With a severe recession fully underway, it shouldn't be surprising that the leaders of most printing and marketing services companies are worried about sales.  Most companies will find it very difficult to keep 2009 sales at 2008 levels.  Growing revenues in 2009 will be a herculean task, and some companies will face substantial revenue declines.

While there is no "magic bullet" for increasing sales, there are several ways to improve the performance of your sales team.  The 2009 Sales Performance Optimization Survey and Analysis report by CSO Insights offers a wealth of information about the current state of sales performance and how to improve it.  One of the key points revealed by this research is that sales success depends on how you sell as well as what you sell.

How you sell has two major components.  The first component is how your customers perceive the nature and value of the relationship with your company.  CSO Insights identifies five levels of relationship that a company can achieve with customers.  At the lowest level, most customers see your company as nothing more than an "Approved Vendor" that provides acceptable products or services.  At the highest level, your company is seen as a "Trusted Partner" whose products, services, insights, and other contributions are key to the customer's long-term success.

The second component of how you sell is the process you use to engage and work with your customers.  CSO Insights contends that company sales organizations will fall into one of four levels when it comes to the process they use to identify prospects and create customer relationships.  Companies at the lowest level have no formal selling process.  Every salesperson does his/her own thing.  At the highest level, a company uses a well-defined selling process.  The company monitors and measures the use of the process by its sales team and provides continuous feedback to individual salespeople about the process.

The research by CSO Insights indicates that the higher you are along these two dimensions (relationship and process), the more sales success you will achieve.  For example, CSO Insights found that higher ranking companies have more salespeople  who achieve their sales targets (quotas), higher closing ratios, and a lower turnover of salespeople.

In the graphic communications industry, we've recognized that it's important for printing companies to change how they are perceived by customers.  Printers are regularly advised to use "consultive selling" or "solutions selling" to move their relationships with customers to a higher level.

Far less attention has been given to the importance of the marketing and sales process.  In reality, most managers don't treat marketing and sales as a process at all.  A business process can be defined as a group of activities that takes inputs and transforms them into outputs.  By this definition, marketing and sales is as much of a process as what happens on the shop floor.  Your print production process takes raw materials (paper, ink, etc.) and adds value to transform those raw materials into printed documents.  Your marketing and sales process takes raw materials (people or organizations in the marketplace who have the kinds of problems your company can solve) and adds value to them until they are transformed into customers.  In a very real sense, marketing and sales is a production process, and its objective is to "manufacture" customers.

The important point is that, because marketing and sales is a process, it can be measured, analyzed, and improved using tested and proven process improvement tools.  This means that you can apply the techniques of lean manufacturing or Six Sigma to understand the real causes of your sales problems and to increase both the effectiveness and efficiency of your marketing and sales process.  The traditional way to deal with sales problems is to provide sales training that focuses on individual selling skills, or to adjust sales compensation programs, or to simply demand more marketing and selling activity - more prospecting, more sales calls, or more quotes.  At times, these actions may be appropriate and useful, but if the underlying sales process is flawed or ineffective, they probably won't solve the problems.

The importance of process quality can't be overstated.  A flawed marketing and sales process will diminish the results of even the most talented salesperson.  A first-rate marketing and sales process, on the other hand, will elevate the performance of even an average salesperson.  Hajime Ohba, the former president of the Toyota Supplier Support Center, captured this idea well when he said, "We get brilliant results from average people managing brilliant processes.  We observe that our competitors often get average (or worse) results from brilliant people managing broken processes."