Back in October, I wrote about a conversation I’d had with a seasoned print buyer who takes all sales calls from printers, but who starts every conversation with the same question: “What is your sweet spot?” She never assumes that a salesperson doesn’t have something to offer, but she does use the question as a filter for which sales calls are worth her time and which are not.

The post generated a number of comments from printers who argued that salespeople should be savvy enough to maneuver out of that question and pivot to finding ways to engage such a buyer about her business challenges and needs instead.

“[This] print buyer wants to pigeonhole each vendor into their ‘sweet spot’ so that she can pick one according to her immediate needs,” wrote one reader. “A savvy salesperson will counter that with, ‘We have a portfolio of services such as X, Y and Z,’ and will attempt to get her to identify her needs first, so that he can cite relevant examples of how good his company would be at meeting them.”

“Isn't the starting point in the conversation the customer's own objectives and their accomplishment?” argues another. “While there may be situations where reducing the cost of doing exactly the same thing as they're doing now is the starting point, it's usually preferable to start with a solution that accomplishes the customer's objectives more effectively.”

I get where these printers are coming from. It’s the answer we have heard in webinars and training sessions for decades. But in this case, I think they are missing the point.

When you’re calling on someone who buys print, that person’s professional experience will be on a spectrum from newbie to seasoned professional. This buyer was on the seasoned professional end. As she pointed out, in most cases, she knows more about print than the salespeople who are calling on her. Time is a precious commodity, so if she’s going to talk to a salesperson, she wants to talk only to those who have the knowledge and experience to engage with her on her level. If the services they are pitching are outside their sweet spot, she has the knowledge and experience to know that she’s not going to get the best results or the best value. The salesperson may not know that, but she does.

The same goes for equipment. It’s not that this print buyer is obsessed with equipment lists, but if she runs high volumes of personalized direct mail on heavier stock and the salesperson’s company only has high-speed CF inkjet and toner presses, she knows the conversation isn’t going anywhere. Or the printer may have a press that prints at 1200 x 1200 dpi, but if it does not offer the right format to produce her mailings, it’s game over before it’s begun.

Thus, with a few strategic questions, this buyer quickly finds out whether this with this sales call is going to be a productive use of time for both of them.

So if a print buyer asks about your equipment list, don’t assume that it’s not a relevant question. If a salesperson works for a printer that has only toner-based presses and the buyer is running monthly volumes in the millions, she knows the conversation is a non-starter—and also that the salesperson hasn’t done his or her homework before making the call. That never bodes well for a business relationship.   

What this print buyer expects (and is speaking for others like her) is for salespeople to have done their research and know their stuff before they pick up the phone. For example, “Our research shows that companies in your vertical tend to be splitting color-critical jobs across multiple processes. We just became one of a limited number of G7 Master Printers in the country, so we are one of the very few in this region that can provide dead-on color match regardless of your run lengths, regardless of which print processes are being used, or how long its been between reprints.” Or, “I know that, as a high-volume mailer, the efficiency of a printer’s production process matters. We just invested in a new B2 format press that will allow us to print those jobs more cost-effectively than most, if not all, of our competitors.”

Even if the buyer doesn’t need the services of a G7 printer or a B2 press, the demonstration of this knowledge tells the seasoned print buyer that the sales call is worth her time.

This is what some of those commenting on the earlier post were missing. For some print buyers who need education in print and marketing, pivoting the conversation away from sweet spots and equipment lists may be a good strategy. But not when that print buyer knows more about print than you do. If that buyer is using those questions as a filter, he or she is doing so for a reason, and you want to demonstrate that you are up to the task. It might determine whether that conversation lasts more than 30 seconds or not.