In your new world of copiers, training is a big component of the ecosystem — so big it’s like drinking from a fire hydrant. By now you’ve probably come to understand that most of life’s challenges will not be solved with algebra or understanding inheritance and polymorphism — learning how to learn is the best lesson. So it is now with your new copier position. You may be deft at taking notes, creating flashcards and memorizing basic facts, but I’ve got to tell you, not one prospect is going to establish a relationship if all you know are the paper weights and first-copy-out times for 100 different models.
Unfortunately, your dealer principal and sales manager will demand you know the specifications of every model on the show floor. It’s a tug of war between learning what the “industry” thinks is important and what your prospects see as relevant.
More important than specifications is learning everything possible from every business you visit — no matter the outcome. The first appointment is the time for introductions and getting to know one another; all it takes is 20 minutes to understand how your prospect runs the business and the challenges they face every day. Don’t waste time on your company introduction/value proposition slide deck — YOU are the company
Successful selling professionals utilize the “two ears, one mouth” strategy when getting to know the inner workings of a prospect’s organization. It may sound simple or even trite, but you’ve got to ask questions. The goal is to discover an area in the business that you can positively impact. These questions are open-ended, business-oriented and designed to raise the level of conversation above speeds, feeds and expiration dates.
Here are some examples:
“I know you’ve been in business for a while; could you briefly describe how you gain new customers? How do you sell?”
Every business wants more customers. Your goals with this question are to build rapport, recognize bottlenecks in the processes, and separate you from any other copier rep.
“How do you process orders?”
Order entry is usually paper intensive and may include multipart forms, invoices, purchase orders, order sheets, picking tickets, shippers, etc. Companies have built some intricate systems around processing orders; you don’t want to change the processes. You’re looking for current print opportunities within the existing process.
“What is new in your world? Anything exciting?”
This is a disarming question looking for issues your prospect feels influences their business or niche. It could be anything from digital transformation, acquiring another company or selling to an overseas concern. This line of conversation is designed to reveal challenges or opportunities; it’s your job to find areas where you can help resolve issues or take advantage of opportunities.
Let’s take a deeper look into a real-world situation. Here are two basic conversations. The first is a typical line of discussion and one I’ve heard for almost three decades.
“I see you’ve got a production printer. How’s the service been?” (Standard observation into a sales question.)
“When is your contract up?” (Newbie question.)
“Does your current vendor always deliver toner before needed?” (Recognizably leading and shallow.)
“If I could show you how color increases …” (Gag me with a spoon and stab out my eyeballs.)
Instead, how about you keep your observations to yourself and wait for a machine discussion come up organically?
Try this on for size:
“I know you print informational packets for the (XYX) niche. Can you tell me a bit more about what you produce and the value your clients feel you provide?”
After the prospect answers, go deeper:
“How much do you plan on growing revenue/increasing number of clients/etc., next year?”
The next question is a simple query:
“How?” How are you going to increase the number of clients/sales revenue?” Then shut up and listen.
Remember, you’re looking for business-based leverage points where your offering supports your prospect’s business goals. As you ask these types of questions, you begin to grow your general business knowledge — you are increasing your business acumen. Acumen is leagues more important than speeds and feeds. Also, no other copier rep is asking questions like these. In a world where everybody is looking for ways to distinguish themselves, building acumen is the most significant.
Bonus: Take notes on paper and draw pictures
In the name of all that is human, please do not tap away on your shiny new laptop while conducting your meeting. There is nothing more disconnected than somebody typing while asking questions. How empty is it to look into a prospect’s eyes while clicking away on a keyboard? Grab a pad of paper and a pencil and take notes. Better yet, go out and buy “The Back of the Napkin.” It’s a great book that talks about conveying ideas via simple drawings. It works.
In closing, the best way to improve yourself is to gain all the knowledge as possible about many DIFFERENT business models. Convert the experience into wisdom and add business value to every, single prospective client discussion.
is an entrepreneur and founder of the notorious destination site TheDeathOfTheCopier, where he comments on all things imaging, the rise of managed services and the advance of business technology. A prolific writer and frequent speaker, Greg shares his passionate, unique – and often provocative – view of technology and people, addressing the impact of digital on 21st century business. His 2014 book, Death Of The Copier, offers a controversial summary of the early days of Managed Print Services and the not-so-distant future of the hard copy industry. Reach out to Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.