Selling print today has become a unique kind of skill. There is pressure associated with finding out where these products fit into the digital-age business landscape, and determining how best to sell them. Some of your contacts may be hesitant to take on a new print service provider in an era defined by other forms of communication. There may be doubts about print's ability to synch up with digital efforts, especially when it comes to marketing – one of the last bastions of print, and increasingly data-driven.

Your task as an effective salesperson in the printing industry is to possess the answers to these common concerns, and be able to deploy them even when the conversation isn't focused explicitly on print's shortcomings. This means anticipating the ways in which your customers may want to use your services and knowing how the offerings fit into today's business world. That information may be exactly what potential buyers are looking for.

Understand the workflow
WhatTheyThink contributor Jennifer Matt recently gave a very helpful suggestion for print service provider sales professionals: Rather than thinking of your offerings in a vacuum, it's important to consider what kind of workflow they'll become a part of once your clients start using them. This means becoming familiar with the kinds of business challenges those organizations are facing, and the ways they're going about solving them.

One way to learn about the way your offerings could be used involves starting with your current lineup of clients. Matt recommended thinking about the objectives of the printed materials. Once the items roll off the presses, they're being sent out into the world to accomplish a goal – what is it? Picturing the products in this light is one way to re-frame the sales conversation. Now, when approaching prospects, you'll be able to offer insights on the way the printed items move companies toward achieving their goals.

Learning about workflows is more important in some markets than others. Matt noted, for instance, that when a print service provider mostly providers labeling services, it's clear and straightforward how those are being employed. Marketing collateral, however, has a more varied set of uses. Those items are designed to help your clients reach their audiences, which means that to really understand them, you have to think about your customers' customers.

Truly delving into clients' issues means figuring out which people within their organizations deal with the print services, and learning whether there are any unresolved problems that your involvement can help with. Matt noted that this kind of in-depth thinking is one way to expand a print service provider's usefulness and relationship with its clientele. She explained that the printing business's era of raw size, when scaling up sales just meant adding more people, is conclusively over.

A special kind of intelligence
Selling any product requires a unique kind of intelligence well suited to getting commitment from clients. Printing Impressions contributor Mary Ann McLaughlin broke this down recently, pointing out that knowing the customer's operational reality is simply one of the practices a salesperson picks up in the course of the job. Furthermore, a good seller is always willing to acquire more skills and learn over time. This could entail internalizing the details of a revised print offering or making a survey of the challenges besetting a new target market.

Salespeople are dedicated to delivering their messages, and this is where specificity, knowledge and communication skills come together. Rather than offering platitudes, a good seller will deliver specifics. Instead of dealing with every customer the same way, the team will understand a firm's unique situation and come up with tailored suggestions. While a weak pitch works backwards from a company's own offerings, a strong one points out a problem and posits a solution.

McLaughlin pointed out that the unique kind of intelligence honed within sales departments includes knowing when to speak and when to listen. Sometimes, a potential client is giving out information that can be used to formulate a perfect strategy. Hanging back for a while and taking in this data is a better approach than simply throwing half-baked ideas out there. Salespeople who believe that it's best to always be on the offensive and that more talking will naturally lead to more selling may need to rein themselves in and pay more attention to their prospects.

A new era of business
Where does print fit into companies' operations today? There isn't just one answer to that question, and sales departments that understand that fact may be ideally well suited to selling print in the modern age. Where there's a business problem, there's a solution. Figuring out which parts of that answer a print service provider can offer is a key step in making the sale, and even potentially escalating the print shop's involvement and importance. Getting to this kind of resolution is a foundational skill for a printing industry salesperson.