Recently, I read a white paper titled “Print in the Eye of the Buyer.” Released by NAPCO Research and sponsored by Canon, it surveyed more than 200 print buyers and influencers on everything from the importance of the brand of the press in vendor selection to where print buyers and influencers seek information on products and processes. After reading it, I did what any self-respecting data junkie would do. I called an experienced print buyer to get her perspective.

What I wanted to know wasn’t about the top-level data, which was dominated by the responses of experienced industry professionals. I wanted her thoughts on the underlying trends—the ones hidden below the top-line data—regarding what I call New-Gen buyers, or the newer generation of digital natives who are much less familiar with print. I had barely finished framing my question when she shot a question right back at me: “What about the New-Gen print salespeople?

Her question caught me off-guard, but it was an interesting one. Her point is that, yes, there is a large gap between print salespeople and buyers, but this gap is not simply due to a lack of understanding about what buyers want. It’s equally due to the fact many print salespeople don’t know their own business.

“Printers hire these young salespeople, then tell them to go out and sell,” she says. “They don’t train them properly. Instead, they tell them that it’s a numbers game. If they make enough calls and send enough emails, they’ll meet their quotas. But the problem is that these young salespeople often don’t even know what they are selling. In many cases, they don’t even know what presses the jobs will be run on.”

This lack of knowledge undermines the basic principle of successful selling, she argues, which requires knowing what you are good at and finding the buyers who need what you offer. It’s a simple formula, but too few print salespeople follow it. “When a print salesperson calls me, the first thing I ask them is what their sweet spot is—where do you make money?” she says. “This tells me right away if they’re a good fit for us. But you can tell they are taken aback. They don’t know what to say because they don’t know.”

If salespeople don’t know their company’s sweet spot, she says, they shouldn’t be making sales calls. Too often, they end up calling on the wrong people, and even if they land the job, those clients won’t be well served. Not only this, but if it’s not the right match, the printer won’t make any money anyway.

For print shops, this print buyer concludes, the takeaway is simple:

  • Know your core business and your sweet spot.
  • Hire the right people with the right skills to sell into that sweet spot, then train them to know your business.
  • Don’t play the numbers game. Encourage your salespeople to research their prospects first so they can intelligently explain why they are contacting them, specifically; how your capabilities fit that prospect’s niche; and what you genuinely have to offer that they may not currently be receiving.

What’s your core competency? Are your salespeople selling against it? If not, what might happen if you change your approach so they do?