September 27, 2023

Selling on Price

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn dated 

Every couple of weeks or so, a printing company owner calls me to ask for help with sales. The primary issue is that reps are selling on price. The owner wants me to turn them into trusted advisors who can sell value.

I always get more of these calls during an economic downturn. After 911, during the 2008 recession, and in 2020 at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, my phone was literally ringing off the hook. I know how to fix the problem, but it takes hard work for the reps and their owner. Owners always start out fully committed; they want to put in the hard work, and they want their reps to buy into a new approach and become better sellers. Owners are paying me and want to get their money’s worth.

The reps rarely start out in the same place. They have seen their sales erode and have chalked it up to:

  • Customers who only care about price.
  • Increased competition from other printers who sell on price. (I rarely hear about competitors that are beating them with higher pricing).
  • Declining print budgets.

A rep rarely acknowledges responsibility for the lack of success. Reps tend to believe their plight is caused by external forces and not their inability to evolve their selling approach in the face of a radically different world.

There is no magic potion that turns a price-based seller into a value-based seller. Both reps and owners are looking for a quick fix and there just isn’t one.

Change is hard. I get it. I have been doing this for a long time. But what I don’t get and will never get is how easily reps and owners throw in the towel. It happened during those times in our history I mentioned earlier, and it’s happening again today. Owners are making excuses for why reps don’t have time to do the things they have learned. Reps see their owner’s waffling as an invitation to return to their traditional ways of selling. Prospecting stops.  Being proactive comes to an end and everyone goes back to reacting to customer requests. A lot of hard work by everyone goes out the window.

But here’s the thing, there are print jobs to be won, omnichannel solutions to sell, oodles of display graphics, and signage opportunities, but if your team is selling on price, they are leaving value on the table. And you’ll be leaving it on the table tomorrow and the next day and the day after that.

Selling value means reps have to do research. They need to understand the challenges their customers face and the opportunities available to them. They need to understand business – how their customers make money, where they can improve employee productivity and how they increase profitability. Reps have to engage the people who control the objective, not just the ones who buy the print. They have to ask great questions and have meaningful conversations and they need to understand how to create value for the customer and demonstrate an improved ROI.

Reps who can sell value, make themselves indispensable because of their perspective, ideas and insight, and not because they know how to produce a print job inexpensively.  They invest time in educating themselves and use a sound process that helps them identify opportunities, qualify them and then create value that makes them and their companies worth a higher price.

This cycle of starting to evolve and then falling back has hurt many printing companies and it hurts the industry. It’s one of the reasons the printing industry isn’t attractive to great sales talent. Great salespeople don’t want to sell on price, they want to sell something valuable. Selling value is how great sales professionals grow their sales and their incomes.

There’s a great (and short) book by Seth Godin called The Dip. I read it years ago and the main point is that mastery of anything is hard. Anyone trying to master something like a new sales process starts out full of excitement and adrenaline, but that starts to wane after that initial phase. You really have to stick with it through the long slog from initial excitement to mastery. But if you push through, you create a DIP that is bigger and wider and harder to get through for the competitors who follow.

Learning to sell value is a skill to be mastered. You may be in the valley of the DIP and close to the other side: mastery. Now is not the time to throw in the towel.

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