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Commentary & Analysis

Is Your Sales Team Holding You Back?

I frequently hear that incumbent sales people are inhibiting a company’s ability to introduce new products and services and are increasingly resistant to prospecting for new business opportunities. As the role of the sales professional continues to evolve we need to rethink our pre-conceived paradigms regarding what top performing sales professionals look like. A carefully designed strategy for attracting, recruiting and selecting sales talent is an essential component to building a sustainable business.

By Jerry Scher
Published: May 14, 2013

How’s your progress going with redefining your business? Have you been able to identify what you would like your business to look like five years from now? Are your sales currently growing along with maintaining an acceptable profit level? Earlier this week Dr. Joe Webb’s commentary on Q1’s revenue results were not very exciting and quite frankly all indicators continue to support the notion that in order to build a sustainable business in the graphics communications industry one must:

  • Embrace new products, services and strategies
  • Develop a myriad of resources to support this change
  • Find and develop new markets and clients

A wide range of experts will tell you that you need a plan; a well-developed strategy that’s created with input from a broad group of stakeholders, including  your employees, so  the ultimate vision becomes a shared vision, one resulting in an aligned, supportive workforce. Considering that your current and future workforce will be charged with executing your strategy, one must carefully consider whether or not you’re current team represents the best talent necessary to execute at your level of expectation.

In a recent article -The Goal Revisited , John Braceland, Graphic Arts Alliance, shared his thoughts about The Theory of Constraints which focuses on three areas that must be controlled in all organizations:

  1. Throughput – rate that the system is used to generate money through sales
  2. Inventory – all the money invested in purchasing items that will be sold
  3. Operational Expense – all the money used to turn inventory into throughput

While many organizations within our industry appear to perform reasonably well with constraints two and three, it is becoming increasingly obvious that constraint number one – throughput is a source of considerable frustration. As the ink-on-paper market continues to struggle and new products and services are required to expand revenue, sales people are being challenged. They must  become experts in new product/services areas, expand their relationships with multiple client contacts, leverage rapidly changing technologies for marketing, business generation and retention all while working collaboratively with a team of support staff, no longer  operating as the lone ranger. Based on continuous research in the field it is quite apparent that a large percentage of the legacy sales people employed within our industry are not prepared to transition to the new role and therefore are becoming an inhibiting factor to future business development and growth.

In a recent blog – Why Top Sales People Will Be Unemployed in Two Years  the author suggests that as the buying environment continues to change and sales people don’t evolve, large numbers of them will no longer be employable. So how do we as business leaders address this challenge? Some will suggest that we invest heavily in re-training our current sales people. While that may work with some of the legacy sale people in our industry, I fear that far too many of them are actually not suitable for the next generation, graphic communications sales role. And quite frankly too many are resistant to the changes that are required.

I would like to suggest a three –tiered approach in addressing this challenge.  But  first you must carefully define the job - taking into consideration who they will be selling to, what products/services they will be selling, who else in the organization will be involved in the sales process and how you plan to compensate the sales team. Once this task is completed I strongly recommend that you establish a structured approach to attracting and selecting the most appropriate talent. This approach should incorporate three primary components:

  1. Eligibility – refers to a complete description of the past experience, education, knowledge, network, certification, industry knowledge and any other pre-requisites you deem necessary.
  2. Suitability – refers to the personality and behavioral competencies, work preferences and interests that you believe are critical to achieving success in the position. It is extremely important that you identify the traits that are appropriate for each job and leverage the available technology to assess existing sales people and of course the candidates you are considering for the position.
  3. Interview – as a critical component of this three-tiered approach, your team must develop a much higher level of competence when it comes to interviewing candidates. This appears to be a significant weakness in too many organizations – how to construct and conduct an effective interview.

The costs related to hiring the wrong person for a job are well documented.  You  focus so much attention on improving process and controlling so many processes to improve efficiencies.  Isn’t it time to  improve your recruiting and hiring efficiencies as well?

