The goal of our industry has never changed: since the days of scribes, we have always been the provider of vehicles to disseminate information. But at the same time, we’re also subject to constant change, because industrial and technological advances drive our evolution. In fact, the recent digital explosion has altered our methodology and deliverables so dramatically that today what used to be called the “printing industry” is more appropriately renamed the “graphic-communication industry.”
Not surprisingly, job titles and functions within our industry are also experiencing a similar redefinition and evolution—and nowhere is this reality more evident than in Sales. Since the sales function continues to be such a critical component of printers’ business success, this article charts the different directions in which we are seeing sales roles transform to keep up with the changing times.
Today’s Sales Rep
We begin by saying that, although requirements for sales staff are changing drastically, certain universal prerequisites still apply. Specifically, sales staff functioning in any capacity must be able to:
- Understand the strengths of the service provider company.
- Understand the business verticals best served by the company.
- Develop a list of vertical markets and specific companies within each vertical.
- Develop an action plan.
Similarly, the demands of selling have reached an equivalent level of complexity, so that, in order to be successful, today’s Sales Rep must fluctuate between many diverse, specialized roles. These include:
- Strategic innovator
- Relationship developer both externally and internally
- Service provider
- Technical expert
- Business-to-business specialist
- Motivated self-starter
- Patient waiter for results to accrue
Evolving Job Titles
The recent diversification of roles and aptitudes is reflected in the emergence of a growing nomenclature to differentiate the various sales functions. While historically sales job titles were usually limited to just three alternatives--either “Sales Representative”, “Account Manager”, or “Sales Manager”—today’s sales roles may carry multiple different titles, such as “Business Development Representative,” “Business Development Manager,” “Strategic Solutions Specialist,” and “Key Account Manager.” Increasingly we are seeing each of these variations become mainstream and evolve a unique job description to distinguish it from the other roles. The following are PrintLink’s interpretations of what these various job descriptions entail: Sales Representative
- This traditional title and job function continues to maintain value and validity. Simply defined, the Sales Representative is the company’s most visible, front-line representative who prospects, pitches, closes, and oversees business. (Typically this means transactional business, though it can often be ongoing repeat business or component-based.)
- This job function hunts for, establishes, and retains a strong relationship with individual service purchasers.
- While this title has often been used interchangeably with Sales Representative and in smaller companies the two roles often converge, they are actually two distinct functions.
- The Account Manager is charged with the care, keeping, and growing of existing client business to maximize the value received by the client and usually upsell the products and services provided.
- Comprehends all facets of the company’s complex range of services and products as they pertain to a specific client list. In a complex marketplace, the notion of a generalist Sales Rep who serves as all things to all people is no longer viable. So now alternatively, as an example, one Sales Rep is dedicated to Internet-based deliverables, one to variable-data product, and one to traditional printed product.
- All Sales Reps serving a specified client list and their respective service team would operate under the watch of a Key Account Manager.
- Researches each prospect company to understand how its business works and whom it serves.
- Determines how the company s/he represents can offer reliable services to benefit each prospect, possibly including services that the prospect isn’t presently utilizing.
- Develops presentations (or responses to RFPs), including interaction with internal resources to maximize service utilization that can be executed efficiently.
- Closes business.
- Acts as part of the implementation team.
- Turns the business, once established, over to an internal resource (such as an Account Manager), but maintains periodic client contact.
- Develops a strategic relationship with prospects or clients with whom the company may already be doing transactional business.
- Works by approaching the client’s senior management to demonstrate all the resources his/her company can offer.
- Develops presentations aimed at building deeper, wider, higher relationships with selected companies. (Although this task duplicates some of the Business Development Rep or Manager’s activities, its target is at a more senior level.)
- Works with other company representatives to define specific business opportunities and to close business.
- Directs an implementation plan.
- Turns the business, once established, over to an internal resource (such as an Account Manager), but attends high-level reviews.
