Getting Print & Marketing Services Sales Reps to Fly High

Posted on by Greg Cholmondeley | No Comments »

by Greg Cholmondeley, Workflow Practice Director, PODi and Caslon & Company

I recently had a conversation with Paul McGhee, Co-founder and CEO of SharperAx, who shared some thought-provoking insights with me about selling in the print and marketing services market. He shared a factoid from a Forrester report claiming that 89% of people who buy technology services feel that sales reps waste their time. He then mentioned the old adage about how 20% of most print and marketing services sales teams tend to bring in 80% of the business. Now, I don’t know if those numbers are accurate, but they roughly align with my experiences. It’s what he said next about what to do with the 80% or so who aren’t meeting expectations that got me to sit up and pay attention.

He said that there are two typical misperceptions about sales reps, particularly those who sell technological solutions:

  1. That the ones not making plan are lazy and/or stupid
  2. That good sales reps are born, not made

Both of these are, of course, utter rubbish and the real reason, according to Paul, is training. It’s not that reps need more of it; it’s that the training they receive is typically as useless as flight training was in the 1920s and 1930s. That might seem like a strange analogy, but let me explain.

In the 1920s, pilots were trained by first, explaining to them what they should do, then having them ride along on flights to observe a successful pilot flying, and then to try it themselves. As you can imagine, a lot of pilots crashed and burned on their first chance to try it themselves. In fact, 31 of the first 41 mail pilots supposedly crashed and died.

Now think about typical sales training. First, reps are told what to do (ask about problems, talk about the benefits, etc.), then they ride along to observe a seasoned sales rep, and then they try it themselves. Is it any surprise that so many reps crash and burn? Now, selling isn’t quite as fatal as flying, so over time most reps gradually do get better at it but it is, to say the least, a struggle.

So what changed with the aviation industry? Well, in the late 1920s Edwin Link created a flight simulator and revolutionized pilot training. Wannabe pilots could safely learn, practice, and refine their techniques in a realistic-but-safe environment so that they would be much better prepared for the real thing. Paul’s approach is to apply the same lesson to sales training.

  • Teach reps what to do – just like today
  • Also teach reps what to say – not covered in typical training
  • And have reps practice and refine what they say before getting in front of prospects – really, who does that?

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? I mean, it just makes sense. Of course, actually applying this is where it gets challenging. Paul is leading a PODi Institute course where he applies this approach to several challenges faced every day by print and marketing services sales people:

  • How to ask questions to uncover prospect problems and implications
  • How to respond to objections in ways that address, reframe and adds insights to them
  • And how to increase credibility with clients to better sell value

If you’re tired of crashing and burning in front of customers or if you are tired of the expense of getting 80% of your sales force up to speed, then look into Paul’s 4-week PODi Institute course titled “The Right Questions – and Answers – to Win More Business” which starts October 1. Go to for more information about this, and other PODi Institute courses.

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