American Printer's mission is to be the most reliable and authoritative source of information on integrating tomorrow's technology with today's management.

The new concept of sales management

Sep 1, 2004 12:00 AM

         Subscribe in NewsGator Online   Subscribe in Bloglines

I cringe when I hear a company is seeking a sales manager with a track record of at least five years. The buyer-seller landscape has changed so dramatically during the past five years that the traditional notion of sales management has lost relevance.

Until recently, sales management has reflected some universal assumptions:

  • There are indeed all-purpose truths behind successful selling. Selling can be reduced to tactical techniques, such as make 50 prospect calls a day and see a certain success rate.
  • All salespeople, particularly successful ones, are selfish loners motivated primarily by greed. They are sloppy about communicating job specifications and other customer needs to customer service and production colleagues.
  • Left to their own devices, most salespeople will work less than 40 hours a week. This demands that sales management devote a significant amount of time to specifying, monitoring and controlling the daily activities of subordinates.

Today's selling climate

So-called “sales gurus” and motivational speakers sell seminars, books and tapes promoting sales “secrets” that purportedly made them successful years ago. It's disingenuous to admit the selling climate has changed fundamentally in recent years, while advocating sales tactics that may have been successful 30 years ago.

The fact is that, like it or not, selling print in 2004 is much different from selling in 1970, 1980 or even 1995. It has less to do with economic difficulties than with such issues as the commoditization of print, consolidation of supplier lists, the responsibilities of those charged with buying print and the addition of distribution services by suppliers.

Today, sales is more than a department. Business itself often is described as the process of acquiring, understanding, satisfying and retaining customers. Acquiring orders is not the sole objective. Orders represent the result of establishing unique perceived customer benefits. In other words, it's necessary to establish the unique conditions that lead to sales. The artifice involved in getting past a buying organization's gatekeeper may be part of a salesperson's bag of tricks, but that has little to do with establishing a decent buyer-seller relationship.

Understand customer needs

Sales management today should concentrate on matching customer needs with the supplier's unique capabilities to leverage profitability for both organizations. That sounds easy but is very difficult. It presupposes an understanding of the needs, not simply the wants, of a buying organization. That requires research, curiosity, analytical skills, patience, empathy and a general knowledge of business behavior.

Having developed some idea of an organization's business needs, sales management and print company executives need to articulate the unique perceived benefits that will address those specific needs. Several years ago, it still was possible to develop a one-size-fits-all mission statement or strategy. Today, commoditization usually demands customized solutions. That, in turn, requires involvement by management in the selling process, which has become account-centric rather than salesforce-centric.

Different accounts have different programs and needs, and the daily activities of sales and customer service reps must be responsive to those differences. I believe the notion of a homogeneous sales force is dying rapidly, if it is not already dead. Print companies that are well into systematic account development will not have two salespeople or CSRs sharing the same everyday duties and responsibilities.

Stretch your own rules

The role of the successful salesperson has become increasingly that of an identifier and creator of opportunities. Customization in response to customer needs is an organizational effort that demands active management involvement.

I am often struck by the disparity between the advice of many consultants and writers versus the reality of everyday management. I'm in favor of procedures, programs and standardized workflow as much as the next person — it's difficult to disagree with themes of consistency and standardization.

However, I marvel at the irony of many trade show speakers who passionately advocate the need for consistency to an audience with experiences that belie that theme. In most cases, companies have violated or compromised their own policies and procedures to serve their largest, most profitable custom- ers. It's likely that a print company's willingness to disregard industry norms is the reason those precious customers are in the account portfolio.

I would argue that, increasingly, corporate success in the graphic-arts industry is the result of management's willingness and ability to selectively stretch, if not break, its own rules and regulations. Profit is the result of doing the extra-ordinary, not the routine.

Dick Gorelick is president of Gorelick & Associates and the Graphic Arts Sales Foundation. He can be reached at