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The selling revolution

Feb 1, 2011 12:00 AM

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No one questions the technological revolution that has characterized the graphic arts industry during the past several decades. An equally important revolution in print selling has taken place during the same period. The difference in management of the two revolutions lies in the fact that, usually, it is simpler to replace equipment than a serviceable sales or customer service representative.

This leads to familiar sales department scenarios:

  • The $800,000-a-year, long-time rep who operates in a manner unlikely to realize growth.

  • The knowledgeable high-volume rep who is satisfied to babysit one or two major accounts, and resists prospecting.

  • The rep who is reluctant to sell non-print services because a foul-up might jeopardize print sales.

  • The energetic, highly motivated rep who seems to do everything right but has little or no success.

Management often believes corrective action requires incentives. In truth, incentives do not create more knowledgeable, effective, productive salespeople. There is no quick fix. Neither is there an all-purpose remedy for every member of a sales force. That's especially true in the case of less experienced reps who need the time, skills and information to develop new accounts.

A fundamental shift

Print buying and its uses have changed fundamentally. The attributes, roles, objectives and activities of print salespeople also must change. These days, it's not enough to be liked by a customer or prospect. It's necessary to be both liked and valued.

Like it or not, it's all about the customer. It's not about a printing company's equipment. Indeed, it's about the ability to help a buying organization achieve its business objectives. Here are some of the most important and least appreciated qualities of today's successful print sales representatives:

  • Understands business, not simply printing

    Today, it's necessary for a salesperson to understand the difference between profit and cash flow, the carrying and opportunity costs of excess inventory, and elements of communication critical on each job.

  • Makes sales calls worthy of a customer's time

    A salesperson should leave each sales call with more information than he or she had at the beginning of the call. It's equally important that at least one piece of helpful, relevant information be shared with the buyer on every sales call. This creates perceived value.

  • Functions as a quarterback

    Years ago, reps were valued for their ability to function alone. Today, the sales challenge has become complex and account-specific. This forces the salesperson to coordinate and communicate effectively within his or her own company.

  • Has excellent written, as well as verbal, skills

    As buying organizations pare the size of their respective vendor lists, supplier decisions increasingly occur at higher levels. A salesperson might never meet all the decisionmakers face-to-face. Persuasive written communication is important.

  • Always treats current accounts as though they are prospects

    Think about current customers. What would a salesperson do to sell each of them if they weren't already an account? Are they receiving that? Failure to adopt this mindset runs the risk of buyers feeling neglected.

  • Understands that sales has a quality as well as a quantity

    Not all business is profitable. The successful rep is selective and knows who not to call on as well as deserving prospects.

  • Views sales as commercial social work, not as a contest or adversarial relationship

    Selling can be an honorable, proud profession. It can contribute to others' success. It is more than a series of jobs leading to compensation.

Today's challenges can't be satisfied with yesterday's mindset. That's especially true in the case of graphic arts sales.

Dick Gorelick's marketing expertise graced the pages of print industry trade magazines for 25 years. See our tribute as well as Dick's past columns at

Dick Gorelick passed away on September 12, 2010. Dick was a prolific writer who always worked far ahead of his deadline. While Gorelick & Associates has formally suspended its operations, Dick's writing remains timeless.