Prospecting for Print Sales Professionals
(This ongoing blog series is derived from a book Harris DeWese wrote several years ago—“A Year of Selling Profitably.” The book was written for printers to use as a guide in training their sales teams through a series of two-hour sessions over 48 weeks.)
WEEK 2: OVERCOMING CALL RELUCTANCE
This weekly blog writing is hard.
I played football, and the practice was real hard.
I lifted weights, and that was hard and painful.
I ran track, and lap after lap after lap was mean and our coach was a sadist.
I earned an MBA, and it was all hard. Calculus was the hardest, and contrary to what the professors tell you, you never use it again once you get that diploma.
My wife, Attila the Nun, is a professor and she’s gonna punish me for that line.
I have lived with Attila the Nun for 48-1/2 years, and that has been superhard.
But maybe PROSPECTING FOR NEW ACCOUNTS is the absolute hardest thing I have ever done.
So I began to study prospecting and found ways to make it easier. Eventually I got good at it.
Many graphic arts salespeople operate in small company environments that do not provide ideal conditions for developing new business. In many cases, ownership, production management and sales management are vested in one or two individuals who are forced to divide their time among production problems, financial concerns, government regulations and other time-consuming details. As a result, sales support often goes begging.
The absence of sales coaching and training is a disadvantage even to veteran salespeople. Many salespeople develop feelings of organizational loneliness. Managers and production people are preoccupied with manufacturing, and often us-vs.-them relationships develop between the small sales force and other employees. When this occurs, a salesperson's energy is diverted, and the motivation to prospect for new business is dissipated.
This motivational drain often creates one of the biggest obstacles to finding new clients: call reluctance. Call reluctance can relate to both new and existing accounts, but it is more prevalent in prospecting activities. Since many salespeople have not received coaching or sales training, they are neither motivated to make calls nor confident that they will do so successfully. In fact, call reluctance is often directly attributable to a salesperson’s fear of rejection or failure. Rather than admit to fearing anything, salespeople often rationalize their failure to make prospecting calls. Do any of the following sound familiar?
• I am tied to the plant putting out fires for my existing accounts.
• There is no real incentive to pound the pavement for new business. I’ve got all the business I can handle from my present accounts.
• My customers require so much hand-holding that I have no time to prospect.
• Our pricing isn’t competitive.
These statements are real, and were culled from a surveys of more than 2,000 graphic arts salespeople. Though there may be truth in some of the responses, they are rationalizations subconsciously contrived to mask the real problem—call reluctance.
Research into the psychological reasons for call reluctance has revealed more than a fear of rejection. In fact, the research found nine unique reasons for call reluctance, all equally insidious deterrents to a salesperson’s prosperity and professional growth.
Social Threat Sensitivity. This form of call reluctance is found in salespeople who feel their social skills are inadequate. When to sit, extend a hand, and handle an introduction should be second nature, but for many people they are not. Some salespeople are frozen into inertia by fear of failing in these social amenities. But social skills are an essential part of prospecting for sales. They enable buyers to develop trust in their salespeople and the salespeople’s communities.
(Do not confuse sociability with the stereotypes of prolonged luncheons or after-hours socializing. Social graces in the professional sales setting revolve around courtesy and human sensitivity.)
If your sales staff needs help in this area, suggest that they join and participate in a group such as the local chapter of Toastmasters, or read some of the many books dealing with sharpening social skills.
Desurgency. Psychologists use the word “desurgency” to describe salespeople who overanalyze and underact. This is the person who “needs” to reorganize his desk before beginning any task. Desurgent prospectors never get around to making prospecting calls, because they spend most of their time “getting ready.”
These types of salespeople must be supervised into action. The sales manager often must sit down with them to make appointments—preferably for early in the morning before the salesperson gets too comfortable—then accompany them for a week.
Image Sensitivity. Image sensitivity is the fear of humiliation. It can occur when a salesperson fears being usable to answer a buyer’s question or drawing a conversational blank. Image sensitivity is often tied to the salesperson being unaware of a particular incompetence with respect to printing or selling skills. Here, counseling and training are the answers.
Group Sensitivity. This salesperson fears group presentation. The fear is not unlike image sensitivity and its similar to the anxiety experienced in public speaking. Salespeople who are “group sensitive” often believe the buyer group will gang up against them.
Salespeople suffering from group sensitivity must face their fears by forcing themselves to speak before groups of prospects, observing professional speakers at seminars and conferences, and perhaps for a public speaking program.
Role Acceptance. These salespeople are embarrassed by their career choice, and will do everything possible to hide from what they do, even if it involves sacrificing income by not calling on buyers. Many graphic arts salespeople gravitated to selling from the pressroom, customer service or estimating.
People who suffer from anxiety about their role as a sales professional are really suffering from a lack self-acceptance. One way to overcome this is to have salespeople read about and study the changing nature of sales—how it has evolved into a consultative role, and how that role raises that stature or sales professionals. Then have the salespeople consider how their strengths lend themselves to this new, important vocation.
Intrusion Sensitivity. These salespeople possess a fear of intruding on a buyer. Their low perception of the sales profession leads them to think that what they have to offer does not warrant interrupting a potential buyer. As stated previously, these salespeople need to learn to view themselves as consultative sellers who can help their prospects achieve a goal.
Social Differential. These salespeople fear calling on affluent buyers. They believe they will have nothing in common with the prospect and will be treated disdainfully by a well-heeled and connected executive. Again, it is a matter of improving the salesperson’s self-worth, and self-worth is improved by having the salesperson learn and develop new competencies.
Personal Friends. This type of reluctance stems from salespeople’s fear of losing their friends because they tried to sell them printing. It is somewhat rare in the graphics arts, since it is unlikely that many individuals within your sphere of friendship would buy print.
Family and Relatives. These salespeople fear losing the affection of family because they are seen as being “exploitative.” Perhaps a spouse or a parent is ashamed of the salesperson’s career choice. To retain the relative’s affection, the salesperson tries not to behave like a salesperson, and in the process, changes behavior so radically that the sales role never has a chance.
We have to deal with the behavioral aspects of prospecting so the salesperson has his/her head screwed on straight before we can study the mechanic. Meanwhile, get out there and sell something!
A Year of Selling Profitably
By Harris M. DeWese with Jerry Bray
Employ techniques and tools that turn weekly sales meetings into energetic learning experiences, resulting in a more enthusiastic, more motivated, and more effective sales force. Understand how these techniques and tools required to build successful marketing, sales and, ultimately, profits, will help you achieve “A Year of Selling Profitably.” Click to order a copy.
Harris DeWese is the author of "Now Get Out There and Sell Something." He is chairman/CEO at Compass Capital Partners and an author of the annual "Compass Report," the definitive source of info regarding printing industry M&A activity. DeWese has completed 100-plus printing company transactions and is viewed as the preeminent deal maker in the industry. He specializes in investment banking, M&A, sales, marketing and management services to printers.