Compensating Salespeople for Digital Jobs: Is This Still a Problem? Yes
There appears to be an alarming trend continuing in the printing industry in regards to sales reps and digital printing jobs. The Indigo press is now a legal adult of 21, and while proud papa Benny Landa's contribution to the digital printing universe is undeniable, perhaps it is the industry—and not the technology—that is still enduring growing pains.
If you go to any conference/symposium/after hours fat-chewing session that centers on the subject of digital printing, when the subject of challenges is broached, invariably a printer will allude to the sales department. For some sales reps, digital is a four-letter word. They don't feel comfortable talking about the technology; some have stubbornly held back on the educational aspect. They aren't well-versed on the opportunities presented by digital. Others view this type of work as not worthy of their time, especially when there are more lucrative (read: offset) jobs to peddle.
For the modern sales rep who toils for a printer that offers digital output, the days of being intimidated by the technology are long gone, observes Bill Farquharson, a vice president of NAPL and author of "The Sales Challenge" blog that appears in Printing Impressions' "Today on PIworld" e-newsletter. Small orders equal small commission checks, and salespeople are "following the dollar," he adds.
"I think the root of the issue is that while owners aren't happy about the amount of digital print that's being sold, sales reps are hesitant due to the amount of the digital print sale," he says.
In addition to a motivating compensation plan, Farquharson believes sales reps need to be equipped with the proper tools to make their jobs as easy as possible, namely the applications and the vertical markets that can send them down the road to increasing the digital margin. Those companies still struggling with digital sales have likely not invested enough resources (namely time) into training and marketing.
Strong Technical Prowess Is Critical
The technical communicator—that bridge between the sales rep and the client purchaser—can make all the difference in the world, Farquharson observes. He or she needs that technical proficiency to walk hand-in-hand with a moderate degree of social graces.
"It's not so much the equipment that's the key, it's technical superiority," Farquharson contends. "The difference maker in a shop is the technical person, their communication skills and ability to handle the files. A printer that is technically superior to his competition is going to win every time."
For some printers, it's a matter of needing to front-burner the topic of digital printing, rather than resigning it to afterthought status, observes Kelly Mallozzi, veteran industry saleswoman, owner of the Success.In.Print consulting agency and also a frequent "Today on PIworld" e-newsletter blogger. Printers are stubborn by nature, she says, and not enough companies have reinforced the advocacy of digital printing.
"I've talked to a number of organizations where they say this is our platform with conventional printing," she says. "Then they say, oh, and we bought this Canon (digital press) but…they're really not advocating for it. Due to the nature of highly transactional, low-dollar volumes of digital printing, the salespeople couldn't be bothered."
Mallozzi wouldn't be surprised to see a paradigm shift to a new sales model, with an emphasis on inside sales. "Organizations need to figure out a way to sell their products and services from an inside perspective," she says. "They need people who can really talk about the value and solve problems. Maybe they're doing it over the phone, or accomplishing it by engaging with people via e-mail. I think the outside sales model is becoming pretty problematic for a lot of places."
There is a case to be made for reps wanting to stay within their comfort zone—which is human nature—and concentrate on big ticket sales as opposed to carving out time to explore digital applications. Dave Gilson, owner of Grand Rapids, MI-based Gilson Graphics, points out that for a sales rep to sell more meaningful work beyond non-variable, short-run commercial work, it takes a digital savvy sales rep who sees the value in offering these services.
Not all pressure is heaped upon the sales rep, either. Gilson sees it as vitally important that the estimators and CSRs receive proper training in order to close out the sales and service loop.
"(The rep) knows these pieces are going to be produced, so he/she thinks it might as well be my sale rather than giving it up to a competitor…particularly if it is an existing account where I am trying to build my volume," Gilson says.
Gilson recommends a proactive approach to avoiding the potholes associated with digital sales. Meaningful monthly sales meetings with an agenda, and not an open-ended bitching session, can help explore solutions. Bring in suppliers to discuss the substrates and applications that they've seen used successfully. Keep the meetings short and sweet (no more than an hour) and make it conflict-proof by holding it very early in the day.
"As you introduce new services, keep the commission rate simple and the same for everyone," Gilson adds. "Having production and service personnel who can go out on sales calls with the rep who is learning digital is also a real help. Lastly, reassigning the digital portion of an account can be a motivational factor for the existing rep to embrace the new services."
Joining the Digital Revolution
For the first 30 years of its business life, Hudson Printing was exclusively a heatset web printer. Two years ago, an HP Indigo forever shook things up at the Salt Lake City-based firm, and a year later an HP T330 inkjet web press followed suit. But the revolution at Hudson Printing was slow to brew; at the time Paul Gardner, director of innovation, was hired at the shop, the Indigo was being used at 10 percent capacity. But the inkjet addition was part of a greater investment that included recruiting and hiring a dozen other specialists who joined the fold to beef up and expand Hudson's new offerings.
