How to Make a Sale: A Print Buyer Weighs In
(Editor's Note: At the request of the experienced print buyer who authored this piece, Printing Impressions agreed to keep the identity of the writer anonymous.)
So, you're a print salesperson trying to get a new account. Maybe you're changing careers or are young, so you don't have much experience. Maybe it's a third-generation family business, or you got the job when "Where's the beef?" was airing on TV. Heck, maybe you're the company owner. Regardless, it can't hurt to get the perspective of a print buyer.
To be honest, I have a great deal of respect for printing industry salespeople. I've never sold print, and I don't think I could. It seems like an incredibly tough job, full of uncertainty and instability in an industry that's changing so fast it's almost impossible to keep on top of it. I'm not unsympathetic, but sympathy alone does not a new customer make.
I have been involved in print one way or another since 1998, and I have heard many sales pitches. Sad to say, in all that time, I'm still seeing the same mistakes repeated by reps trying to get that new account—and just blowing it. I have put together some pointers, based on my own experiences and those of others, which I've both witnessed and heard about. It's not my intention to tell you how to do your job, and I don't claim to speak for everyone in a position like mine.
The minute that one party thinks the attempt to reach out is a waste of their time, they're right. That's why I'm really doing this: to help both parties. Every print buyer wants a pool of good printers, shops that know the industry is much more than putting ink on paper. You want a repeat customer whose jobs are a good fit for your equipment, bottom line and business philosophy.
So, I've put together this start-to-finish guide focussing on establishing the relationship, what a print buyer may want (and may not want) to hear, the kind of things that pique our interest and things that can put us off.
Before You Contact Me:
- Research my company. Find out the kind of work that we do.
- Make no assumptions about me, what I do, what I should be doing, or how I could be doing it better. Make no assumptions about my customer base either. Assuming is not learning.
- Research my company. Are we national? Local? Big? Small? Old? New? Family-owned? Non-profit? One location or multiple?
- Be prepared to tell me how you found me and to answer any similar questions.
- Research my company. Discover the kind of products we sell. That will, in turn, provide clues as to the kind of customers we have and what they expect of us.
- Throw out the paragraphs of generic, prepared speech/boilerplate. Narrow it down to three to five relevant bullet points and expand on them briefly. To make this easier, build a good, strong library of them over your career. Pick from—and customize—them accordingly.
- Last but not least, research my company…do you honestly believe your company can provide the quality and service we seem to expect? Are we the kind of customer you want?
Now, you're well prepared to reach out. How do you go about it?
How to Contact Me:
- Send me an e-mail. Follow up a few days later with a call if you don't hear back. Don't contact me more than once in the space of a week. Don't reach out on Mondays or Fridays.
- I want a quick hook, not a 12-paragraph e-mail or a four-minute speech/voicemail. So, don't go into a lot of detail…yet. Remember those bullet points?
- Don't reach out the week before you go on vacation. If it takes me a few days to respond, what if I call and you're out or I get an out of office response? I'm not going to chase you down.
- Don't say you're going to follow up unless you really mean it. If you can't be bothered, why should I be?
Now you've got my attention. If you've impressed me, I'm going to reply, and maybe set up a meeting.
Before We Meet:
- This is where the research pays off. Make it very clear that you have done so in your second message. Make it individualized, not a hodgepodge of written or verbal copy-and-paste.
- Tell me what services you provide. Ask me what kind of jobs I generally buy and what kind I have done in the past six months. Keep in mind I may have jobs on the horizon that I'm not at liberty to discuss at the time, even if I think you'd be a great fit.
- Tell me your optimal job types and their quantities.
- If I exclusively buy one-color print for garage door opener manuals, why would I want to hear about your 12-pt. C2S iron-cross folded 5/5 aqueous coated celebrity golf tournament mailings or supermarket all-weather recycled cut plastic signage? Get a sense of my needs before telling me about niche market products, regardless of how nicely done they are.
- Consider my delivery point. If you're hundreds of miles away from my warehouse, I will need some serious enticement to consider the expense, practicality and desirability of that kind of shipping. (To this day, not a single printer I have ever spoken to has considered this. Warehousing is a very important part of my job and of our order fulfillment system.)
Once these preliminary discussions are made, and we agree to meet, be flexible in the timing of the meeting.
When We Meet:
- Examine your samples first! Make sure they are in perfect condition, flawlessly printed, fairly recent and showcase the best of your company's abilities. If you have to make an excuse for a sample, or even one small part of one, don't bring it. (If your company doesn't have enough high-quality samples to impress a new customer, update your resumé, because they're not going to be around much longer.) Be prepared to leave a few samples behind for my reference.
- You are, in a way, on a job interview. Present yourself accordingly. You are my first impression of what the people at your company are like, and how much your boss cares about that fact.
- Lunch really isn't appropriate for a first-time meeting. (Think about it: Do you really want to be making your pitch while being continually interrupted by wait staff, with crying babies a few feet away, or with food in your mouth?) Meet me in my office in the morning. You want to see me after I've had my coffee, not after I've eaten or when I have less time for the day's deadlines and unexpected issues.
- Arrive no sooner than 10 minutes before the planned time and no more than five minutes after. Call if you're going to be delayed, and go for a walk or get some coffee if you're early.
- Tailor your presentation (including samples) based on what you learned from your research and during our preliminary discussions.
