The field of uses for print services and related products has narrowed somewhat in recent years – after all, it's the digital age. This doesn't mean you won't find a market for your offerings. It does, however, involve creating new types of relationships with your customers. You have to become a problem-solver, someone who is ready to step in and deal with any issues that arise. A product can be phased out, but a truly helpful partner is much harder to discard.

There are some quirks to today's sales process that may not be immediately obvious, and they reflect both the best use of your time and how customers today consider their options. The main theme you need to be aware of is using your time ideally. You only have so many hours in the day to chase down new contracts, and when this process goes poorly, the results will tell the tale. You need to ensure that every process you undertake has value.

Counterintuitive advice
One of the most important ideas behind connecting with your clients is one that may seem to go against your natural sales instincts: Printing Impressions contributor Bill Farquharson explained that, sometimes, a sale simply isn't going to happen, and it's time to leave the negotiating table. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't be diligent and follow through on any potential use for your products and services, but sometimes what you're offering isn't what the customer needs, or the reception is so chilly that continuing to pursue the sale is a waste of time.

What you're looking for is a strong connection between your business and the client's needs. This is the crux of the print industry today. Alternately, some organizations will have no need for what you're selling. Farquharson gave the example of a round peg and a square hole. If there is no match, and the prospect is unresponsive to your suggestions and sales pitches, there's probably no middle ground to be had. It's time to move on and pursue another opportunity.

To avoid getting into the above mindset too early in the process, your default sales posture should come from a place of optimism. A first failed attempt to make a sale can be due to poor timing. Maybe the client will purchase from you someday, and there's a good case to follow-up. Farquharson specified that it's when you are being diligent and following up that you'll be able to tell which prospects are likely to someday blossom into customers and which aren't. Once you've zeroed in on firms in the latter group, it's time to let them go. Your time is finite, and if you aren't even getting token responses to your marketing queries, there's likely nothing to be had there.

The process starts early
Another important hint for sales time usage comes from WhatTheyThink's Jennifer Matt. Last year, she remarked upon the state of today's buyers. She explained that these consumers are working with a different set of tools and expectations than their predecessors. Access to online resources means they may know plenty about your services before they even begin engaging with you one-on-one. They're eager to move quickly through the sales process and take advantage of self-service features.

This means it's worth spending time ensuring the company has strong search engine optimization and good content on social media and customer-generated review sites such as Yelp. It may seem tough to step away from the direct sales process to work on more open-ended projects such as social media posting, but these are technically early stages of the customer journey. Matt emphasized that potential clients today can make it through most steps of the sales process before they ever speak to you at all.

There is some loss of control involved in the current sales process. You aren't always taking the initiative, and some of the information about your company's reputation won't come from you directly. As long as you accept that the change is taking place, however, and commit time and effort to processes that suit the new state of affairs, your company is still well placed to capture new contracts. Trying to stick to the old-fashioned sales script is pitching to a market that no longer exists, and not worth your effort.

Mastering the modern market
The printing industry is sometimes viewed as an outdated field – don't let that perception control the way you market your products and services. Put your time into ventures that suit the way customers buy today, and you'll be better positioned to succeed. Sometimes, there's no way to make a sale, and you should be unafraid to drop that line of inquiry. At other times, a day may be better spent preparing online resources than chasing a client contact directly. That's also fine. Scoring great contracts for your printing business means accurately reading the needs of the market and playing to them.