The New Sales: Numbers AND Culture

Numbers don’t lie. Unfortunately, they don’t always tell the whole story. New market research on the printing industry reveals why your sales strategy should be focused on the “Big Fish,” but that’s only the starting point. The next step you take is just as important as the data itself.

We are big fans of market research, and so are our readers. One of our top performing posts this year was John Jullen’s study on what it takes to pull off a successful M&A. That’s why we’re happy to share some eye-opening data from our good friend, Vince Mallardi of the Print Brokerage / Buyers Association (PBBA).

We’re going to pair Vince’s quantitative data that indicates you should go after the Big Fish with some qualitative strategies from our good friend Todd Cohen, CSP. Todd is  an expert on building sales cultures and an international keynote speaker.

Todd Cohen and Vince Mallardi

Two heavy hitters are about to guide you on how to create one potent sales strategy — so let’s dig in.

The Big Fish Spend Big Money on Printing

According to market research from the PBBA, over $5.5 billion, or nearly 3 percent of all print on the planet, will be generated by five entities and among three hundred of their associates.

The research was developed to help printers develop their sales strategies. Typically, the strategic sales approach is based on geography.  As Vince notes, printers will draw a line around a city and target proximate printing buyers.

PBBA’s data reveals that if that’s your strategy, you’re putting yourself at risk. You need to think of the marketplace as a whole. For example, what happens when your biggest customer in town gets acquired by a bigger fish? What do you do then?

5 entities will generate $5.5 billion

“Don’t think of yourself as a chalk-line radius from your printing plant,” Vince explains. “Base it on printing demand.”

Print Buyers: Do You Want Scraps or Surplus?

If you take a closer look at the methodology behind PBBA’s research, you get a sense of how big the Big Fish are in the sea of print buyers.

PBBA researchers looked at all the metropolitan areas, and focused on the printing companies doing more than $2 million in business. They segmented the largest 5, then next 20, then the next 50, and then the next 500.

They overlaid that data with the print buyers, and found that 1,500 print buyers cover more than half of all printing. In fact, the top 100 buyers are bigger than the next 500. Then it tapers down – “the scraps” as Vince refers to them.

Graphic courtesy of PBBA.comGraphic courtesy of

Make no mistake, many printers have made a career off the scraps. But it’s been a tenuous career. You’re more prone to consolidation, recession, and even local economic conditions (think water quality in Flint and its impact on the economy).

So how do you shift out of geographical mindset and start focusing on where the real money is?

Stop Taking the ‘Willy Loman” Approach

Sales has always been a numbers game for printing companies. You throw as many sales people as you can into the market, and hope for the best. The “Willy Loman” approach, as Vince puts it.

Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman. Photo courtesy of

Dustin Hoffman as Willy Loman. Photo courtesy of

But print demand is past the point of penetration. By taking the Loman approach, you truly will be encouraging the death of a salesman — and your company as well.  Now you need to be multidimensional in your research.

You have to focus not only on the top buyers, but when they buy; what are their cycles; how does conglomeration impact them.

Sounds like a lot of research, right? It is. But that’s the key to netting the Big Fish, and transforming your company’s mindset.

Research, Research, Research…Every Single Day

The research PBBA produces for companies is more than just an overview of the marketplace. As Todd Cohen explains, it’s the foundation for catching a Big Fish.

A little background on Todd. He helps companies build their sales culture.  As he puts it, “Everyone’s in sales.”  It’s not just the job of the salespeople to sell; it’s the entire company.

Everyone's in sales.

We’ll get more into that in a bit, but let’s continue on the research, and the two things you need it establish upfront.

Todd is very adamant that there is no secret sauce or silver bullet to netting the Big Fish, so you have to commit to his two principles upfront, before you even begin the undertaking:

  1. This is a long-term proposition. Patience matters.
  2. Every single day, you need to engage in some activity that improves your knowledge of the Big Fish.

Vince’s research is the beginning of your quest. Now it’s time to engage in the kind of relationship-building that will get you in the door.

Don’t I Just Pick Up the Phone and Call?

In the days of Willy Loman, you went knocking on doors. So now do you pick up the phone and call Cindy Headen at Pepsico to ask for an order? Heck no.

You have to pick up where PBBA’s report leaves off.  You have to study the organization and learn about the people who work there.  Who do they know? Who do they network? LinkedIn provides a goldmine of data like this, but that’s just the beginning.

You also have to begin networking your way to those people. Consider joining an association your target attends. Learn who is in their network, and then think about who you know that is connected to them.

You can also pick up more qualitative data about the company. Follow their LinkedIn page, and read their content and news releases. Begin sharing the content through your social streams, and interact with the social media people. It’s a great first step.

Networking is Not About You

As Todd explains, networking is a long-term proposition. “It’s not a straight line,” he said. “You have to zig and zag.”

You have to zig and zag.

You also can’t make it about yourself and selling your companies. Everything you should do is about giving back.

Here’s an example:  Let’s say the company has shared a new announcement on their LinkedIn feed. Share the news release on your LinkedIn page, and then drop the marketing person a note.

Wish them best of luck with the initiative, and let them know you shared the release, and that you’re happy to share any info they have moving forward.

That marketing person will remember you. They may not buy print, but they may just know someone in procurement. Your name may come up if they are going out to bid. That’s how these things happen.

“Relationships are currency,” Todd said. “They produce over time.”

Brass Tactics: Moving Beyond the Big Picture

Combining quantitative data and qualitative relationship building — that’s the big picture for catching the Big Fish.  Now let’s add in a few specific tactics suggested by Vince and Todd.

The big picture to catching the Big Fish

To get big, think specific

If you’ve never gone after a Big Fish, you might not have the capabilities to provide a full-service option.  So don’t. Niche in a specific area, and then become exceptional at it. If you can show an advantage over the competition in an area, the Big Fish will swim to it.

That may require becoming focused on a specific vertical, as Vince recommends. Position yourself by service or by vertical — the choice is yours. By when you’re a little fish, being a jack-of-all trades won’t cut it with the big boys.

Have Multiple Prospects

The Big Fish can become a big revenue source. But they shouldn’t be the focus of all your time and efforts.  Todd recommends to always work on multiple prospects, and put your energy on the ones that are moving. That way, you’re not pushing on the ones that aren’t ready today.

If no fish are biting, redivert that time into networking. Help someone pay it forward.

Build Your Virtual Sales Network

Networking isn’t about just hunting for prospects, as we’ve noted. Use the “pay it forward” tactic and start meeting people. Lots of people. Here are some other ways you can build on your “virtual” sales network:

  • Share information on LinkedIn with your friends and customers.
  • Join a local networking organization and make yourself a regular.
  • Treat all your friends and families as part of your network — maintain top-of-mind awareness with them so if a referral opportunity presents itself, you’re who they remember.

The Right Numbers & Networking Right: How to Get Started

As Todd Cohen reminds us, there is no silver bullet for landing the Big Fish. It takes the right research, networking the right way, and patience.  That is indisputable.


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