Skills Needed for Today’s New-Breed Print Salesperson


Name the industry that is valued at nearly $900 billion globally and drives $3.8 trillion in related services.

If you guessed print, you are correct.

As a whole, the print industry has a lot going for it as of late:

• Recent performance. Five consecutive years of growth (2017 State of the Industry, Andy Paparozzi).
• Strong growth trends. Over the next 10 years, two major categories of print are expected to see growth in sales and shipments: Print used for ‘Product Logistic’ (packaging) is forecasted to grow 2-3% per year, while print intended to ‘Market, Promote and Sell’ is projected to increase 1-2% per year (PIA).
• Just scratching the surface in many markets. Huge growth opportunities across several print-related products (including direct mail, packaging, and signage), and print-processes (inkjet, variable data printing, and wide format).

So finding skilled personnel to sell these services should be easy for most print providers, right? After all, wouldn’t your average opportunistic salesperson view the list above as a living goldmine?


Challenges facing the print industry

The truth is, many print businesses are struggling to attract talent to fill critical sales roles. Possible reasons include:

• Misguided perceptions. You’ve probably heard popular headlines such as ‘print is dead’ (don’t worry, it’s not) or ‘print is bad for the environment’ (we debunked that myth, too).
• Drying talent pipeline. The industry is still feeling the aftereffects of the 2007 recession, which effectively dried the talent pipeline. Employers were forced to enact hiring freezes and staff reductions. Many university curriculums and apprenticeship programs were cut, limiting exposure and opportunities for up-and-coming talent.
• Negative stigma. For the reasons cited above, print is frequently viewed by society as a non-glamorous career path. Could this be scaring away valuable talent?


Renewed emphasis on sales staffing

With improving economic conditions, many print providers are turning their attention to reinvesting back in their business by expanding their sales force. According to a recent InfoTrends study, titled Best Practices of High-Performance Print Sales Organizations, almost 40% of respondents were said to have increased sales staff over the past 2 years and more than 57% planned to add more salespeople in the next 2 years.

There’s no doubt that the business of print is changing in response to shifts in consumer behavior. To keep pace, your sales staff needs a different set of skills today than what was required 20 years ago.

*Editor’s Note: While you’ll need to find a new breed of print salespeople to compete today, you’ll also need to find a sales compensation model that attracts top talent. We wrote about that here*


9 traits of the ideal print salesperson

Whether you’re new to the world of print sales or you’re a veteran to the industry, here are the skills and traits needed to thrive in today’s landscape.

1. Adept at solution selling. Rarely will you call on a customer and they’ll promptly ask for 200 prints of their poster on 12×18 216gsm coated stock. If this does happen, it’s usually a commoditized transaction where the customer is simply shopping for the lowest price. These types of jobs offer little opportunity for you to add any value. For many of the most successful print salespeople, their most profitable deals involved customers who initially didn’t even know they needed print. Print was merely the solution to their problem. *Editor’s Note: For information on changing how customers perceive your offerings, from commodity to highly-differentiated, refer to this article*

2. Considered an extended partner. Today’s print salesperson needs to function as a consultant to the customer – a trusted partner. They help piece together answers to complex problems by identifying and organizing necessary members of extended value chains. This could mean anything from soliciting input from a vendor to getting designers, data analysts and mailing experts together for a quick phone conference.

3. Willingness to do homework. Before speaking with a customer for the first time, the best salespeople make sure to first do their research. This means visiting the customer’s website, reading their blog, viewing their social media accounts, studying their competitors and learning what their customers are saying. By better understanding trends in their market, customer demographics and challenges they face, you’ll be better positioned to make recommendations and win them over.

4. Technical expert beyond print. Remember, you often won’t be selling strictly print. Instead, you’ll be selling print as a solution to either solving pain or driving results. In this context, your customers will look to you for expertise beyond print. They’ll want to know how print can be used in conjunction with campaigns, cross-media, and social media. They’ll look to you for ideas on how to better leverage their database. They’ll seek your recommendation on whether to use a synthetic substrate or opt for lamination. You need to be an expert beyond selling ink on paper.

5. Confidence. Not to be confused with arrogance, but a successful salesperson must have self-confidence. Besides, delivering a winning sales pitch that influences customers to choose you is rooted in confidence.

6. Ability to upsell. While every salesperson wants to close more deals – delivering more sales to their company and earning more commission in the process – the sign of a great salesperson is their ability to convert upsell opportunities. This creates attractive profit margins. Examples of possible upsell opportunities include: premium substrates, specialty coatings and finishes, enhanced bindery options, complimentary products (such as flyers or business cards), specialty inks and metallic foils. *Editor’s Note: If you need help pricing the value-add services your sales team is selling, refer to this article*

7. Resiliency. A common trait among high-performing salespeople is their refusal to back down from a challenge. Even in difficult situations, they never get discouraged. Instead, they rise past adversity and find ways to persevere.

8. Excellent active listener. Being a good listener isn’t enough. Active listeners pick up on subtle cues that go unnoticed by most. This is because they make concerted efforts to understand what their customer is really saying by putting themselves in their shoes. Salespeople with this skillset can often anticipate pain points and steer the customer towards possible solutions.

9. Always on. With texting, social media and Google embedded as core parts of our lives, consumers expect near-instantaneous answers to questions. This means your sales team needs to be accessible and responsive.

Image Credit: shutterstock

Where can I find skilled print sales personnel?

• Local universities. Many universities and trade schools sponsor career fairs and have mandatory requirements for internship programs. Reach out to schools in your local area and find out how you can get involved.

• Industry staffing websites. There are several online networks that specialize in pairing employers and skilled workers within the print industry. A simple Google search will yield many reputable job placement sites.

• Scholarship foundations. Look to industry foundations that provide scholarships and career opportunities to youth interested in pursuing careers in print. You’ll find contact information for board members, most of whom occupy industry positions, who may have recommendations on scholarship recipients you can contact. Among the largest are PGSF and EDSF.

• Transferrable skills. Your next print salesperson doesn’t need to come from a background in print. Instead, look for talent with transferrable skills in similar or adjacent industries. This can help expedite ramp-up and training.

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