While there was excitement buzzing throughout Hudson Printing, the enthusiasm was not as warmly felt by the incumbent sales staff. Gardner was somewhat taken aback by their lack of engagement…which is putting it mildly. He'd encountered the same philosophical atmosphere with a previous printing employer. Indeed, it falls upon the printer to express, in no uncertain terms, the expectations attached to any major shifts in product and service offerings.
The digital emphasis has been communicated to the sales staff at Hudson Printing. "We told them, you have three choices," Gardner says. "One, you can help us get to that new place in the role you're in. Two, you can help us get to that place in another role with the company, or three, you can help us get to that new place by getting the hell out of the way."
Here, too, the sales staff wasn't the only faction of a printing establishment that needed to get attuned to the new direction of the company. Even bindery personnel would inquire as to the rationale behind chasing smaller volume, lower dollar jobs.
"The message at Hudson Printing is that most long-run, static printing is going away," Gardner relates. "It will never disappear completely. We have four heatset web presses, but if we're still running all four of those machines five years from now, I will be stunned."
Hudson Printing has three new sales reps on its team of 11, and they've all grasped the digital mantra. Gardner points out that although one incumbent salesperson has been selling digital work at an unprecedented clip, the balance of the group is either flat or down from the previous year.
The printer itself is guilty of its own execution gaffes. Last September, the company announced a new compensation plan that was slated to be rolled out at the first of the year. Unfortunately, Hudson Printing's new plan didn't debut until April 1, which left the sales reps in the dark, wondering how they would be compensated. "We instilled fear, and that was a mistake on our part," he admits.
One critical move to the transformation process was introducing accountability in the form of productivity quotas, according to Gardner. They measured pass-through dollars and value add. Activity is also monitored and measured. Face-to-face meetings, with both existing accounts and new business opportunities, is also being monitored, measured and tracked.
But while the roll-out did not go as planned, he says the focus needs to be directed toward cultivating new and existing clients, and having the infrastructure in place to be sure that salespeople are being supported by the entire organization. HP has also played a large role in working with the Hudson Printing sales team to identify opportunities and to illustrate how other printers have found success.
"We are very determined to have a culture of accountability around sales in this organization, just like we do in manufacturing," Gardner states. "I sold print and prepress on commission for 15 years, so I get it. I understand it's messing with their families and their lives when an employer creates that lack of focus or lack of clarity. Their job is to sell and ours is to build that support structure around them to take care of the customer once they make the sale."
Expand the Client Conversation
Gardner also appreciates that salespeople are loathe to break into new territory with an existing client, out of fears it could disrupt their current book of business. Heatset web printing is Hudson's wheelhouse, and digital is still a work in progress. Still, that doesn't absolve the sales reps from having new conversations with long-term clients, not to mention making new contacts within those accounts who may be more fluent in the language of digital.
Hudson also has a member of its leadership team join sales reps on many in-person calls to reinforce to the rep and help give the customer that level of clarity on the company's direction.
Mark Serbin took an aggressive approach toward implementing digital printing at his firm, Sarasota, FL-based Serbin Print Marketing and Publishing. The plan consisted of two steps: One, Serbin held a series of meetings with his sales and production staff in order to inform and energize them. He discussed what the new equipment and software would enable the company to do, and Serbin outlined the type of work the company would be pursuing.
Secondly, and equally as critical, Serbin held training meetings and Webinars with the sales staff to help develop a comfort level with the technology. They became well-versed on the type of work that can be offered, how to go about selling it, and the challenging world of selling multi-touch and multi-channel campaigns. It was a lot to digest, but Serbin & Co. had ample support.
"We had many resources to pick from to train and motivate: PODi, XMPie, Xerox Premier Partners and others offer Webinars on all aspects of digital work," Serbin explains.
"In addition, we used Xerox's Business Development Team to further reinforce the direction we were heading and to train us on specific verticals that we were going after—heath care, financial, non-profits and higher ed."
Serbin says that the preemptive measures resulted in successful implementation, without any push back from the sales or production teams. And since the company boasts a full complement of offset equipment—often used for generating short runs and general business collateral—the digital work was a snug fit.
"Because we concentrate on doing high-end variable data work and because much of our work centers on multi-channel campaigns, our staff saw an increase in potential, not a decrease," Serbin says. "The salespeople saw that it was going to allow them to go wider and deeper into existing accounts, plus get us into places where we were unsuccessful before." PI