Selling products and services is more about the potential client than the company making the sale – it's the buyer's needs and problems that will determine the path taken, rather than the particular lineup of offerings available. This is a useful rule of thumb to keep in mind in the printing industry, as service providers need to figure out what kinds of solutions their audience is looking for, then step up to deliver. However, this doesn't mean the concept of deep product knowledge is irrelevant.

Making a sale – and creating a customer relationship that will last through years and changes in the market – is based on finding a middle ground between two firms. The print service provider brings its specific knowledge and background to the table, using its expertise to find a solution for whatever issues its chosen clientele may present. Salespeople therefore play matchmaker between capabilities and audience demand.

Paving the way to value
Printing Impressions contributor Marina Poropat Joyce pointed out that there is more than one way to create a deeper bond between a print service provider and its customers. When dealing with a client company's graphic design personnel, for example, an illustrative approach to print offerings and shop capabilities may be an excellent way to get the wheels turning.

Showing off visual evidence of what different paper stock types look like, describing what is meant by "bleed" or setting up a demonstration of the relative thriftiness of working with different page sizes could set the tone for a relationship between customer and printer, according to Joyce. This process gives design-based customers ideas that can inspire them and makes it much easier to explain how a finished product will look.

No matter how good a salesperson becomes at describing print products, this is a visual medium. Working with pictures and providing evidence of how jobs will look when they're done is simply a good way to move a client relationship forward in the printing business. Figuring out methods to convey these low-level pieces of information is an integral element of communication in the long run – especially considering that it paves the way for deeper conversations.

Joyce stated that when companies get the technical aspects of the client relationship out of the way, they are better equipped to become strategic. To become the kind of third-party partner that engages with a client's long-term plans, and becomes an integral part of achieving goals, print service providers should be forthcoming and helpful with regard to all the small details that will get in the way. From example schedules to demonstrations of print stocks and finishes, these little reminders add up.

Interactions that work
Of course, the information conveyed by salespeople is just one element of their overall presentation. Finding the right communication style is almost as essential, and ProPrint contributor Leon Gettler covered the basics. He explained that once customers are in the door, it's essential for printers to keep them engaged over time. He recommended an approach to current customer contact that is inquisitive but doesn't push too hard. Getting information is important, but simply being reassuring has its own value.

Gettler noted that printers should be ready to ask questions that get to the root of customers' issues, and to remember that what people say they're interested in isn't always a 1:1 guide to what they are willing to purchase. Furthermore, he added that it's wise to be honest, and when a customer asks for something that is impossible, it's not prudent to go out on a limb and make promises. Having a conversation go well by agreeing with everything a client says is an approach that tends to backfire when the promised service never gets delivered.

While customers' answers to questions about their wants and needs aren't always a perfect guide to their purchases, surveys and behavioral analytics may cut closer to the truth. Gettler noted that printers should be ready to quantify traffic to their sites, make extensive studies of their most popular products thus far and issue opinion surveys. Keeping clients happy is a careful mix between predicting what services they'll buy and having productive interactions.

Strong bonds with clients
A print provider's client base is its insurance, the source of power that helps that company stay alive in the industry. Gettler called relationships with customers the "bedrock" of a company's future. This importance is why salespeople should be ready and able to focus on reaching out to their current clients with equal care to the way they speak to prospects.

Whether by dropping information about features and products that will help clients make purchases and selections, or simply by checking in periodically, printers should keep in touch with their audiences. The ideal position for a print service provider today is as an indispensable strategic partner, but it's not easy to get the trust necessary to reach such an exalted role.