Selling Book Printing When There is an Incumbent Printer
Selling book printing to an existing publisher is difficult. In every case, there is an incumbent printer. Since book printing is only ten percent of the publisher’s value chain, there is great resistance to change printers if the incumbent is performing adequately well. Sometimes a technology change provides a clear advantage over the incumbent. A new 48-inch, heat set press may provide a significant cost advantage over an incumbent who doesn’t have the same equipment. Sometimes you may catch a publisher when the incumbent printer has made a mistake or missed a deadline and the publisher is interested in making a change. Most times, however, inertia sets in for the publisher and the incumbent wins the jobs. What, then, is the best strategy to unseat an incumbent printer?
To unseat an incumbent printer begins with the basics. Does your current salesperson adequately represent your company? Is your salesperson properly groomed? Does your salesperson wear appropriate attire on sales calls? Does your salesperson have a pleasing personality? Does your salesperson understand the industry and speak the same language as the publisher? Does your salesperson understand the needs and challenges of the publisher? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you must work to improve your salesperson in that area. If the answer to all these questions is yes, then it’s time to look at advanced selling techniques.
To overcome a publisher’s inertia and to unseat an incumbent printer, you must find a compelling reason to change. The publisher is never going to tell you outright that his current printer is unsatisfactory. In fact, unless the printer is blatantly bad, the publisher will continue to work with him because he feels it is easier to work with a printer that is trained in what the publisher wants rather than find and train a new one. You will have to uncover “hidden” wants and needs of the publisher through a systematic line of questioning.
The first step is to build rapport by asking the publisher about his business. To whom does he sell? What genres are his books? Who is his current printer? Once some rapport is built, then you can ask the questions to get at the hidden needs.
The line of questioning has two steps. First, ask the publisher what he likes best about his current printer. This is a non-threatening question. It allows you to learn what the publisher likes and values in his current printer. These qualities are the same ones he will value in you after the switch. Make note of the qualities for future discussions, but don’t comment or try to sell yourself at this time. Second, ask the publisher this question, “if there was one thing you would change about your current printer, what would it be?” This question exposes the incumbent’s weaknesses and provides you the key to presenting your company as a superior choice. It is important that you ask the question in exactly the same way I have shown you. Others have asked me if they must ask the question in this way. The answer is yes. Any other way of asking the question creates a threatening statement and may turn the publisher against you.
The next step is to ask a question that confirms what the publisher has told you. Pose the question in this way. If the publisher could find a printer that overcomes the one thing the current printer doesn’t do well, and did the same things the current printer does well, then would the publisher switch? For instance, if the publisher says he likes his current printers turnaround time and pricing but dislikes the customer service he receives, then the question would be phrased this way. “If you could find a printer with solid customer service and the same turnaround time and price as your current printer, would you switch?”
Too often salespeople get drawn into the price trap—that is trying to unseat the incumbent based on price alone. Unless there is a significant price difference—a minimum of 20%—then inertia will keep the publisher with the current printer. If the salesperson is confronted with comments like, “just tell me your price for 500 books” or “all I’m interested in is price,” then it requires some verbal judo to flip the conversation back to the hidden needs. A salesperson might say, “I know you get a good price from your current printer, and you have a certain level of service for that price. If you could change one thing about your current printer, what would that be?” Now you are back to a probing question that may unlock a hidden need from that publisher that you can fulfill.
Unseating an incumbent book printer requires specific selling skills for your salesperson. Invest in training your salesperson to ask the fundamental questions I outlined above. If you do, your salesperson will convert more established publishers and you will be rewarded with more book printing sales.