Making the sale is essential to any print service provider. No matter how good a company's products and services are, they won't sell themselves. Breaking through to potential clients means having an expert sales team that truly understands the product, audience and industry. Leaders responsible for managing these teams have to consider the best potential approaches to hiring, training and directing their employees – the future of their companies may depend on it.

The printing industry today is forged on contracts based on unique and relevant value. Printers give companies services they can't muster on their own, ones that are tied closely to their needs. A good sales team can make these kinds of connections between vendor and buyer, using a combination of knowledge and skills to drive interest. The following are a few considerations for leaders assembling this kind of sales operation.

Know the value of soft skills
There is a line between hard skills – years of experience, knowledge about the industry, technical certifications – and interpersonal skills. The latter are widely held to be harder to learn or teach, yet extremely valuable to companies of all types. WhatTheyThink contributors Lisa Cross and Kate Dunn explained that not only should companies be on the lookout for expert communicators when they hire new sales employees, the talent search should be highly specialized and carefully thought out.

The right employee for a high-performing printing business sales team will likely be someone who is not only a clear and enthusiastic communicator but also unafraid to speak and interact with new contacts. In fact, an InfoTrends study cited by Cross and Dunn discovered that confidence and clarity are more important to sales leaders than experience in either marketing or print itself.

On a scale of importance from 1 to 3, experience selling print rated a mere 2.1. By comparison, communication skill ranked at 2.8 and confidence when speaking to a new account's representative earned 2.7. The sales team is picked to act as the face and voice of a print company, and therefore, having someone able to reach out and make effective connections is a widely-held goal.

Teach team members what they need to know
Sales reps aren't automatically ready to get out there and begin selling, and a good onboarding program is all about ensuring that new recruits have what they need to succeed. Cross and Dunn pointed out that welcoming new employees to the company shouldn't be a quick, one-off process. No matter how strong a worker's relevant soft skills are, that individual will need a good internal view of the particular printing organization and its clientele.

There are two equal yet different ways to fail new hires, according to Cross and Dunn. Companies can perform information dumps that take only a few days, conveying a lot of facts but not letting them settle in. In other cases, department heads can simply assume that a few days of learning from current workers will be enough to get new employees ready. Whether delivering too much info or too little, these processes are too short to act as a valid introduction to a printer's unique value proposition.

Impressive moves
A well-prepared sales department, possessing communication-based soft skills and given a proper introduction to a company's intricacies, can turn difficult situations into selling and customer relationship triumphs. Printing Impressions contributor Bill Farquharson recently gave an example of one scenario in this mold: When effective salespeople are rebuffed by potential clients complaining that their industries are going through a slow time of the year, they don't give up immediately. Instead, the reps can point out that down seasons are perfect times to implement new business solutions such as print.

In a separate Printing Impressions column, Farquharson highlighted another approach that skills print salespeople can take: By acting calm and collected, leaving tense emotions aside, great representatives maximize their effectiveness. This is a form of communication excellence that involves projecting a poised confidence and inspiring that same confidence in potential customers.

The engine of print success
Employees are at the heart of an effective company, and therefore, a print organization must ensure its team is ready to perform at a high level, not just in its core production functions, but in office roles such as sales and marketing. Thinking of these departments as less than essential can lead to understaffing or a lack of training and preparation. Either scenario would be harmful to a print organization's ability to get and keep the kinds of in-depth contracts that are essential to staying afloat.

Today's print providers aren't operating in the same market that existed a few decades ago. With digital communications second nature to companies, print products require a stronger and more emphatic sales pitch than before. When excellent sales departments are operating to their full potential, they make this connection between product and client, setting companies up for continued success. There's no substitute for a good rep.