainee was Feb. 8, 1970. I spent time in all departments, from estimating to production. The training program lasting eight months. Since then, I've worked at print and prepress shops in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, as well as for a national conglomerate, selling magazines, catalogs and general commercial print. From May 1982-May 2007, I sold for Concord Litho, producing high-volume work for major direct marketers and publishers, consumer package goods clients, a large entertainment industry customer, advertising agencies, general, direct marketing and promotional pieces.
Old school sales? Guilty as charged, I suppose. I enjoyed significant face-to-face relationships with my customers. I took the time to understand their businesses and helped them make money. Inside the plant, I played a role providing input for equipment purchases to produce this work efficiently.
What would you say are the major differences between selling today and selling in your day?
Procurement departments have the lead these days vs. direct relationships with marketers and professional print buyers in the past. Price reigns supreme—not always a good thing—but results do count. I recently read about some media buying research which concluded that the cost of the buy was more important than its results. What is this world coming to?
"Mad Men" has given America the impression that the sales environment in the 1960s and '70s involved a fair amount of, um, 'entertainment.' How much business was really done over three martinis and consorting after hours?
There is little time any more for "entertainment," which is too bad in a way. Developing a relationship with a prospective client, gaining their trust, learning their business and how to help improve it comes from personal interaction. Out of the office time was a key component of that process. In this world of instant gratification, no one wants to devote the time.
You mentioned gaining trust. How do you suggest accomplishing that?
Prove yourself by doing homework on your prospect's business, asking intelligent questions of your potential client about the workflow. Make suggestions to improve the printed product, its cost and turnaround time. Keep your promises. Make yourself indispensable. Trust will come.
Why did your clients buy from you?
My customers relied on me to generate good ideas for efficient, creative print formats, timely pricing and turnarounds. I have always had a good understanding of printing and bindery equipment, and the ability to use that knowledge creatively. I visited high-volume clients often to update them on current workflows and to discuss ideas for new projects.
What advice would you give a print sales rep who is just starting out today?
Be smart, be tenacious and demand training. Learn the ins and outs of what you are selling. Develop a niche. Learn something today. Mistakes will happen. Learn from them. Develop a "what-not-to-do" list—all items on that list learned the hard way, of course. And, most important: do what you say you're going to do!
What has the Internet done, good and bad, for the print sales rep of 2014?
The Internet provides instant information for prospecting. No new sales call should be made without thorough research done first, and clients' Websites should be checked on a regular basis for news items and new developments.
Yet, the Internet has reduced the volume of print work in the current market. Much of the promotional and magazine insert work I produced is now posted on the Internet at greatly reduced cost. This has led to far too much overcapacity in the printing industry, and significant pricing pressure for all print suppliers.
It would seem that the print buyer is getting younger. The Millennials think differently and buy differently. How would you advise them to buy print?
No print buyer can know everything. Find print reps who will help you learn the ropes—reps who understand their business and your workflow needs, who will do the work well, on time and at fair prices to both parties. And, most importantly, help the buyer learn "what not to do."
Let's talk about sales management. Over the years, you've probably seen both good and bad. What made the good good and the bad bad?
Good sales management is about listening and taking the consultative approach—offering up leads and ideas to help develop sales strategies, prospect by prospect, and client by client, taking the time to know the reps, establishing goals and helping them meet those goals.
Bad sales management is the "my way or the highway approach," focusing primarily on the numbers. This manager talks but does not listen, and brings little or no strategic help to the table, calls meaningless meetings and generally wastes time making work.
What was your best source for leads?
Getting started in the '70s, my main source of new business was cold calling. As I got established, most new biz came from referrals and recommendations.
Let's look to the future. What advice do you have for owners on where they ought to direct their companies?
Remember that nothing happens in a print shop until someone sells something. The business has shrunken considerably in recent years and will continue to do so.
Salespeople need to be better trained to be proactive partners with their clients. Sales managers need to be hired that are professional, big-picture business people who will advocate for their staff. Team selling needs to be encouraged, looking at the bigger picture vs. selling individual jobs.
Owners and finance people need to identify what their shop does best, and be sure that there is no fat in the cost structure. Finance folks need to be responsible for the sales budgets, leaving the sales manager free to work on strategic matters. Do not short-change the sales staff on compensation—it's a tough way to make a living on a good day.
Lastly, the print media business needs to gather as one voice—the printing industry associations, the direct marketers, the advertising associations, the magazine publishers, media buying groups, and the paper industry—to lobby Congress to fix the U.S. Postal Service. Unless the distribution model is affordable, print will continue to suffer.
Our thanks go out to Jerry for sharing his thoughts and for the walk down memory lane. Old School or not, a 37-year print sales career is a tremendous accomplishment. PI
About the Authors
T.J. Tedesco is team leader at Grow Sales Inc., a marketing and PR services company that has served graphic arts companies since 1996. He wrote "Direct Mail Pal 2012" and seven other books. Contact Tedesco at (301) 294-9900 or e-mail email@example.com. Bill Farquharson is a vice president at NAPL. Farquharson can help drive your sales. Visit www.aspirefor.com or call him at (781) 934-7036.