Uncovering Best Practices for Commercial Print Sales Staffing from Sales Leaders
Finding the right salespeople is a competitive differentiator for print service providers (PSPs) looking to sell on value not price. The ability to find, retain and train sales representatives that can sell new applications (cross-media, interactive printing) and output technologies (digital/inkjet printing) are key challenges for most commercial print providers.
NAPCO Research (a unit of NAPCO Media, which is the parent company of Printing Impressions) surveyed readers of Printing Impressions to find out the best strategies for attracting and retaining salespeople. The research study, sponsored by the Graphic Arts Alliance, evaluated sales structures, compensation, training and recruitment strategies that are powering sales success for PSPs.
The objectives of the research were to:
- Pinpoint the strategies and tactics companies are pursuing to improve sales staff recruiting efforts.
- Define and evaluate the best ways firms are incentivizing sales reps to succeed.
- Uncover the actions and investments (i.e., training, compensation, sales lead support) that leading companies experiencing double-digit sales growth are making to improve sales staff performance.
More than 150 PSPs responded to the survey, which asked questions focused on finding out the actions taken by firms to power their sales success. This article offers high-level findings from the full report.
A common lament of industry executives is finding the right sales staff. A key objective of the research was to evaluate the scope of that challenge. The survey revealed that recruiting salespeople is a critical challenge for PSPs at a time when many of their sales staff members are close to retiring. More than half of PSP respondents report one of the biggest challenges their companies face is finding salespeople (Figure 1).
In addition, 40% note that many of their salespeople will be retiring in the next few years and they aren’t sure how they will replace them. This finding puts the importance of the sales staffing challenge in perspective.
Finding Sales Staff
The first step in hiring stellar print sales talent is recruiting. Respondents reporting double-digital sales growth indicate the top three methods used for finding sales staff (Figure 2) include personal networks and referrals (70%), in-house training/staff development (51%) and online job sites (41%). The key takeaway from this finding is that sales growth leaders are developing and investing in talent from within their organizations.
Overall, PSPs reporting sales growth invest in their sales staffs. An important difference between firms reporting double-digit sales increases and the respondents reporting flat or declining sales is a focus on supporting salespeople with training to help them deliver higher results.
Firms reporting double-digit sales growth were more likely to offer sales staff training (Figure 3) on printing processes, new application and service offerings, selling methods, prospecting and time management compared to PSPs reporting flat or declining sales.
Firms that are successfully growing sales back their investments in printing processes and new service offerings with an educated and trained sales staff. These firms keep their sales reps current on technology so they can better work with customers in suggesting print-based communication solutions that best meet their needs.
Testing New Sales Hires
Making a bad sales hire can be incredibly expensive to an organization; it can result in significant financial losses due to lost bids, dissatisfied clients, a damaged reputation and salary/benefits/severance payouts. Given the downsides of a bad sales hiring decision, it is important to take precautions in the hiring process to make sure the right job candidate is hired.
More than three-quarters of respondents reporting double-digital sales growth tested the skills of job candidates before hiring. Here are the top ways PSPs reporting double-digit sales growth test the skills of potential sales rep hires:
- Job candidates are required to develop a plan for how they would approach their new role in the company so the prospective employer can test their visioning, conceptual thinking and presentation skills.
- The potential salesperson must spend a day shadowing an existing rep.
- Potential hires are asked to create and deliver a mock sales pitch to a team of key company stakeholders.
- Job candidates participate in a role-playing exercise where they are presented with difficult and unusual sales objections.
In addition, the survey asked PSPs what characteristics they value and look for in salespeople. Respondents reporting double-digit growth reported the top five most important characteristics of salespeople were printing industry knowledge, communication skills, their ability to listen to customers, sales experience and the ability to overcome objections.
New Sales Structures
The research also revealed that new sales team structures are emerging. Respondents were asked to identify which of the following sales structures are in place in their operation:
- The Island, where every sales rep is essentially responsible for each step of the sales process on their own.
- The Assembly Line, where sales processes are divided up among staff members and functions more like an assembly line.
- The Pod, which groups specialized team members into self-contained units.
While most respondents’ sales team structures followed the more traditional island structure, other models are taking hold (Figure 4). The island is the most straightforward sales organization structure, where an owner or manager oversees sales reps who are individually responsible for each stage of the sales process. While this simple model has worked historically for printing companies, it isn’t designed to meet today’s more complex sales environment where PSPs are expanding services and pursing relationship-based, consultative sales.
In the assembly line structure, each team member has a specific role or function within the sales cycle. The process is to move through the sales cycle from lead generation and nurturing to the close stage by passing off tasks to a different sales member at each stage. In other words, one person might focus on qualifying leads and another on nurturing or closing them.
This structure offers more control over each step in the process because each team can be held accountable for specific sales metrics. Key disadvantages of this structure include it requires a larger team, friction can occur when handing off customers along the assembly line, and because teams are required to meet specific performance measures the can become disconnected from the overall business goals of the company.
Firms reporting growth were more likely to support the pod sales structure than those respondents who were reporting flat or declining sales. The pod structure works similar to an assembly line where each member of the group plays a specific role, but instead of one large team, there are multiple groups (or pods) — each tasked with selling to a particular set of customers.
This model takes advantage of the assembly line efficiency while strategically assigning people to groups and customers. Pod-based sales organizations are more customer-centric, as a dedicated team acquires, manages and builds the customer relationship.
The study also surveyed respondents on their investments in employee development, compensation strategies and other tactics used for attracting and retaining sales staff.
Recruiting, retaining and best managing sales talent are key challenges facing most printing operations. While there are no quick fixes to these challenges, evaluating and applying the strategies of firms that are experiencing double-digit sales growth is certainly a good launch point for change.
Lisa Cross is the principal analyst of NAPCO Research (a unit of NAPCO Media) where she conducts market research and analysis on emerging trends and changing dynamics in the commercial, in-plant and packaging industries, and the market forces that are driving those changes. With decades of experience covering the graphic arts and marketing industries, Cross has authored thousands of articles on a variety of topics, including technology trends, business strategy, sales, marketing and legislation.