Commentary & Analysis
The Continuing Evolution of Digital Sales & Customer Service Reps
By Terry Nagi Never in the history of print marketing has the role and responsibilities of the professional print sales representative faced such massive change.
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: May 20, 2005
By Terry Nagi Never in the history of print marketing has the role and responsibilities of the professional print sales representative faced such massive change. May 20, 2005 -- Digital printing and the addition of supportive digital services requires a new type of employee, just as when the industry changed from hot metal to electronic publishing. In the past, a printing company was often composed of a CEO, production person, and a sales rep--simple. Not so simple tomorrow, or even today the staff will include a digital print technologist, a database manager, a digital tech rep versus a CSR. Most sales people will be required, as will other company employees, to multitask, constantly upgrade their knowledge, and adapt to rapidly changing systems. For instance, consider the following: How do you see the responsibility of your sales representatives changing as they sell your digital printing capabilities? How do you expect to cope with this change? Never in the history of print marketing has the role and responsibilities of the professional print sales representative faced such massive change. This change is being forced by a number of factors including: Apparent lack of qualified sales candidates who can provide a return on dollars invested in them within a reasonable period of time. The challenge of shorter runs, therefore smaller dollar value of individual orders, and how much a printer can spend to obtain these shorter run, smaller value orders. Digital transformation of the industry, with its requirement for enhanced technical skills and technology knowledge by the print sales professional. The immediacy issue where clients want to talk to someone right now, and don’t want to wait for a return call from a sales professional. The shrinking net profits of printers, who now must seek new ways to reduce their overall expenses. In the past few years, many printers have downsized their internal operations and made them more efficient. Some have purchased new technologies to provide higher productivity per labor dollar invested. Office staffs have often been downsized. Computer systems have made estimators more efficient. One of the few areas left for significant savings is in sales and marketing. What’s Happening Now Three trends are rippling through the printing industry: Ratio of customer service representatives to sales representatives is increasing Assignment of a customer service representative to individual customers Rapid growth of the technical sales representative The position of the technical sales representative will accelerate in growth as digital presses gain rapid acceptance in the traditional commercial print industry. Recent surveys indicate their ratio of customer service representatives to sales representatives in the printing industries is increasing. In years past it was two professional print sales representatives to a single CSR. Today, it is approximately 1.5 professional print sales representatives to that CSR. More and more, customer service representatives are handling complete client communications and job print order administration, from order initiation to out-the-door, with limited intervention by the professional print sales representative. This trend will most likely continue as customers demand immediate replies, someone in the office who is knowledgeable about their order and can immediately confer with appropriate production people to obtain order status. For many printers, the assignment of a customer service representative to individual customers has created a stronger relationship between the client and the printer. It is no longer just the sales representative who represents the company, but also an internal resource that is readily available. Most growth in company loyalty in the past few years can be attributed to this team approach. It is one of the reasons professional print sales representatives are staying with their current printer, versus moving from one printer to another. An additional trend is the introduction and rapid growth of the technical sales representative. Although most of these positions are found in smaller, digitally-oriented companies, the position of the technical sales representative will accelerate in growth as digital presses gain rapid acceptance in the traditional commercial print industry. These individuals are normally recruited from print schools or business colleges with a strong computer background. They are familiar with computer technologies (both hardware and software) and can easily understand the printing industry’s growth from desktop to digital provider. They often enter the printing industry as a customer service representative or digital technician. As the new breed of digital print sales representatives, their role is viewed as digital technology advisors versus selling clients, and are often actively involved in customer projects from initiation to out-the-door (perhaps in multimedia formats). These individuals are often a combination of salesperson and customer service representative, paid on salary plus bonus, and represent a new breed of sales representatives for the future. What the Future Holds The number of actual sales representatives in the printing industry may not grow significantly, while the numbers of customer service representatives does. In many medium to larger sized commercial print operations, the number of customer service representatives per sales representatives will increase. Customer service people will continue to grow in responsibilities and importance in handling customer communications from the moment an order is received, to checking satisfaction after the order is shipped. The number of actual sales representatives in the printing industry may not grow significantly, while the numbers of customer service representatives does. The digital print sales representative of tomorrow will be oriented towards new account development, spending the first year with a new client cementing their relationship, and then turning over that account to a strong internal customer service representative. Customer service representatives might be more appropriately called sales account managers. New account sales representatives will be compensated with a significant incentive or bonus for each new account opened and high incentive for the first year of developing that account. Thereafter they may receive a small incentive, while the digital customer service representative/account manage/tech rep receives a salary plus bonus for increases year to year with clients assigned to their responsibility. In the future, the expected trend will be that the sales representatives will focus on developing new accounts while customer service and digital technical representatives will maintain those accounts. Tech-Rep Trends Tech-reps and the new account salesperson may become a team for joint selling. Hiring tech-reps is a current trend that is likely to explode as the digital age of printing gains momentum. In the future, many commercial printers will offer both traditional and digital print outputs. In addition, many will also offer multimedia formatting in their digital prepress department as well as multimedia outputs to internets, intranets, extranets, and other non-traditional production. With an ever-increasing number of clients being served, satisfying client needs through a single digital technician will be impossible. The growth of tech-reps, being part of a client’s digital preparation as well as handling their jobs through production, could be phenomenal. Tech-reps and the new account salesperson may become a team for joint selling. Once a prospect has been converted to a client, and after a period of nurturing, the tech-rep could be the main contact agent for that client. The professional sales representative would make infrequent calls, and would be paid a small incentive for all sales. The tech-rep would make frequent telephone and infrequent in-person telephone calls, except when working on the project, and would receive a salary plus small incentive. Recruitment All colleges will be a resource for computer literate individuals who want to be involved in customer satisfaction, but not direct face-to-face continuity selling. Recruitment of resources for sales will continue to change. In the past, one of the main sources for professional sales representatives was from a competitor. We all know how hard this is to do today. More and more, commercial printers are looking internally to current production or customer service individuals to become outside sales representatives, or recruiting college graduates to serve inside before becoming a professional print sales representative. This trend will accelerate in the future. Recruitment on college campuses will be on the increase. Print schools will be primary targets, but all colleges will be a resource for computer literate individuals who want to be involved in customer satisfaction, but not direct face-to-face continuity selling. The printing industry is becoming an ever more attractive place to work, with its family orientation, small business outlook, opportunity for fast growth of new talent, and technology orientation.