By Joel E. Crockett October 27, 2003 -- After grinding it out for five tough years, Erik has finally graduated. He's got his degree, he's got some time. So Erik decides to give himself a gift, a trip to San Francisco. He responds to an ad from one of your printing customers, Tours West. He sends for a brochure. Phyllis would like to surprise her husband, Scott, on their 50th anniversary. He's always wanted to visit San Francisco. Phyllis emails Tours West and asks for information. Erik likes bed and breakfasts. He's a hiker, enjoys exploring small, out-of-the-way restaurants, and has a passion for museums. Scott and Phyllis, on the other hand, would rather golf than breathe. They enjoy upscale living and are accustomed to being pampered. But Tours West doesn't know that. All they know is they received two requests and they sent out two brochures. Erik and Phyllis receive identical information describing San Francisco. "Hmmm," muses Erik as he reads his brochure, "not much on B&Bs. I wonder if there are any good hiking trails." "Gee," mutters Phyllis. "They don't even mention golf. Maybe I should consider San Diego." What Would a Sales Rep Do? Have you ever wondered why companies hire salespeople, or maybe, why your company hired you? Perhaps it's because you're good at getting to know your prospects and customers. You build trust. You treat your customers as the individuals they are. An experienced salesperson would undoubtedly provide a list of bed & breakfasts to Erik; a description of the Bay Area's best golf courses to Phyllis. But Tours West doesn't use salespeople. They depend on brochures — brochures with broad and general messages — to tell prospects about the cities they promote, the services they offer. Printed pieces have always contained messages designed to appeal to the largest number of readers. Focusing on the specific interests of an individual prospect is impractical, not to mention cost-prohibitive, with traditional printing. But today, not all printing is traditional. And technology gives us tools to offer, such as variable data printing, that couldn't have been imagined just a few, short years ago. The question is, how do we find a market for these new tools? How do we sell them? It starts with a sound strategy. After all, the concepts are new, the market is just beginning to evolve. Our prospects and customers will need educating even as we do. Moving cautiously is prudent. Will traditional sales skills continue to play an important role? Absolutely! But now we have to think about applying our skills in a brand new way. As teachers, perhaps. Or consultants. The Personalized Pitch Tours West knows how to create marketing pieces. They can write copy that presents the features and advantages of their services. They've been doing it for years. Do they, however, know how to apply the selling process to the development of customized, personalized printed pieces for their prospects? Probably not. That's where you come in. How do you present the concept of variable data printing to the “Tours Wests” of this world? The same way you've always presented your services. The opportunities for your clients are exciting. Instead of focusing their printed copy on general product features, now they can concentrate on how, and why, individual customers use their products or services. Who better to help them develop a process for gathering that information than you? After all, they'll be doing with their variable data printed products what you've made a career of. Selling to individuals. As salespeople our first task, once we're in front of a customer, is to get to know them. We ask questions. Based on their answers we provide information. Gradually we learn about their specific interests and issues. As trust grows and the relationship develops, we're able to provide products and solutions that meet the specific, personalized needs of our customers. The VDP Connection The effective application of variable data printing suggests the same process. But rather than building the relationship face-to-face, your customers will be required to explore other alternatives. Here's an opportunity to share your experience. Offer to brainstorm with them. You might recommend that they use their existing database to analyze past buying patterns of their individual customers (what do you think supermarkets are doing with their “club” cards?). Maybe they could send surveys to prospects or put questionnaires on their websites. There are lots of ways to gather and track information. What feedback will your customer provide when they get a prospect questionnaire? Use your knowledge to suggest ideas and information their prospects will respond to. It may seem bold or even scary to offer your input, to suggest getting involved. After all, they know their business and you are “just a sales rep.” But the fact is, we're all learning together. And you're an expert. Your sales experience has immense value. By inserting yourself in the process you will have an opportunity to learn more about your customer's business, position yourself as a resource to the decision-makers in the company, create a barrier to entry for your competition, and grow in your selling skills. Let's go back to our college graduate, Erik, for a moment. Imagine he's driving his car, listening to his radio. Between songs he hears a radio spot: “Thinking of getting away, maybe to San Francisco? With our customized tour package you can explore some of the City's most unique, small restaurants. How would you like, as part of your visit, a weeklong pass to each of the fine museums in Golden Gate Park. And to make your tour complete, we offer a detailed map of the John Muir hiking trails. Erik, this tour is designed specifically for you. Call us right now at ‘Tours West.'” Pretty powerful, huh? But radio can't offer that degree of personalization… yet! We can. And it's time to share the news!