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Stop Hiring Yourself if You Want to Change Sales Strategy

By on March 27th, 2013

At the end of last year, I offered two columns about how business development and sales are very different (here and here). The topic has been getting some interest of late as companies have been making the shift from traditional print offerings to include programs under the marketing services umbrella. Unless there is a change in the nature of the sales process and a recognition of the difference in the length and content of the sales cycle, the repositioning as a marketing services provider will fail.

That usually means that the characteristics of the sales person will be different. Many of these issues are covered in Disrupting the Future, but I’d like to expand the idea a bit here.

The natural tendency of the print CEO or owner is to hire sales people just like themselves. If the owner has had responsibility for handling certain accounts, there is a sense of what it takes to be successful in others. Those skills were applicable for the old strategy, and not the new one.

The concept of marketing services is in a context of a change that has occurred in marketing often referred to as “inbound marketing.” This is the current day expression of something Peter Drucker said long ago, that the purpose of marketing was to make selling unnecessary. What he meant was that branding and accessibility of information by prospects was so clear and well done that marketing costs made the discovery of needs and goods and purchase of those goods and services to be done effectively and with great satisfaction.

Because print has competitors it did not have before, print is a portion of a broader communications effort. Print becomes tactical, and has to be directed to meet specific objectives for its specific use and in terms of its effect in an overall media plan. A sales person measured by how many calls they made in a day has no chance of success in this kind of market. Their skills and temperment have to be quite different, and so do their managers.

A marketing services provider will be offering services that are part of an inbound marketing initiative. Knowing the skills of an inbound marketer can be helpful in determining the kind of sales person a printer should have to work with such clients. Hubspot has been a leader in this area, and a recent ebook they offered summarizes them. They are:

  • Excellent written and verbal communications
  • Analytically-inclined, understands data and how to apply data to problems
  • Organized, and can manage projects with many moving parts
  • Two to three years of marketing and content creation experience

In just so happens that inbound marketer qualifications are quite similar to those of a business developer. I have had many conversations with consultant Jerry Scher who helps companies get out of the “hiring yourself” logjam using pre-employment testing. The testing process helps narrow down the pool of candidates and can offer great insight into the hiring managers themselves. He offers a particular test called the Harrison Assessment that I have taken myself, and I was quite impressed with the test and the reporting. Few people know that I was originally planning a career in human resources and had studied issues in this area while I was in college. Employment testing was starting to gain attention in the 1970s as a means of complying with a range of new hiring laws, and large companies were attempting to increase the objectivity of their hiring. I am pleased to say that today’s testing is far better as a test-taker and a results-user than it was at that time, and that the results can be much richer.

So I asked Jerry what some of the different skills were. Our conversation was a bit involved, but these were some of the areas that I felt were very important. I’ve put the differences in my own words.

Most print salespeople think that they are negotiators, but they are not. They are really price bargainers. The business developers are true negotiators because they gather significant amounts of data about their customers, their plans, their expectations, their competitors, their objectives and their problems, then craft a solution for which there may be considerable amount of custom tasks as part of the program. Bargaining can take minutes or days. Negotiations can take months. One printer I spoke to said that they have found that the business development sales cycle can take a year or more, but can result in multi-year contracts for which the price of the printed goods never becomes an issue.

There has to be an innate curiosity in them. The business developer is an experimenter, which means that they have to be willing to construct efforts that test ideas, measure results, and adjust accordingly, or start from scratch. Experimenters are not afraid to measure results, and have the persistence to find what will deliver the best kinds of results. If there is one theme that I consistently hear from marketers is that they are measuring constantly. They are all trying to match marketing costs with sales revenues. It has nothing to do with cost-cutting in the long run. It has everything with gaining and retaining customers at the best cost and best long term results.

They need to be a resource, especially to the point of being able to teach clients new things about their business. It’s not consultative sales they way it is commonly used in our industry. Clients need to have assurance that you understand their business, not just understand printing. So knowledge about marketing and communications and the results others are getting requires insights built on that innate curiosity. It could be as simple as “I ran into a story about your competitor and their new product. What are your plans about that? When this happened to a client a couple of years ago, this is what they did. Do you want me to get you in touch with them?”

An analytical bent is very important. You don’t want to hire a statistician, but you want someone who know how to look at basic data and make business judgments with them, and to communicate actionable meaning to clients.

Also, the ability to work in teams. The stereotypical “free agent” print sales person who protects “book of business” and demands to be the sole contact point for a client cannot survive in this kind of environment. The business developer knows managers, their bosses, and their support staff because they see them at company and industry events, and especially today, interact with them in business social media. The business developer creates programs that require multiple skills, and the building of teams. For many printers, especially small and mid-size ones, that team will include freelance collaborators. This means that they have to be able to recruit a team for a program.

Underlying all of this is someone who knows how to listen, reserve judgment as they gather facts, and provide an opinion and advice for which they will be responsible.

A strategic change in a company is always accompanied by some kind of cultural change. I recently made a presentation to some executives where I explained that just adding a word in a simple sentence makes all the difference in strategy.

If you say “people need print” you end up with a traditional sales effort in which there is no differentiation between printing companies and you have salespeople who leave equipment lists and their business cards stapled to it at the front desk. When buyers don’t buy, the incident is misinterpreted and sales reps who then attempt to sell harder, blame the price, blame “the economy” or attribute the result to some other factor.

If you say “people don’t need print” you end up with a much different approach that is far more creative and strategy based. Instead of sales, you end up with business developer who works to creates long term programs that fit specific client objectives, solve problems, and create opportunities initiated programs that deliver measurable returns. It’s amazing how the word “don’t” can have a positive outcome.

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  1. 3 Responses to “Stop Hiring Yourself if You Want to Change Sales Strategy”

  2. By Diane Dragoff on Mar 29, 2013 | Reply

    Exactly! This is the partner that smart buyers seek. It requires more work to develop the relationship at first, but worthwhile in the long run. So many times, lipservice is paid to doing the above, follow through to show sincerity is necessary.

    Owners who want their sales people to do the above but allow only a month or two to make a large sale will find that they have constant turnover of sales people. Hire people who know about an industry, have already worked in a consultancy role within that industry, and you’re getting to where you want to be. That person understands what happens in that industry, stressors to buyers, design thinking and trends, etc. Then the information sharing can begin, the relationship can begin.

    Buying is very different from years ago, sales has to be too. Owners have to listen to new ideas, and be open to new methods to build their businesses.

  3. By Patrick Whelan on Mar 29, 2013 | Reply

    Bravo Dr. J. Webb! Spot on insights. Thanks for sharing.

  4. By Bill Farquharson on Apr 1, 2013 | Reply

    Well said, Joe. Can’t tell you how many conversations I have with owners who tell me they have hired rep after rep that last only 6 months, not realizing the real problem is the one in the mirror.