The printing industry's increasing focus on specialization has created tough competitive conditions for print service providers. Instead of huge-scale contracts, the space is dominated by short-term deals that fit particular needs. Companies that can't prove themselves in this fast-moving sector – and keep on doing so time and again – may end up falling behind their rivals. And with overall purchase volume down, behind isn't where businesses want to be.

Sharpening sales tactics is a process that combines time-tested secrets of brand-customer relations with unique variables that come specifically from print. Sales personnel will also have to acknowledge that they aren't the be-all and end-all of making print sales anymore. Not only are potential buyers doing large amounts of research before they ever contact possible print partners, but also the use of web-to-print portals has raised the idea of transactions that never feature a traditional sales process at all.

Possessing a tailored pitch
Alignment between salesperson and brand may be the most critical variable when it comes to bringing in a fresh client. As Printing Impressions contributor Matthew Parker pointed out, it's common for sales representatives to fall into patterns of praising and building up their own abilities rather than the company's offerings. An individual claiming that he or she can give great service and continuing attention to a contract once it's signed seems like an impressive promise – but it is actually somewhat generic. Reps at any print company could take the same approach, and potential clients may have heard the same promises elsewhere.

Really standing out isn't automatic in the printing business. Parker stated that buyers often feel like they can't distinguish between the many potential printers they could work with. In such a market, a shop that comes forward with a unique pitch may have a serious advantage. The test for a salesperson is to ask whether that individual could give the same sales pitch for a different print service provider. If so, the offers and language involved may not be distinctive and interesting enough to rise above the din of sales and offers.

Parker explained that the crux of the matter is standing out at all costs. When all the vendors come to the table with similar offers and even use cookie-cutter language to explain them, there's little there to convince a buyer to pick one over the other. In this case, the salesperson has just reduced the buyer's decision to a coin flip or die roll – a choice between a equally likely options. That isn't using the sales process to its full potential.

Fighting the urge to simplify
While a company has to stand out from its competitors to be noticed in the print industry, there is danger in leaning on the business's own products and solutions as main selling points. Namely, this method could end up with the firm not making an offer that suits the potential customer's needs. Every client is different, and the exact problems they're trying to solve cover a spectrum. WhatTheyThink contributor Jennifer Matt specified that failing to understand what problem they're solving is a major salesperson error in print.

After a while, print sellers can become very good at using small details of a client situation to make a print sale. Matt urged these personnel to break this habit. Someone who is waiting to hear about one specific detail before making a sales pitch likely isn't hearing and internalizing the client's whole situation. This period of listening, and of determining what the client values, can set the tone for the whole sale. Spending time and energy pitching a solution that doesn't serve a purchase is a waste of time.

Matt added that print products are cogs in client companies' workflows, rather than separate entities. Understanding the system that the printed items are slated to become a part of is an important task for a committed print salesperson. Though this takes more time than pitching solutions and ideas based on early impressions, there is value in reaching the crux of the matter. Realizing that print products will be part of a complex system allows pitches to take on greater depth.

More than a toss-up
When selling print, it's important for companies to realize how their competitors sell, then go further to please their customers. Creating pitches that are immediately more distinctive and memorable is a key way to accomplish this goal, as is working on solutions to problems that clients actually face every day. With these types of approaches, the sales process can come into focus and become less of a toss-up.