If you would like more information about how to more effectively identify and select the best talent, contact Jerry Scher at jerry@peakfocuscoach.com or 404-931-9291.  For information about  Harrison Assessments™ – the highly acclaimed assessment technology – visit http://peakfocus.harrisonassessments.com/index.html

Stay tuned to this continual series – as we continue to focus the challenges of building an effective team.

Jerry Scher has been engaged in the graphic communication industry for over 35 years, Jerry's primary goal - make those around him more successful.



By Steven Schnoll on May 14, 2013

Well done. I hope printers who are experiencing this situation are paying attention.


By Al Guerin on May 14, 2013

I'm not sure the title of this article best describes the real issue. My experience as a vendor sales rep to the graphics communications industry has given me a slightly different perception. I think the real issue that is holding back companies in the graphics communications industry from success is the ownership's commitment to change. The companies holding on to a PSP mentality will fade away, some faster than others.

Sales teams (people) can't hold any organization back. By their nature and motivation, sales people only do what they are paid to do. Yes, some have certain skills and knowledge that makes them better than others, but if you don't pay them to learn they won't. If you don't pay them to develop new markets and applications they won't. The carrot for sales people is always money. Companies should align their sales compensation with their strategic goals. If you want to sell more digital printing or MSP type solutions, pay for them. This may mean the company makes less money on the new stuff initially, but that is how I've seen it work.

If the fear of losing good paying PSP customers is what is holding an organization back from pushing more MSP type offerings, I think adding new more tech savvy sales people, or having a MSP specialist who supplements current sales folks, is a good way to approach it. This way the sales reps who have the PSP relationships can fade away with that business if they don't want to change, or they will follow the money and embrace change.

But, what I've largely seen is a lack of strategic planning and commitment on the part of ownership to "evolve," rather than the sales people holding a company back. Sales people always follow the money.


By Jerry Scher on May 15, 2013

Al, I appreciate your comments and while I strongly agree that the dramatic transition occurring within our industry requires:
•Thoughtful planning (read my recent WTT articles – “The Role of the CEO When Transitioning Your Business” and “Change Requires Leadership”)
•Compensation plans aligned with strategic goals and objectives – “Structure Causes Behavior”
•Some sales people are better than others

I acknowledge your perspective as a vendor sales rep, having been a vendor myself (as a sales rep and a business owner for over 30 years) but my experience as a sales trainer and coach has convinced me (and many others – including their clients) that the majority of our current generation of PSP sales people are transactional sellers at best, add no significant value and are probably overpaid. And while companies have a responsibility to provide training, the “sales professional” has a responsibility to prepare themselves (even at their own expense) for this industry in transition. In fact, if they truly followed the money, they would take the initiative to re-invent themselves as a strategic resource to their internal and external clients.

As a strategic planning facilitator, I’m a true believer in the strategic planning process but at the end of the day it’s the execution of the plan that makes the difference. And Jim Collins taught us in “Good to Great” that in order to execute successfully you need to get the right people on the bus, in the right seats and get the wrong people off the bus.

Al - I would be more than happy to further discuss this with you – call me anytime 404-931-9291


By Gina Danner on May 15, 2013

I have some recent experiences that validate Jerry's article. Mail Print, truly a leader in digital/offset print/MSP whatever you want to call it today - having done everything that PSPs talk about getting into, has recently had the opportunity to pickup a few traditional commercial printing sales folks and lost a few candidates as well.

The ones we picked up realized we were the ones really doing what everyone else is saying they intend to get into. These reps know print has changed and know they need to grow and evolve if they are going to stay in the industry.

The ones that didn't join us were visibly afraid of change. Comments from them included, "I know this is probably a mistake, but I'm going to OLD PRINTER #3." "You guys are doing what others are talking about, but I don't really understand it and my customers only want to work with me so these sales engineers and other support folks wouldn't work well with my clients."

Alas, this is my competition.

Keep in mind that these reps got their attitudes honestly from the leadership at previous companies. Print has a leadership problem.

I have spoken to print leaders who sit back and revel in the good old days of print and reinforce "quality, service price" to their teams. They aren't creating value for their clients, their customers, their employees or themselves.

QSP is a given. Too many owners can't even articulate the value they truly provide clients or the pain they solve. If they can't do it why would a sales person be able to do so?


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