When it comes to markets such as print – meaning those in the midst of a severe transformation from a legacy model to a new and different approach – marketing is a complex but essential function. The relationship organizations had with their print service providers even just a few years ago has become effectively void, with the printing industry no longer serving as an all-purpose communication cleaning house. That means it's time for print shops to reposition their value propositions, which will in turn call for plenty of high-quality marketing.

Organizations that excel at selling their products and services may end up higher up the printing business food chain than they previously were, as traditional rivals fade down the stretch, unable to adapt as quickly to the emerging print paradigm. This means it's time for leaders and sales professionals to take a long look at their current capabilities, their potential customers' needs and the possible connections between the two.

Prioritize the sales process
Printing Impressions contributor Thad Kubis recently opined that while printing is a highly technical business on the shop floor, many companies don't apply the same precision approach to their sales calls. This is a mistake, of course, as organizations that can't market and sell their products effectively will inevitably flail in an industry based on creating connections between vendors and buyers.

Kubis called for printers to realize that they need to embrace solid metrics – and unique ones. He specified that overall industry baselines are fine for what they are, but each firm will have to calculate a unique set of return on investment numbers and metrics specific to its product offerings and niche. Printers that get too caught up on comparing numbers with rivals may end up contrasting apples with oranges, getting an inaccurate portrait of their real market roles.

One of the most unfortunate tendencies leading to current confusion in the print marketing space is habitual setting of unreasonable sales targets. Kubis pointed out that sales departments setting goals they can't reach are set up to fail before they even begin. Leaders who make up idealistic numbers of sales to aim for during a given quarter take away their own ability to declare victory.

What leads to unrealistic expectations? Some print providers may be using flawed prospect databases, collections of names that are large but unrefined and full of information for individuals who will not actually buy. Kubis noted that working with a terrible database leads to an unplottable response rate, because there are so many types of names in the data, good and bad alike. If companies take the time and set aside the budget to comb their databases and ensure the information quality, the next steps of marketing will proceed more predictably.

Pop quiz!
When it comes to making an adequate sales effort, each member of the sales team needs to be plugged into the process. This is the premise laid out by a second Printing Impressions blogger Bill Farquharson. He described four important points that each salesperson should be an expert on to ensure sales close at an acceptable rate. If any one of these is an issue, that's where to start fixing the program:

  1. High-value sales calls: This means performing research and ensuring every time a rep gets on the phone, there is at least a change of getting through and making a sale. Careless sales may seem like an equal amount of work – but the end results will likely be very different.
  2. Understanding of the target market: Who is going to buy a company's print services, and what kind of challenges are they trying to overcome? Salespeople who can't answer those questions may not end up making much progress with their prospects, as they don't speak the language of the market.
  3. A step-by-step prospecting process: Good prospects don't grow on trees. Learning about companies and determining which are ready to buy is an art that salespeople will have to master to avoid wasting time and effort.
  4. Diligence, persistence, good attitude: Sometimes, a sale can come down to a person's individual charm and diligence. Those who treat selling products as a burden or something to be skipped over may fail to close deals others would have succeeded in securing.

The necessity of a sales focus
Leaders who treat the sales department as secondary may end up at the bottom of the printing game. Today, learning about prospects and developing strong relationships is critical for continuity on the shifting sands of the print sector. Thinking back to how print services were employed a decade ago and comparing that today tells the tale: With information flowing rapidly and new competencies everywhere, it's a whole new ballgame.

Print service providers that give their marketing and sales departments the focus they deserve may end up in a stronger position than less focused competitors, as they work their way methodically down lists of likely prospects, using real knowledge of industry challenges to present relevant solutions.