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Setting the sales mood

April 20, 2017  By David Fellman

How to create a print sales environment with your client in order to receive an honest answer

In last month’s column, I wrote that the ideal printing sales conversation should be built around a single question: If you could change anything about your printing or your dealings with your printing supplier(s), what would it be?

I also wrote that I’m not sure you can walk in, sit down, and ask that question without first creating an environment that will get you an honest answer.


As I mentioned last month, you won’t identify a buyer’s hot buttons by talking at them. It’s a much better strategy to engage them in conversation. And if you find that they do have problems, that’s a reason to get excited. Problems with print suppliers generally cause pain, and pain creates a pivot point. It makes people think about changing suppliers, but getting an honest answer about their willingness to change is a significant sales challenge.

Four-part conversation
I think that an “ideal printing sales conversation” should consist of four parts. Part 1 is about the company you’re calling on. Part 2 is about the individual(s) you’re meeting with. Part 3 is about the printing you’ll be competing for. Finally, Part 4 is about what you would change if you could. I think it’s important to follow that order, and that’s because Parts 1 and 2 especially are about setting a mood, and creating that environment for an open and honest answer to the ultimate question.

So let’s start by talking about the company, and let’s not ever start by saying, “So what does this company do?” I saw that happen recently, and the buyer’s response was, “We don’t spend much time with someone who doesn’t make an effort to learn that before he walks into my office.” I hope you’ll agree that a little research is called for before meeting with a prospect.

In that research, I’m hoping to find something that will give the person I’m talking to an opportunity to brag about his or her company. Here’s an example: “I’ve been following your company on Facebook, and I saw that you received a corporate good citizenship award. Were you personally involved in that?” That 10-second question had the prospect talking animatedly for three to four minutes.

Here’s a good rule of thumb for any salesperson: The more they’re talking and the less you’re talking, the better you’re doing, especially early in the game. The key here is to engage your prospect in conversation.

About the individual
Okay, let’s say that you engage in a few successful minutes of conversation about the company. Next, I want to transition to a few minutes of conversation about the individual. But this is not where you ask which football team the prospect supports.

You’ll have opportunity for social conversation later. This is a business conversation, and there are two things I want to learn at this stage. First, whether the person I’m talking to is empowered to buy from me and, second, whether he or she will likely have interest in buying from me.

To address the first issue, I like to ask, “How long have you been working here?” I’ve found that long tenure is a good indication of authority. But do you see how this question cloaks your true objective inside a question that should be perceived as sincere interest? Let’s compare that to another approach, asking bluntly whether the person you’re talking to has the authority you need. Do you agree that a question like that could destroy the mood?

To address the second issue, I like to ask, “How much time do you spend dealing with printing salespeople, and is this a part of your job that you enjoy?” The answer I’m hoping for is a lot of time, but not a lot of enjoyment. Do you see how that would provide interest in making a change from the status quo?

Qualifying the lead
To this point, if all has gone well. You’ve done a little bit of talking and a lot of listening. I want you to continue that for another few minutes, but now I want you to learn about the prospect’s printing needs. This is really about qualifying, because before you invest a lot of time in a prospect, I want you to be sure that they have enough volume potential to justify it.

To get into that, I might ask, “Can you tell me about your last print project?” I can mentally calculate the dollar value as the prospect describes the job. I can repeat this process to talk about a few more recent projects, and maybe some future projects.

I hope you’ll see how this process can help you to qualify – without destroying the mood. Because now we’re getting to the point where you ask the ultimate question. To get an open and honest answer. And have some real basis to decide whether success is likely, and exactly how to position yourself as the solution to his or her problem and/or the relief for his or her pain – Now that’s selling!

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