If you are engaging with print buyers, you know that the process looks very different from the way it used to. Just ask Maeghan Nicholson, marketing manager of Suttle-Straus, a large commercial printer just outside Madison, Wis. After a wide-ranging conversation about changes in the process, here are three takeaways that I want to share.
1. The cold call is dead.
If you want to sell print, start by engaging with print buyers by email, through social media, or in person (the younger generation—Nicholson’s generation—does not want to be contacted on the phone right away) in a way that allows you to develop relationships before the first sales conversation ever takes place.
“We have sales teams that specialize in specific vertical markets,” Nicholson says. “We have one that specializes in franchises, for example, and another in nonprofits. They are active in going to trade shows or networking events to engage with people like marketing brand leaders or directors of development, who are aren’t labeled ‘print buyers,’ but who are buying print.”
Cold calling is also highly ineffective in a team environment, she says, where multiple people are involved in the decision. “In the franchise space, for example, you have a marketing brand leader, a person in charge of local activation, and there may be others, as well,” Nicholson explains. “You have to work with the whole team and move them over as a family.”
2. See this as lead nurturing, not sales.
As the experienced generation of print buyers retires, they are leaving behind a new generation of buyers with little experience with print. When it comes to these new buyers, it’s important to respect their expertise in their fields, while exposing them to the value of print in a holistic way.
“My generation is coming through school without those classes in print marketing, advertising, and design,” says Nicholson. “Suttle-Straus has been around since 1910, and a lot of our customers are long-time customers, so our team is used to working with experienced buyers who understand print, how to place print orders, and how to design for print. But if they are going to bring on newcustomers, however, those teams are dealing with a new generation that doesn't have that training or expertise—who is Googling their answers and trying to figure it out. They have to make it easy for them. If it’s too hard, those buyers will give up and bypass print altogether.”
As a result, Nicholson focuses on creating marketing content that educates print buyers in a way that is meaningful to them. This includes getting rid of the technical jargon. “Words like ‘wide-format,’ ‘web-to-print,’ and ‘branded promotional items’ don’t mean anything to this generation,” she explains. “You have to speak to them in terms of what a product does, not how it’s made.”
3. Get visual.
With this new generation of buyers, it’s also important to show, not tell. “Millennials, in particular, are big into social proof,” she says. “If they see something they like on Pinterest, whether it’s a recipe or an idea for a kid’s birthday party, they grab it and try to copy it. The same applies to their advertising and marketing. That’s why we have a strong Pinterest representation for people researching promotional products, or trade show swag, or direct mail ideas.”
This approach to print sales, which is patient, nonlinear, and painstaking, takes more work than the traditional method but, Nicholson says, developing that trust has never been more important.
Selling print, she concludes, has become about the long game. “We have clients that we just won this year that we might have met three years ago at a trade show, but they were under contract, waiting for the last RFP to come around again, or did not yet have the volume to justify making a switch,” she says. “Our sales teams stay engaged and connected. You can’t force buyers to do things before they are ready.”