Taking orders is out. Selling value in a commodity-based world is in.
Back in the day, print buyers bought lots of paper on a multitude of orders. They purchased from a few different distributors, always trying to spread the orders around equitably, and had plenty of choices with suppliers—there was plenty of volume to spread around. After all, paper was paper and everyone needed it. Fast forward 20 years, and it’s a whole new world.
Today, paper is still paper, but the inks, new machine types, sizes, capabilities, and flexibility related to technological advances make this paper world very different. Today is a highly digital-focused world, orders are smaller, margins are tighter, and sales are much more specialized for printers, paper distributors, and paper mills alike.
The changing industry landscape calls for a drastically different approach to selling (without abandoning certain classic sales techniques). Here, we share insights from a few industry sales professionals, the secrets to selling value, and creating strong relationships in this evolving, new world.
Looking beyond commodities to find value
Commodities, by their very definition, are indistinguishable. Most of our competition can get the same products, but the key to success is listening.
Listening isn’t always easy, and truly listening with intent is where you differentiate yourself. It’s so important today to navigate the underlying story or opportunity—and to find a new material to solve a problem customers didn’t even know they had, or to make a better mousetrap for a key piece of business that increases customers’ productivity.
It only takes one success, one idea that saves customers time or allows them to operate more efficiently. Perhaps it secures a key piece of business by thinking in a different way to earn their trust. With most businesses having similar products and processes that can be duplicated, it comes down to the people and value they bring.
Value is what keeps a customer coming back. Value might be quality, performance, on-time delivery, or a host of other added benefits. You provide value to the customer to the point where they’ll agree that the price is not the primary focus. Understanding their business and their needs for tomorrow is.
This requires a keen understanding of a client’s or prospect’s business. The challenge is to analyze the whole process. Then look to add an option they hadn’t thought of and view it through a different set of lenses, providing ideas and suggestions perhaps in an area the client wouldn’t have even considered.
Redefining the customer-salesperson relationship
For salespeople to get in and really understand customers’ businesses, they need a healthy relationship with those customers that is built on mutual trust and confidence.
Rather than the transactional relationships of years past, customers are more open to building relationships where they can bundle their paper and packaging spend for time-savings on their end, which makes the process faster. The relationship itself becomes part of the value proposition.
Healthy customer-salesperson relationships share many common characteristics. A salesperson can be most valuable to your business when:
- You look to them for new ideas. You recognize them as a subject matter expert who can bring you solutions to problems and opportunities to grow your business.
- You receive market insight from them and understand the “why.” You realize that the insights and knowledge they share come from a wide array of market intel and competitor research. The ideas are ways they have seen others win or the new paths that others have taken.
- You grant them access to you and your organization. You openly share information, and, in return, the salesperson respects your time and the sensitivities of your business.
- You involve them early. The sooner you get them involved, the more options the sales reps have to deliver exactly what you need.
- You trust each other. You can rely on each other to do the right thing.
- You both find it economically rewarding. You look to them for a fair deal and understand the value they bring to your relationship.
In the end, it comes down to both parties creating a partnership and offering ideas for growth and continued success.
Some things never change
Even when fortified by a strong relationship, sales must still be earned. And there are certain sales techniques that never lose their value.
One account manager has a favorite saying: “Everybody has two eyes, two ears, and one mouth. And there’s a reason why you’ve only got one mouth and two of the others.”
Listening, observing, and learning—and, most of all, asking great questions—are crucially important. If you only partially understand a customer’s need and then go down the wrong road, eventually you’re going to have to start over and risk losing that opportunity.
There is also a continued need for focus on prospecting and always having a plan. What a new customer looks like is evolving and changing all the time. Titles don’t often say “print buyer” or “print production.” Names of businesses aren’t as clear cut as they once were. And the approach of avoiding the personal relationship and searching the internet for fast pricing is way too easy for a customer to do. A great salesperson is always trying to open new doors, listening and asking a lot of questions when they can. A great sales professional creates a method or plan for lead-nurturing and turning over new rocks.
And sometimes the simple secret to the sale and strengthening relationships comes down to good manners—even when you get beat. Whether you are the front line salesperson, a customer service representative, a finance specialist, or a delivery driver, the power of respect and thoughtfulness throughout the entire supply chain speaks volumes. A simple “thank you,” “we appreciate your business,” or “great job today” goes a long way.