When You Buy and They Won’t Sell

By | September 15, 2013

One of the challenges of the print industry is that printers often need to invest in new technology to remain competitive – even when they are not operating at full capacity on existing equipment. IBISWorld Market Research estimates that the average firm in the Printing industry spends $0.16 on capital investment for every dollar spent on labor. The majority of capital expenditures center on purchasing printing presses and other machinery but may also include Web2Print solutions, personalization tools, workflow or composition software.

Many companies are expanding their services to include e-presentment, multi-channel marketing and response analytics and must invest in the infrastructure to support those new capabilities. They invest because they believe that new technology will help them to make money – either by doing more for the customers they have or by attracting new customers.

For any major new investment, management will generally do a fairly thorough analysis and build a business case. In addition to operational and expense factors, the business case needs to include a sales forecast that delves into the expectations about existing customers and new customers and where the business is going to come from to justify investment.

Typically plans are drawn up over a period of months and then investments are made. But what happens when the sales people won’t sell to the plan?

I hear about reps at commercial printers who won’t sell digital, digital printer sales people who won’t put clients on inkjet and transaction print reps who don’t want to sell e-presentment among the many problems that stymie management. Sales reps who give away strategy, design and development services instead of selling them is a chronic problem across the industry.

Sometimes you can chalk the sales lag up as a basic change management issue. The new stuff is just not in their comfort zone. The fact is that sales people walk a careful line between being client advocates and delivering profitable deals for their employer. They need to be very protective of their personal reputation and their relationship with clients, so unknowns about new offers make them very nervous.  New technology coupled with requirements for new ways of selling make them doubly nervous.

When you make a strategic change in your product mix you need to look at making strategic changes in your sales processes as well. Chances are good that some of your sales people won’t like that very much. Most printers have a mix of long- and short-tenured sales reps; those with many years, or even decades of experience with a solid book of business may see themselves as being above the change and immune to new standards. An effective change management approach will ensure that sales people have the necessary tools, resources, incentives, and support to succeed with the new model. It must also reinforce that they work for the company – not for themselves and that the company has the right to place emphasis on selling the services that support their long-term success.

So, as you polish off your technology implementation plan, pay careful attention to your sales plan and change management needs. Stay tuned as we look at how your past history can hurt your future sales.


Elizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes, presents and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.

Elizabeth Gooding

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5 thoughts on “When You Buy and They Won’t Sell

  1. Elizabeth Gooding Post author

    Hi Mark – thanks for reading! I’m going to try to drill down on sales issues in a few different ways over the next couple of weeks. It’s a big topic as you know and I’m trying to break it into bite-sized pieces.

    I hope the series will give you what you are looking for but please keep letting me know if there are specific things that you would like to hear.


  2. Nancy Scott

    This article is fresh and chock full of insights, Elizabeth. Great work! We’ve all seen these realities play out over the years, and it’s only getting tougher. WHAT a challenging time to be in the printing industry. I look forward to reading every post in your series!

  3. Joe Pigeon

    Hi Elizabeth. I think what you’ve described isn’t specific to printing. Having been in sales or sales-related positions for more years than I care to admit, I’ve seen this happen over and over. I believe there are a few forces at play – (1) impact on a salesperson’s commission; (2) understanding of how selling new products/services can POSITIVELY impact said commission; and (3) the salesperson’s reputation. In my opinion, there are a number of things that you can do. First, you need to educate the sales team on the product (so they can sell it effectively) and how much money they can make by focusing on selling it. In the early stages, you may need to increase their incentives in order to get them to focus their attention on these new products. And once you have a salesperson successfully sell the new product/service (and hopefully pull in a nice commission check), you need to broadcast that success VERY loudly and clearly to your sales force. Another thing I think is vital – and this is really difficult for salespeople who haven’t been with a business very long – is to make the salesperson somehow feel a greater sense of “ownership” in the business. When they start to see the company as THEIR company (as opposed to just their employer), they start to care more about things like the company’s margins and profit levels. One way to spur this type of thinking is to pay based on gross margin as opposed to revenue. It forces the salesperson to sell products that are high margin if they really want to make some serious cash. Finally, I believe a company can ensure they’re hiring true sales professionals who understand how a business is run. These are more than just salespeople; they are business people. You might have to pay more for these folks but, in the end, I believe a company will be much better off in terms of profitable selling.

  4. Elizabeth Gooding Post author

    Nancy – thank you for the encouragement. I take it as a great compliment coming from you.

    Joe – great insights on sales people and incentives to sell. I agree that you get what you pay for in terms of the comp plan and the level of professionals you hire. Thanks for weighing in.

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