- Besides prospecting to develop major accounts, this position may also include senior account-management responsibilities.
- Sales managers constitute very important positions with the mandate to oversee and grow all sales and business-development activities.
- Depending on size, companies may establish several layers of sales management, ascending from Manger to Director to VP.
- Incumbents should be selected for their leadership, mentoring, and motivating capabilities. While it is sometimes tempting to move a successful Sales Rep into a managerial position, this type of transition doesn’t always succeed in practice, since the person who makes the move is sometimes not as effective, productive, or happy as s/he was formerly out in the field.
- While sales management always entails a degree of customer contact, to be effective it should be a dedicated position focused on management upward, downward, and laterally. In smaller companies, where most people of necessity wear several hats, keeping sales-management roles separate is a greater challenge—but one that must be mastered for optimal results.
Recruiting top producers versus growing your own
Recruiting good sales staff is among the biggest hiring challenges all companies face. Top producers are often so firmly entrenched in their current companies that only a small minority will move elsewhere. After all, why would a successful salesperson vacate a lucrative position to go and dance with the devil s/he doesn’t know? And even if you do hire another company’s key producers, because business is becoming increasingly tied to the company, not the individual, it is unrealistic to expect that they bring with them a large volume of instant business.
Additionally, since many of the specialized job functions outlined above are relatively new, candidates who can perform them don’t exist in large numbers. Moreover, forecasts are increasingly pessimistic as to how many traditional sales staff can be successfully retrained to adapt to the new marketplace.
Owing to the resulting shortage of available candidates with either direct or updated experience, hiring managers may need to be creative in proactively cultivating a sales force. At PrintLink we often meet promising candidates with production experience who want to divert their career paths into sales or business development. Or promising candidates with marketing backgrounds and an interest in mastering the intricacies of graphic-communications technology. With appropriate training and guidance, a select few of these candidates could become high-volume sales producers over the long term. So we encourage you to search creatively for candidates internally as well as externally, in case any future sales stars with the right motivation and potential already work for or around your company in some other capacity.
Regardless of how you find appropriate sales staff, you must ensure they are continuously trained, supported, and managed appropriately. We also suggest you encourage your established, front-line salespeople who are in contact with your customers and prospects to initiate recommendations for new products and services your company can offer to the marketplace. (Of course, you’ll research their suggestions thoroughly before jumping in with both feet.)
New compensation practices
Like jobs, traditional compensation structures for sales and business-development positions are also evolving--usually toward increasingly incentive-based plans. Sometimes companies offer a base salary plus a bonus and/or commission; others offer a draw against commission. Their methods of calculation vary widely and are often complicated.
In all cases, for new hires it is realistic to offer a financial guarantee for a stipulated ramp-up period. But further financial consideration is also necessary to support personnel whose sales activities require a long sales cycle; for example, salespeople developing new accounts for multi-faceted service offerings, new service recommendations, or contractual business. Additionally, you need to realize that sales staff with the expertise to achieve high-volume results already possess a standard of living commensurate with their success. Therefore, if you expect them to benefit your company financially, you will first need to support them during an initial period of development, as well as reward them after they have achieved the anticipated goals. Thus the base salary for these personnel should be higher than for transactional Sales Reps and incorporate a bonus tied directly to the value of business they eventually secure.
Get in the game
In summary, these days a dynamic, diversified sales force is as vital to business growth as updating and expanding your products and services. But far from adopting a one-size-fits-all solution, finding the right prescription for a winning sales force requires you to respond strategically to your company’s own specific evolution. So we encourage hiring managers to act as soon as possible to:
- Clarify your present & future business-development needs
- Define job functions that will best meet them
- Review current sales staff & identify gaps
- Review current staff who could be groomed for sales roles
- Budget & execute appropriate training & hiring
- Develop a plan to continually monitor ROI on sales personnel
- Contact PrintLink for more strategic insight into your own specific sales-staffing needs