By Terry Nagi September 1, 2005 -- A successful sale begins long before meeting with the prospect, and one would argue as much as 90 percent of the sale is the result of preparation. Understanding the client's needs and responding to those needs in the most effective manner is of paramount importance. Listening and asking skills are actively employed for optimum results. It has been discovered that only one out of four well-selected prospects will ultimately buy short run or variable printing. The first obstacle to be faced by the digital print sales representative is to find appropriate prospects willing to listen to the uses and benefits of short run and variable printing. This requires a formalized and continuous, well scheduled Prospecting System. It begins by a significant investment of both time and potential money in finding the best suspects to turn into prospects. To date, it has been discovered that only one out of four well-selected prospects will ultimately buy short run or variable printing. This is significantly less than the ratio of prospects that can be turned into clients in traditional printing. One of the most difficult tasks in the traditional print marketplace is to have sales representatives pursue prospects on a continuous basis. This will be even more difficult when the standard close ratio is one in ten. In addition, selling digital printing to the traditional print buyer is often difficult due to a general atmosphere of resistance. The buyer may be reticent to experiment with or recommend the concept of variable and short run printing to his/her superiors, for several reasons: It is not necessarily the buyer's job to make recommendations on ways to enhance the marketing and communications materials of a company. It could jeopardize the buyer's job if s/he makes recommendations that do not turn out to be positive. It spoils the usual routine of just seeking bids and selecting a preferred vendor. The potential drudgery of pursuing one out of ten suspects is further complicated by the requirement to potentially meet and provide "solutions" to the Marketing Executive, the IT Director, the CFO (Chief Financial Officer), the CEO, the CRM (Customer Relationship Manager), and others. The best system for prospecting: Sets weekly goals of pursuit (research, contact determination, initial telephone calls, letters, follow-up phone calls, additional letters, samples, informational materials, final telephone call) for an in-person appointment and presentation(s) to one or more individuals at the prospect's organization. Charts these goals and records accomplishments. Obtains information on the prospect and the company, its marketing and communications, via stop bys and visits to its website. Obtains the name of all potential buyers and influencers, and manages this information in a database. Pinpoints "most likely" users from current client and prospect lists. Interviews current contacts (most likely the print buyer) to obtain their understanding, cooperation and permission to meet with the influencers in the organization who may consider trying variable printing. Collects this information to be stored in information management software. Initiates a pre-contact PR campaign to not only nurture interest from these potential influencers and buyers, but also to assist them in understanding the uses and benefits of short run and variable digital printing, targeted to specific objectives. From all information collected, pinpoints best case examples from the printer's own experience, the experience of others, from the PODi case studies, etc., to analyze potential opportunities for the prospect's utilization of short run and variable printing. Assembles this information into an informative presentation, potentially using PowerPoint on the sales representative's computer. Determines if group presentations are recommended and possible. After a presentation, assesses the understanding and enthusiasm of those at the presentation for the use of variable or short run digital printing. Diligently pursues an invitation to the buyers and influencers to visit the printer's facilities for a live demonstration of how variable printing works. Creates a presentation during these tours that illustrates how personalization can be used by the visiting organization. Continues mailing samples and case studies of short run and variable digital print successes, to expand the knowledge of buyers and influencers to ultimately assist in finding an appropriate application. Where important, involves an internal resource or partner who can assist the prospect in understanding the requirements of design, database creation, data management, data output, mailing, fulfillment, and other processes/services required in a successfully targeted campaign of digital variable printed products. Works toward a trial run to prove the benefits of digital printing. This Prospecting System may seem exhaustive at first glance; however, when approached in a systematic way, proves to generate significant, consistent results. Now you have to apply what you've learned before you begin seeing success. Coming tomorrow: Understanding the Print Buyer Profile