Digital alternatives and automated plants with worldwide distribution capabilities are driving down pricing while making the printed product more and more commoditized. In addition, value-added services, like warehousing, distribution, and pre-press, are being eliminated in favor of cheaper prices.

That’s why the challenges facing today’s printers are complex and multifaceted, and include:

A sales force with decreasing product knowledge, yet increasing relationship-value. Most sales teams are made up of veterans from the offset community with 15 to 20 years or better experience. Their customers trust them.
A limited number of younger professionals entering the field. This is creating an even greater reliance on these experienced veterans. But their knowledge of the digital age needs to keep pace with what their customers need and want.
That’s why it’s the CEO’s job to retool these valuable human resources so they can continue to represent the organization—while supplying the print communications vehicles demanded in today’s competitive world.

So, exactly what needs doing?

Restructure the sales force to be more of a marketing focused team. Salespeople need not only to be able to speak about the digital landscape in terms their client can understand, but also anticipate their challenges. Knowledge of the client’s business is more critical than ever, in order to recommend solutions that can leverage the hardware and the iron that their print company has invested toward, while keeping pace with today’s technology.
More marketing “about us.” As traditional print companies, we’ve always marketed to manufacturers, distributors, maybe even to some vertical markets that used traditional printed product. But now much of this traditional printed product has simply gone away. Yet opportunities still exist, and these opportunities have to be marketed to in a different way. Consider the prominence of variable image printing. Our challenge is developing a marketing program or campaign that addresses these opportunities, perhaps electronically, and communicates that your organization is digitally savvy. In the past, most printers have not relied on marketing that generates leads. It’s all been about relationships and referrals that have built over time. That needs to change.
Make it easier to do business. Today you need to compete for orders on all platforms. Increasingly, customers are placing large orders on the Internet with a couple of clicks. So we need to offer that interface as a service to those customers who choose this method.
But one mandate remains the same: What’s imperative is that we position ourselves to be our client’s strategic partner. They need to know that we bring expertise to their industry and their client’s industry. So overall it’s really a combination of understanding the market and having the right products and services for that market. Sales teams must be able to professionally present the advantages that today’s technology offers while clearly understanding the organization’s goals and objectives. Bottom line? A return to sales training or perhaps, more appropriately, sales retraining of those professionals who have already proven their success for years.