In my more than three-decades-long odyssey through the world of office technology — from the copier to Novell servers, from sleek tablets to behemoth mainframes — I’ve rubbed shoulders with presidents, mingled with the C-suite, and tipped a few bourbons with dealer/owners. Yet, in this crazy mix of personalities and titles, I have never encountered a single soul who woke up one day and said, “I want to sell copiers for the rest of my life.” Yet here we are, an industry of resilience and problem solvers.
I wonder, how is this possible? For the newly minted copier rep, what can you expect from the niche as you progress along your personal selling journey?
Today, we’ll talk about key strategies and principles for not just surviving the copier industry, but thriving in professional sales and beyond.
The accidental copier salesperson
First, let’s be clear: nobody steps into this arena by design. It’s almost as if the universe conspires to drop people into this niche, often without them realizing it until they’re handed a sales manual on their first day of orientation.
I’ve also met a fair share of veterans in the copier industry— “copier folks” and “toner heads”—who have tried to escape, to break free. Yet, like a boomerang, they find themselves back in the game within months, as if tethered by some invisible force.
Facing the crossroads: your career trajectories
So, here you stand, at the crossroads of a dying industry — an industry that has been gasping for air for over a decade.
It’s true output volumes are far away from the 10,000 images per employee per week of the 1990s. Work from anywhere and the fear of Covid accelerated the digital transformation away from paper, and the oncoming tsunami known as artificial intelligence is bound to impact the entire business-to-business landscape.
But today, let’s shift our gaze away from the storm on the horizon and more inward. Let’s look at how selling in office technology prepares you for selling in ANY industry.
To begin with, as I see it, you have three pathways:
Stay in copiers: Whether you’re eyeing enterprise-level sales, considering a move into management, or even pondering ownership, there’s a career ladder waiting for you to climb. And unless your last name is on the company building or you’re related to the owner, remember that ladder is yours to climb—and yours alone.
Stay in sales: If you can sell copiers, you can sell anything. The copier industry is the best place to learn about engaging both simple, commodity transactions AND complex, strategic, enterprise-level solutions. Transitioning to pharmaceuticals, software, or even real estate is easier after you’ve been through the office technology selling gauntlet.
Exit sales: Everybody sells, but sales isn’t for everyone. The experience you gain from simply attempting to sell — cold calls, presentations, proposal generation, order processing — gives you empathy if not skills that help you pivot into other roles like service or support or marketing.
For this essay, I’m assuming you’re going to stay in copier sales with an eye to the future.
Great. Now what?
First, do whatever needs to be done to keep your employer happy, within reason. If the company starts to encroach upon your specific and personal boundaries, take your experience and value elsewhere.
Five principles for long-term success in sales
Customize and adhere to the following guiding principles I’ve seen support success:
- Detachment: You’ve heard this espoused in the sales cycle, “Detach from any emotional response to the outcome.” Simply put, detaching yourself from a desired outcome turns a ‘want’ into a choice. Whether you’re negotiating a deal or contemplating your career trajectory, detachment is key. The industry is a shifting landscape, and your current employer is just a chapter in your story. Detachment not only aids in the selling process but also fosters personal and professional growth, regardless of your current employer. Remember, you hold the pen to your own destiny, not your CEO, sales manager, or clients.
- Commitment: While detachment is crucial, it’s equally important to commit wholeheartedly to your current role. Give it your all, not for the sake of your employer, but for something greater—your own personal and professional development.
- Curiosity: Never let the flame of curiosity die out. Whether it’s understanding the intricacies of a new software or the nuances of customer behavior, continuous learning is your best ally.
- Quotas: Aim to hit your quota, but don’t overshoot to an extent that raises expectations unrealistically. The art of sandbagging—under-promising and over-delivering—can serve you well.
- Authenticity: In a world rife with facades, being authentic is your greatest asset. Stay true to who you are, and the right path will naturally unfold before you.
I would be lying if I told you I’ve lived by all of the above all of the time. I haven’t, and I know of few who have. I’ve seen copier reps leave the industry to become rock stars selling unrelated products and services, and I know successful, longtime copier reps make a good living and getting ready to retire out of the industry.
The best are committed to their vision, strive for targets they set for themselves, remain balanced in good times and bad, and are curious to a fault. The true great ones are authentic. Not because they tell you they are, it’s because that’s what others say.
The copier industry may not have been your first choice or even your second, but the formal training and experiential lessons learned here are universal; the skills transferable. Stay or go – either way, dig in, level up and keep your eyes on the horizon. Opportunity awaits.
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 email@example.com.