Digital Sales Compensation: Neither Fish Nor Fowl
THE BEAUTY of digital printing is the seemingly endless list of possible applications it affords. It can be particularly rewarding to the people who are sufficiently creative and intelligent to ferret out new marketing methods in which one can be blown away by the result.
After all, digital printing as a craft is not the value-added differentiator that is digital printing as a concept. A great multi-level marketing idea can keep a digital printing account in-house longer than the unwanted brother-in-law living atop your garage; there will be no incentive to go elsewhere.
Who wants to sell digital printing? Certainly those folks residing in the corner offices, which is incentive enough. But simple math and common sense will dictate that for printing salespeople toiling for a business that offers both digital and offset printing, the natural motivation is to sell a $30,000 web job as opposed to a $1,500 digital job. Though some would point out that the razor-thin margins of offset printing today mean it is not quite a slam dunk.
Harris DeWese, chairman of Compass Capital Partners in West Chester, PA, sees the prime digital sales candidates as being younger, with an inclination toward IT skills. From there, it would be simpler to train them on selling digital jobs and identifying the types of accounts that could lead to more desirable contract work.
"It's not very profitable when a customer wants 150 flyers printed digitally," DeWese says. "The margins may be OK, but it takes a hell of a lot of them to make any critical mass. The primary issue for companies producing digital work is to do a better job of training their people to sell digital."
DeWese notes it will take a while for a new digital salesperson to build a decent base, before they're able to earn commissions in excess of their draw and make it into the sweet spot of 7 percent to 10 percent commissions. "If you're smart, hunt down established accounts where you're doing some sort of fulfillment or regular customer communication that can't be moved easily," he advises.
DeWese isn't alone in the belief that cultivating your own digital sales professionals is the preferred route. Kate Dunn, president of Digital Innovations Group—a sales and marketing strategy firm in Richmond, VA—contends that printing companies tend not to hire the best sales reps.
Most of the people who sell in this industry aren't that capable, she believes. "So, not only are you trying to teach them to sell a more complex product with cross-channel communication or a Web-to-print solution, but you must teach them how to sell."
The fault lies with the printing companies themselves though, Dunn says, which have the wrong objectives. She sees printers taking the short cut when it comes to interviewing potential sales hires, and they tend to be buffaloed by a guaranteed book of business—which may have been sold on price at a point that would be profitless to the new employer.
Grow Your Own or Import
Dunn suggests asking interview questions of the potential sales hire to uncover commitment to preparation, which is a critical success factor for professionals selling complex solutions.
"Today's world is more about business acumen than print," she says. "That's another reason why it's so hard for traditional print salespeople to make the transition. They have spent their professional lives focused on understanding and talking about print, not business objectives and challenges. They are intimidated when talking to customers about improving response rates or minimizing steps in their supply chain."
Whether you import or grow your own digital printing salesperson, perhaps the most essential objective is to clearly define the role of the position as it applies to sheetfed, web or digital sales. Nick Devine, a U.K.-based printing consultant known as The Print Coach, believes most printers lack clarity when it comes to establishing the parameters of sales positions. Once the role has been effectively designed, he says, the company needs to define its ideal customer base and establish a value proposition for that client that is not incumbent upon being the low-cost provider.
"It's important to create a sales job design spec, so the salesperson understands exactly what he or she is supposed to do, and knows what the expectations are," Devine points out. "The next stage is to create a compensation plan that drives the behaviors of the salesperson to achieve the results they're expected to get."
So who's selling what at the local printing shop? At Dayton, OH-based Think Patented, each sales staff member is expected to sell everything in the company's arsenal, reports Niels Winther, chairman and co-owner. Think Patented sales professionals are graded on their overall "bundle" performance—offset printing, digital printing, mailing and fulfillment, personalized URLs, digital store fronts, etc.
The beauty of bundling services, according to Winther, is that the package is a moving target, subject to change from time to time. This way, he can switch incentives to concentrate on a different area of Think Patented's product and service repertoire.
Should a potential buyer meet one of about six criteria triggers for a cross-media marketing program or other multi-layered initiative, Think Patented follows up with a team sales approach. That group could include a technology person, a database expert and a mailing guru to complement the sales contact. The buyer and the salesperson are complemented with technical experts to see if a partnership match exists.
The company grooms its sales members with an eye toward the team concept, with quality candidates fresh out of Clemson or RIT going through a management training apprenticeship program. "After two or three years, they're ready to go out and be that level of salesperson who understands multi-level marketing," Winther adds.
A Different Way to Pay
At Sandy Alexander, of Clifton, NJ, salespeople are compensated somewhat differently for digital jobs. Cheryl Kahanec, executive vice president of eSA Solutions (Sandy's digital subsidiary), notes that commissions are agreed upon up front for what is commonly referred to as "price-listed work" that is fairly static each month, including Web-to-print generated jobs. For large variable data digital jobs, the sales commission is based on value-added to the company.
Although all of Sandy Alexander's sales force sells digital in addition to offset work, many will lean toward a product based upon the industry vertical they call upon (i.e., pharmaceutical, financial, publishing). Other salespeople will target a broad cross-section of industries.
The slow economic recovery and resulting budget cuts play to digital printing's strengths, Kahanec notes. "Clients want multiple versions of short runs. They want customized/personalized campaigns built on their customer's demographics."
Team selling is also an integral part of the Sandy Alexander sales attack. Kahanec credits its success to President and CEO Mike Graff who, upon taking the helm in 2008, implemented a company-wide reorganization that integrated the digital division into the remainder of the company.
"In the end, the compensation is based on value-added and profitability to the overall company," she concludes. "Adding digital printing to our overall product portfolio has increased the added value to our clients and the sales force. It is a win-win for everybody." PI