The sales process for print services is a close collaboration between you as the representative and your client. Today's printing business is based on selling exactly the solutions your customers need, when they need them. It's not a business of bulk orders. Instead, you're filling needs as they arise, delivering on-point products and services. To get the necessary knowledge for such a close collaboration, you can never take your roster of clients for granted. Remember that holding onto contracts is easier when you know customers well enough to take the lead in suggesting new products.

The difference between a merely acceptable print service provider and one that becomes a high-level marketing partner is in insight. Everything from market conditions to the demands of your customers' customers is good intelligence that could turn into an upsell or an exciting new wrinkle in the relationship between the two organizations. Print can be used in exciting and creative ways – and it's incumbent on you to lead the sales process in those directions.

Ask questions to build relationships
One of the best ways to learn about your clients and their needs is also one of the simplest: Just ask! According to Printing Impressions contributor Bill Farquharson, you can broach several important topics with your clients to discover what kinds of services will see them in good stead going forward. Becoming a trusted partner means working with that organization as it launches new projects and expands its influence. The way to learn about such plans, hopes and expectations is simply to ask. Learning this info will equip you with the skills you need to pitch products that make sense.

Remembering that the sales process is about problems to be resolved, rather than products to sell, can free you up to effectively pitch new solutions. Farquharson noted that you should be attentive when customers get in touch with you and not hesitate to reach out to them if you learn a piece of relevant industry information. This will build up a pattern of trust in which you become a go-to resource when there is a problem to solve.

Establishing two-way communication with your client may mean going against your salesperson instincts at some points. The author explained that when a customer asks for something you don't provide, you can go ahead and suggest another company that does have that capability. This move is all about getting a relevant problem solved instead of moving onto a less pressing matter that you can address. You're putting the customer first and upping your credibility. This will become relevant when it comes time to provide solutions that you do offer.

Human connection is the ultimate goal when it comes to sales relationships. If your contacts believe in your recommendations on a person-to-person basis, you'll become more than a salesperson – you'll be a trusted advisor. There is a real need to reach out for good advice when decisions become tough, so by deepening the relationship with your customers, you may be able to hang onto a contract when an agreement based solely on prices or service offerings would be discarded.

Picking opportunities to nurture
Another Printing Impressions columnist, Mike Jacoutot, recently listed some of the simple and effective habits that define the modern sales process. Naturally, these fit in with the above focus on close relationships rather than taking a wide or general approach to finding and nurturing business. Every step of the sales process, from selecting leads to making contact and maintaining relationships, over time can be adjusted to suit the more personal, contemporary printing industry.

For instance, Jacoutot specified that salespeople today should focus on the leads they can help most. A large company with no need for your print offerings is naturally less valuable than a small company that you can converse openly with about opportunities to solve its problems. Creating a strong, two-way dialogue with a client is the way sales today operates, but if you pick a client that isn't a good fit for you, even success at becoming a trusted partner will only get you so far.

Luckily, finding out about which companies you can help most is a natural side effect of doing your homework on possible opportunities. Jacoutot noted that when you reach out to a new customer, you should be equipped to speak to the customer about that potential client's industry and situation. This kind of knowledge is gathered through hard work. The questioning described above is a way to deepen your information, but studying up before initial contact is something to undertake yourself.

When you match up well-chosen clients with a thorough and solution-based approach, it's possible to become a close ally to customers. A typical "print service provider" promises ambiguous value today. An overall marketing partner and confidant, though, is something an organization will want. Becoming that latter kind of contact is possible.