While changes in the sales landscape have been particularly dramatic over the last couple of years, the buying landscape has seen some big changes for a good while now. The pandemic simply has accelerated the pace of change.
Manny Cuevas is VP of Almaden Global, which specializes in B2B marketing and supply chain services. Today, Cuevas finds he is talking to directors rather than buyers. But when a project goes live, he is handed over to a marketing person who does not have print experience. He says his team must become full-blown consultants, having to be able to provide tactical solutions, as well as solutions for marketing and the actual finished goods.
Cuevas, whose customer base often is global, sees a workforce that has become much more distributed. As a result, decision-making has become much more decentralized. He also sees a much greater turnover in buying contacts.
Katy Hart’s customers are getting younger and more savvy. Hart, Director of Marketing and Communications for The BoxMaker Inc., says its customers come when they already have made up their mind as to what they really want and what they are looking for. “They’ve done all their research online. They’ve looked us up on Facebook and Instagram. They don’t necessarily want an in-person meeting.”
She believes this trend will continue with the growth of remote and hybrid working.
There is no denying that COVID has had a big effect on all this. Michele Brennan, EVP Sales and Marketing for direct mail specialist Quantum Group, says you cannot go into companies anymore. And if you can, not everybody is there. “They’re either at home or they decided to resign.”
Quantum found that many companies did not rehire after the crux of the pandemic, so they now often work with contacts who do not have the same level of experience. Education is needed as many contacts are now at a more administrative level.
So how are printing companies dealing with this new generation of buyers?
“Quantum found that many companies did not rehire after the crux of the pandemic, so they now often work with contacts who do not have the same level of experience. Education is needed as many contacts are now at a more administrative level.”
Both in the digital landscape and for face-to-face communication, printing companies are adopting a far more personalized approach. Brennan’s whole sales strategy revolves around vertical markets, rather than a traditional territory-based approach. Each of the company’s five key verticals has a pod of specialized sales people, customer service staff and project managers that specialize in a particular market sector. This improves client engagement and also ensures good continuity if Quantum Group has any personnel changes.
Cuevas places great emphasis on profiling prospects rather than relying on CRM systems. His team carries out multiple layers of pre-funnel research to ensure the fit is absolutely right before approaching prospects. He likens this process to sharpening the knife before cutting, ensuring that the least amount of sales effort is wasted. He says the numbers game does not work anymore.
“Casting a wide net no longer works.”
Boxmaker also has clear channels of customers: Its trade channel, enterprise channel and the Fantastapack brand. These channels each have separate company teams and also separate sales and social media channels and strategies.
Hart believes it is one of the leading content marketing providers in the sector. This is reflected in the fact that its messaging is more and more segmented. Different messages are created around industry, region and channel, as well as around company size and purchasing history. The company constantly is developing this strategy.
However, it is not just new sales that have had to change. Looking after existing clients also requires a changing approach.
The customer engagement approach
As soon as the pandemic hit, Brennan realized that good customer engagement was going to be a massive challenge. She immediately launched an initiative to ask key personnel from their top ten key customers to share their personal details. This allowed Quantum to maintain regular, weekly contact through the customer’s preferred channels.
Brennan also realized that typical online meetings did not result in the same level of communication. So it started creating lunch meetings, with Quantum delivering lunch directly to its clients who had a call scheduled. This proved to be very effective at creating a much more personal level of engagement.
Quantum immediately knew if a client was pregnant or if a child had graduated. It sent relevant gifts for these occasions as well. But, importantly, it meant clients were much more likely to share important information. Now the company is more likely to know about acquisitions or if an account is at risk.
The lunch meetings had another unexpected benefit: Other staff at clients soon were able to hear that food was available. They started making contact with Quantum, which led to new opportunities within existing customers. “That was an organic way of prospecting that we didn’t know it was going to come out of it.”
Brennan also has adopted a personalized approach to customer engagement. Quantum has a customer magazine, Navigator, which is available in print and electronic versions. She now is looking to create verticalized versions of the publication. With the electronic version, the marketing team knows exactly what prospects have read. This information is fed back to the sales team, allowing much more personalization of the next engagement.
Cuevas says his team also has put an emphasis on staying in touch via social media. He believes social media is a good way to work out if a customer’s strategies are changing and how this might affect the account.
New strategies require new skills
Adopting strategies like these can be a big change for traditional salespeople. Brennan says not all salespeople can adapt and some of its staff has moved on. Some struggled to change to new verticals when their traditional markets were hit by COVID, while others struggled to adapt to new technology.
Quantum has trained its staff on Zoom, including some basic scripting Brennan says features traditional verbal approaches that do not work on the platform. Other tactics have also been adopted, such as sharing estimates with the sales team only on Hubspot. This forces them to log in and use their account.
Kristi Duvall, VP of Sales at Boxmaker, says the company has embraced the rise of hybrid working. She likes the combination of hallway conversations that promote learning, but also the increased productivity of working from home.
One advantage of the hybrid approach is Boxmaker has more recruitment choices, as many hires do not have to be based at factory locations. It has found that potential employees are already looking at their social media channels and engaging with the company. “I think because of that, we attract a lot of talent from a sales perspective.”
Boxmaker already was using Teams, so the transition to remote working at the beginning of the pandemic was not as hard as at some companies.
Almaden has focused on recruiting more Gen Z employees. With global clients comes the need to hire people who understand the cultures of different regions. They also have to be prepared to work different hours, which means servicing clients and suppliers in different time zones.
Some traditional approaches no longer work. Keen salespeople can come over as overaggressive. Brennan advocates giving prospects more time as people are inundated with emails and a huge creep in job scope. Cuevas agrees, saying that the digital environment needs more patience.
This change is unlikely to stop. Hart believes it is important to never stop evolving. “I’m constantly looking for improvement.”
She advises companies to align sales and marketing and make sure they are in step together and to be willing to try new things. “We have tried a lot of different things, especially during the past two years. If something works, we can do more of it. If something doesn’t work that’s okay. We learned something.”
“Believe it and stay the course. One of the things that’s completely overrated is the need to be agile. If you’re a print shop, print.”
— Manny Cuevas, VP, Almaden Global
However, Cuevas underlines the importance of also sticking to core values: “Believe it and stay the course. One of the things that’s completely overrated is the need to be agile. If you’re a print shop, print.”
Certainly some clients are looking forward to things being more like they were. Boxmaker runs a successful lunch and learn program. Says Hart, “We’re coming back to in-person this spring and I think people are really ready for that.”
Regardless of the approach, as the industry presses forward in these new times, printers will continue to rethink, rebrand and reinvigorate their sales and marketing strategies.