- Other than success stories, nothing should be said about other customers. Under no circumstances should you bad-mouth a customer, former or current plant employee, or, for that matter, former employer.
- Keep it to 20 minutes. If you can't fit everything in that time, you're doing it wrong.
- No gifts—unless it's something like a notepad, calendar or pen with your company logo.
- Some generic small talk right at the beginning or end of the meeting is fine, but no personal questions! This is not the time to ask me what I did on the weekend, where I live, how I met my wife, what sports my kids play, or when I'm going on vacation, nor is it the time to tell me those things about yourself.
If all goes well, I'll want to go on a plant tour.
When I Tour Your Facility:
- Some of the things I'm going to notice are the neighborhood; the condition of the building and the parking lot; how clean the reception area and plant floor are; how shiny the equipment is; how the paper and ink are kept; and how the work is handled, moved and stored. I'm going to pay attention to the employees, to get a vibe on how they feel about working there. Don't assume there's an aspect or detail I won't notice or won't care about.
- Show me your entire workflow from start to finish—from where paper is stored to where finished jobs ship out.
- Introduce me to the receptionist, press operators, CSRs, bindery workers, prepress, the mailing department, cleaners, drivers and anyone else that would handle my jobs or talk to me.
- Arrange with the shop's owner to either accompany us or sit down with me afterwards. Once I meet the owner (unless there's an emergency), he or she should be with me until I leave the building. If not, I'll feel like I'm being ditched.
- Make sure it's on a busy day. A ghost town is not going to make a good impression.
- It's not necessarily expected, but if we start or finish within an hour either way of noon—and I've driven a long way—consider offering me lunch. If I can't make it, I'll appreciate the gesture. If I can, make it very average. Bringing me back a sandwich from the local greasy spoon is cheap, just as taking me to a five-star steakhouse is overkill.
So now, your foot is in the door, and I like what I see. It's time to check out your pricing.
When I Send You an Estimate Request:
- I may not be able to send you specs on a current job, but I'll be happy to send you a past job to let you know where your pricing lands and give you feedback.
- Not reading the specs clearly and making mistakes at this stage is a great way to make a bad impression.
- Treat it as if it were a real job. Ask the same questions, make the same suggestions, do the same diligence and submit it on time.
- There is a difference between being the lowest bidder and a competitive one, although it's possible to be both.
- Prices that are super high/low raise a red flag. Be honest and fair to us both.
- Don't substitute stocks or materials on a bid. How can I compare yours objectively if it's different?
- Be patient with the time it takes me to send the specs or to reply. I may have open jobs demanding my time and they have priority.
And that's how you can have me want to work with you. Yes, it's not easy, but if you want me to pay attention and consider what you have to offer and don't want me to think you're just another printer—making the same tired old pitch I've heard so many times before—this is how you can go about it.
Other Random Tips and Pointers:
- At any and every stage of this, be prepared for the possibility that you're just not a fit for me or my company. When that happens, just accept it and move on, but try again in 12-18 months. Maybe things have changed and I need a new printer, or you have a new service to offer.
- My company and products are unique, just like those of every other customer. That's why you need to customize your pitch for me and them.
- Don't use buzzwords like "one-stop shop," "lowest prices," "state of the art," etc. from the get-go. They are meaningless. We've heard them dozens of times.
- You are, to me, the face of your company. This means you're the one I'm going to think of and go to when I have a compliment, problem or suggestion, regardless (or because) of my experience with anyone else in the company.
- Some of my sales reps like to be looped in on all my communications with CSRs and other plant employees. Others don't want to hear from me again once a job is submitted. Guess which of the two I prefer, and why?
- No gifts unless the relationship is long-term and established, and then only for the holidays. Keep them modest and reasonably priced. Under no conditions should you ever give a gift for something personal, such as a wedding or child birth.
- Print buying is one of my many responsibilities. My time—and attention—are limited. Make the most of it.
- You really should have an e-mail address with your company URL. Also, in every e-mail, always include your complete contact information.
- Even if we've known each other for a long time and have done many jobs together, don't swear. Enough people are upset by foul language, so you should be careful.
- Don't follow or send me a friend request on my personal social media. I have coworkers on there, and having a vendor on there could be construed as favoritism. Plus, if I did, every other printer would know who I'm doing business with. Sorry, but even if we have a great and long-term working relationship, it's not appropriate.
- It's possible I may be very happy with my current printers, and have been with them for years. Establishing a relationship with a new one will take time, effort and paperwork, and we may not be able to devote to that at the moment.
- We can tell when a salesperson truly cares about and knows print, and when they're just collecting a paycheck.
- This is another one that far too few printers do—have some really nice business cards. You're a printer. Show it off! Get some nice stock, like Neenah, Strathmore, or a C2S. Make it heavier than 80-lb., but not some awkward size. Better still, make it 4/1 and screen your logo or knock your URL, motto or some company info. out on the back. Print sells, so if I get a card from another employee, the colors, layout, size and fonts match. And print it with ink; toner isn't there quite yet. Show off something your company does well and specializes in. Be creative, but not ostentatious. Make something your customers are going to want to hold onto and not toss.
- One printer I used to work with would give out a sheet with pictures, names and short bios of everyone on their customer service team with whom we worked. This was an excellent idea because we were able to attach faces to names and it made the relationship much more personal. PI