Commentary & Analysis
You Can Repurpose Information--Why Not Salespeople?
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: March 1, 2004
--- Special Feature You Can Repurpose Information--Why Not Salespeople? By Mike Wesner March 1, 2004 -- A common question I hear from print providers is, “Can you repurpose a conventional printing salesperson to sell digital?” The short answer is that in most cases you cannot. But for those currently studying this issue, let's look a little deeper into why it is difficult to reinvent your existing sales force to sell digital. Look for pain in companies and try to generate repeat business. I like people new to the industry. Does this mean young in age? Not necessarily--but it does mean somebody who thinks differently from most traditional printing salespeople. I would look for people in different industries with disparate backgrounds that understand what it takes to develop revenue by being able to solve business problems and yes—I'll say it—be a bit more consultative in their sales technique. I know this all sounds trite, but digital printing sales, especially variable data printing and one-to-one solutions, are difficult and the results take time. Even though the results can be tremendous when they finally come, conventional sales people are accustomed to a shorter sales cycle and larger first project results and I find they commonly lack the patience necessary to invest the time to cultivate a digital annuity. My lens at studying the problem is based largely on my experiences. I came to the printing industry with a non-printing background. I was trained to be aggressive, lean forward constantly, and to solve problems. The way I learned to solve this problem was to surround myself with good people and develop trust within our solutions team. I always leaned on them pretty hard, but the solutions were always developed by the team. I've seen some real breakthroughs when a talented team of people who are smarter than me is assembled. Look for Pain My early success in the digital printing industry can be isolated to two defining moments. My first major breakthrough was when I was helping re-engineer a small printing company. At the end of the day, I made one more phone call to a decision maker at a Fortune 100 company. The results proved phenomenal and one of my first digital annuities was created. My creed after that was to look for pain in companies and try to generate repeat business. We found ways to create print management programs that often focused on a technology solution that was peripheral to the actual print process--not what most conventional print sales people, even if they are fortunate to receive any training, are accustomed to doing. Ask Questions Find good people to get on your bus and then you can more easily decide the direction that your bus needs to be driven. My second breakthrough was when I learned the power of asking questions. In one case, I asked two simple questions in a meeting with a large service company--“do you need all the printing this month, and do ever anticipate changing the documents?” The answers produced a solution that distinguished me from the conventional competition in the local market. So what then should you look for if you want to create a dynamic digital sales force? I would look in strange places for people who are talented first. As outlined in Jim Collins' classic work , Good to Great , first find good people to get on your bus and then you can more easily decide the direction that your bus needs to be driven. If you've got time, you can teach people how to be digital business consultants. Sometimes this task becomes more difficult with people that have an extensive background in conventional printing. The knowledge of being a printer keeps many from being aggressively creative in solving business problems. I have seen some superstars in the conventional world who embrace digital and use it effectively to solve problems for their customers. This type of individual is the quintessential sales person and is very rare. Usually, but not always, there is something in her background that makes her different--makes her think more like a business person than a salesperson. Look for Problem Solvers The first trait, talent, you can find in most successful salespeople, whether they are digital or conventional. But the willingness to be a problem detective and solve a small immediate problem for a client is a skill I do not often see with conventional sales professionals. “Give me the big order now, baby,” is their mantra! The willingness to be a problem detective and solve a small immediate problem for a client is a skill I do not often see with conventional sales professionals. The digital creed is “give me the medium-size order now and also give me the ‘gift that keeps on giving!'” And management has to accept some of the blame for not fostering an environment that allows the real repeat business opportunities to be harvested. I also like new people and even naive people who don't know any better--and will do things conventional salespeople would laugh at the thought of doing. I always like to keep a couple of “newbies” on the team, because it is exciting what kind of interesting stuff that they stumble into because they don't know any better. Two Recommendations If you want to improve your digital sales with an existing conventional sales force I recommend a couple of things. Hire a thought leader without a printing background. Some of the early success of digital printing operations is due squarely to the fact that they have a different thought process than that of the conventional printer. The idea of hiring a marketing person is receiving a lot of consideration by printers but the brutal truth is that most marketing people have yet to grasp the power of one-to-one marketing and understanding the importance of offer relevance with this type of solution. And you have to ask yourself how can you expect to attract marketing talent into your company unless you can distinguish it as unique and different in the marketplace and get these talented individuals excited about the vision of your company. You may even want to start with thinking about whether you want to have the word printing in your name. But that is another discussion altogether. Hire at the appropriate level. If you are going to bring in a digital thought leader, then put her in a leadership position where she can effectively champion change instead of keeping her in a corner where she is occasionally invited out to perform like a “dog that is brought out at cocktail parties because he can turn back flips.” Otherwise you are wasting a tremendous talent and frustrating an individual who is probably ready to boil the ocean with digital techniques. Perhaps a conventional team can be led to charge the digital mountain if they are led by a sales leader who values the importance of digital solutions and has the appropriate level of influence on the direction of the company. Finally, digital printing success is not necessarily about hiring people from the millennial generation. It's more about hiring people who are first talented and also new to the industry--who do not suffer from “heavy metal” thinking. Sometimes new means simply reinventing yourself and learning how to create value by solving your customer's business problems.