By Mike Wesner December 8, 2003 -- As I travel around the country I hear the pains of many in the printing industry that have added digital printing solutions to their arsenal. Many are dismayed by the long sales cycle often associated with digital and variable data printing and the difficulty in finding good digital sales people. I often hear the questions, “How can I train my sales team to understand digital printing better? Can I repurpose sales people that have been selling traditional printing for long periods? Where can I find a good digital sales person?” And finally, “How can I shorten the lengthy sales cycle.” The quick answer is that you must first understand that your sales team is not selling digital printing. Yes that's right, your people are not selling digital printing. They are selling two very powerful things that most printers have not yet begun to understand. These are: business solutions and marketing solutions. A longer answer is that there must be a solid supporting team inside your printing company that offers both business solutions and marketing expertise before those that are out on the streets can really be successful. Business Solutions The real power of digital printing is when your sales team realizes that they are no longer selling printing: no longer taking print orders, but actually assuming the role of a business consultant. Good digital sales people understand that digital printing by itself is a “cure looking for a disease.” Their job is become problem detectives in their accounts and bring communication solutions to their clients. Business solutions usually include efficiencies that are created by automation and digital content management. These two solutions are usually a very lucrative service offering for printers because they include print management systems that embed you in these accounts, allow you to create long standing relationships, and ultimately blossom into revenue annuities for the solution provider. Marketing Solutions Secondly, the digital sales person in the new digital print arena must also be a marketing consultant—someone that knows how to help companies increase revenues and develop new and emerging markets for their clients. Many printers in the one to one marketing space are discovering that almost any printer can output digitally, but only the most sophisticated can adequately add value to their clients in the more difficult space in front of the printing—the consultative project management of incorporating database expertise, data analytics, effective design, and mailing knowledge. Even if you're lucky enough to have sales professionals that are both business and marketing consultants, they can ultimately only be as effective as the team within your company. Without a solid team in the plant, your sales team is out there, to quote an old navy chief that I used to work with, “writing checks with your mouth, that your butt can't cash.” There are three critical areas that are found in the most successful digital printing companies: problem solving systems savvy, creative talent, and mail expertise Systems Savvy The digital sales team needs a team of confident experts in the plant that just know how to find creative ways to solve business problems. Many printing companies today are having great success with team selling and even more success with what I like to call team “mind-storming” sessions. Many problems are solved in plant conference rooms as companies' smartest minds lock themselves in rooms and sketch out workflow and programming solutions for many clients. These solutions may involve computer programming, e-solutions development, distribution analysis, and other brainstorming procedures such as Kaizen techniques. What we see in these companies is a relentless desire to solve customer problems with creative solutions and determined brain power. And what's exciting is that your customers are willing to pay a premium for this type of problem solving. Creativity Successful digital printing companies have creative talent within their company. With variable data printing design, even the most talented agencies and in-company graphic designers often cannot effectively think three-dimensionally and realize the full potential of variable information printing. They simply aren't aware of what can be done and how to incorporate it into a printed piece and perhaps relate it to a customized web page. I have noticed that when I go into follow-up meetings with a client and have a piece in my hand that has already been designed by my creative team (that was a direct result of having all my smart people assembled in a mind-storming new business meeting) it's much more effective for pulling the customer to the power of one-to-one marketing, than pushing them to try this new technology that they really can't quite understand. Mail Expertise You can have all the superstars required for digital printing success within your company but if you do not have that enigmatic mail expert on your team, your digital one-to-one marketing projects could be disastrous. However, if your team can quote the USPS postal handbooks and offer expertise on the intricacies of our mail system, you are well on your way to experiencing some great digital success. With one-to-one marketing printing techniques many digital shops are eliminating the need for a mail house to handle the mail. But this is not for the faint-hearted. Make sure you have the knowledge and expertise necessary for the project. Reprinting the job is one thing, but ponying up the cost of postage for that reprint could eventually put you out of business. Conclusion If you've got salespeople that aren't just “order takers” but are business problem and marketing solutions consultants you are on your way to creating a blue chip sales team. And if you want to shorten that 18 to 24 month sales cycle that is often associated with digital solutions you may want to look inside and find ways to shorten the cycle. Those printing companies that are developing expertise in these internal competencies, are in an exciting transition from being in the business of print manufacturing and are well on there way to becoming communications consulting companies.