The scene is set for the 2017 print industry. The field isn't dead as some have predicted, but the rules have changed. As a print service provider, you are not dealing with the simple act of selling printed products for your clients. You are there to be a partner in any of their efforts, marketing especially, that may require paper. You are data-driven, lean and convenient to work with. Through all this, the relationship between your company and its client base is more vital than ever.

To set up these great connections with customers, you'll need a top-notch sales team. Whether it means hiring more employees or training workers from within, you'll want to face this year with professionals who are ready to give in-depth presentations about problems and potential solutions rather than just products and features. The people you surround yourself with – and the way you motivate them – will determine your success at selling this year.

Who's on your team?
A recent WhatTheyThink column by Barb Pellow delved into the challenges facing printing industry salespeople when they engage in hiring. Such issues are important to acknowledge and work around as part of a careful and considered talent acquisition program. She noted interlocking issues that can trip up your organization if you're not aware. First, the workers with both technical understanding and selling intelligence who you should be targeting are exceedingly rare. Second, it's tough to keep such professionals around for long periods of time Third, it's difficult to attract those workers into a low-flash sector such as printing.

You can overcome the aforementioned issues if you become better at selling the concept of your company. Pellow recommended going all-in to ensure applicants know they'll be joining somewhere dynamic and interesting rather than just another print provider. She pointed out that your web presence is a common measuring stick that candidates use to determine whether they should send a resume or sign a contract. If your site carries statements of your brand's values and acts as a good summation of your service offerings, you'll have a better chance of getting votes of confidence from top prospects.

Once you've gotten the team together, retention efforts take precedence. There's no assurance that your best salespeople will stay over the long term without extra incentives, especially as the economy shows extended periods of relative strength. There are likely to be many other companies who would love to poach your top sales difference-makers, which is why Pellow called for rewards and incentives that go beyond base salary and demonstrate you care about your people.

Mentoring your workers to greatness
Once you've assembled a sales team that can compete with the best in the industry, it's time to guide them to success. Printing Impressions contributor Mike Jacoutot recently suggested a powerful way to keep your team at the top of its game: Encouraging salespeople to follow up on their biggest successes immediately. This means using the elated feeling that comes from closing a big deal instead of letting it go to waste.

The natural inclination after signing up a new print customer may be to take some time to sit back and celebrate. While praise is in order, rest isn't – at least not yet. Salespeople can use the confidence that comes with a completed sale to take on their toughest stalled prospects and highest upside clients. If they fail to break through, it likely won't dull the shine of the first sale. If they do make the second sale, it's two victories for the price of one. Jacoutot specified that when you're leading a sales team, you should always send reps back into the trenches after a high-level success.

People sell paper
When you look at your 2017 sales outlook and potential, consider how your people will perform rather than your products. No matter how good your printing options are, you won't be able to sign new customers up after weak sales pitches. The relationships that develop between print service providers and their customers are more critical than ever in an era based around close collaboration on important projects. The people you employ will be the ones who forge those bonds, so hiring and encouraging them will likely tell the tale of your 2017 sales.