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Rose-coloured bifocals

Successful print selling requires good near vision, far vision, and a fair share of optimism


March 25, 2019
By David Fellman

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When I was a kid, you must need glasses, was a pretty common insult. I remember saying it to other kids, and once to a Little League Baseball umpire. That got me thrown out of the game. It turns out, though, that printing salespeople do need glasses. Specifically, they need rose-coloured bifocals, because success in the modern marketplace requires good near vision, far vision, and a fair share of optimism.

Near vision
It has been my experience that most salespeople do not focus very well on what is right in front of them. There is usually some opportunity to gain more value from current customers. Notice that I didn’t say gain more business, but rather gain more value. As I have written before, I believe every current customer provides you with three levels of value: The value of what they are buying from you now, the value of what they could be buying from you, and the value of influence. Working backwards, the value of influence is all about testimonials and referrals. When was the last time you asked one of your customers for a testimonial or a referral? When was the last time you got a real referral out of whatever networking group(s) you belong to?

The value of what they could be buying from you is mostly about the breadth of your product line. Have you talked to every customer about every element of your product line? I am not talking about that one conversation where you blasted out a list of everything you sell. I am also not talking about the time you said, “Think of me for anything that involves printing.” I am talking about having specific conversations about each individual element of your product line. It’s my experience that the more you try to cover in any one conversation, the less likely it is they will hear most of it, let alone all of it.

We also need to talk about protecting the value of what they are buying from you now. The most obvious way to lose a customer is a quality or service failure, but more customers are lost because of something less obvious, even though it should not be. You know your competitors are calling on your customers, right? That means you have to be calling on them too! But more than that, it means you have to be calling on them and bringing value. “Do you need any printing today?” is not a value-based selling strategy.

Far vision
We live in an age of near immediate gratification. As an Amazon Prime member, for example, I can order just about anything from Amazon and have it shipped to me for free within two days. They are even talking about using drones to make same-day deliveries. But while you can buy very quickly, you cannot always sell very quickly, especially when that involves building trust to the point where someone is willing to take the leap of faith and place a custom order with a new supplier. And make no mistake, that is a significant leap of faith.

With better far vision, you might realize it is going to take time to get people to the point where they will seriously consider buying from you. You will also realize that, while there are no shortcuts, there are accelerators. For example, do not just talk about your quality and service — provide some evidence to support your position. And please understand that a handful of hand-picked samples is not going to accelerate the process. But how about supporting the samples with a description of your quality control processes and procedures, and then some testimonials from current customers? Any one of those may have some effect, and any two are almost certainly better, so why not all three?

An optimistic view
I read a study recently which noted that optimists tend to be more successful than pessimists. I hear a lot of pessimism from printing salespeople, though. Now maybe this is coloured by the fact that most of my business involves working with underachievers, but I am hearing a lot more about what is not working than what is.

Here is a fact. There are people doing very well in printing sales, even in highly competitive markets in a difficult economy. Why? I think better vision – near and far – is probably a big part of it.

Are you experiencing the kind of success I’m talking about? If not, could the problem be that you need a new pair of glasses?

Dave Fellman is the president of David Fellman & Associates, a graphic arts industry consulting firm based in Raleigh, N.C. He is a popular speaker who has delivered keynotes and seminars at industry events across the United States, Canada, England, Ireland and Australia. He is the author of “Sell More Printing” and “Listen To The Dinosaur.” Visit his website at www.davefellman.com.

This column was originally published in the March 2019 issue of PrintAction, now available online.


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