Print products don't sell themselves, especially not today. You may have felt your efforts to strike up new contracts hampered by the perception that physical documents are somehow outdated or on the verge of replacement. Of course, you know that's not precisely true, and with a confident and well-researched sales pitch, you can make sure your potential buyers realize this fact as well. Today's market is based not on colossal volume, but on knowing your customers well.

Print documents and business forms have become specialty products, and that's not an insult to their continued role in business. Rather, the process of selling these items has become more complex and in-depth, and if you rise to the task, there are still contracts out there to be had. The first step is to ensure that you're not presenting a generic pitch. It's important that you come to the table with a profound understanding of relevant needs and challenges.

Live in your customers' world
There should be no separation between your knowledge and your target market's everyday business problems. WhatTheyThink columnist Jennifer Matt recently opined that print service providers today get ahead by becoming versed, not just in the general world of print products, but the specific forces affecting their clients.

For instance, if you're planning on selling to government agencies, you should be aware of every local rule and regulation that might affect the amount and type of business forms the relevant departments need. Matt explained that businesses with staying power in the printing industry can spend years working with the same types of customers, becoming subject matter experts. This process of integration will make it easier to address relevant challenges, rather than leading with products and trying to find situations that fit them.

When you learn these kinds of deep insights, you can go beyond traditional descriptions and expectations of the printing business. Matt cited an example wherein a printer became the de facto marketing arm for a company because the service provider knew so much about the industry. The client firm trusted the print organization to understand relevant trends and deliver a satisfactory marketing push. That's a great vote of confidence, and if you can get that kind of buy-in from your prospects, the present-day print industry will prove far more hospitable than if you're simply providing physical products.

Today's high-speed world is sometimes described as "post-loyalty." In both business and consumer spaces, it's possible for buyers to switch vendors at a moment's notice, going for a lower price or spontaneous deal. Becoming a valued partner for a client is one way to get around this challenging environment, as you'll be providing knowledge and strategic assistance in addition to products. The above hints can help you achieve this level of connection.

The problem-solving mindset
There's a lot to be said for leading a sales discussion with a dive into prospects' industry problems rather than your own organization's capabilities. In fact, Printing Impressions contributor Mary Ann McLaughlin listed a focus on client issues first among skills possessed by the best salespeople. If you want to be among these leaders, it's vital that you put customers' needs ahead of any concerns about internal quotas. Become well-attuned to your target industry's needs and the quotas will meet themselves.

Of course, not every issue affects a whole industry. Some problems are very specific to particular clients. McLaughlin urged salespeople to listen to their prospects and follow up on what they require. Potential customers will teach you plenty if you listen patiently. You may find great alignment between their problems and your solutions that would have been invisible had you not paid attention and modified your pitch.

Selling paper products today means finding weak spots in current operations and proposing ideas that could resolve any shortcomings. The industries you specialize in will all have their own particular quirks and needs, and if you're an expert in them, the connections with potential clients will become obvious.