Selling print and mail services used to be straightforward. Mostly, a salesperson had to convince a prospect the outsource provider could produce quality documents less expensively than the prospect could do it themselves. It's not so easy anymore.

Unless a service provider is satisfied with low-margin, commodity-driven work, they must add value to their product. That requires in-depth client analysis and multiple contacts within client organizations. Successful selling in this environment might require participation from several individuals in the service provider's company.

If the client and the outsource service provider both consider documents like bills, notices, and statements as important elements in their client’s customer relationship strategy, the conversation about outsourcing expands. Cost savings will still be a factor, but other aspects of customer communication grow in importance.

Transactional Selling Method

In traditional print/mail sales approaches, salespeople talk about what their company has to sell:

· Postage savings

· Document integrity

· Document production cost savings

· General product enhancements such as color printing or e-presentment

· Fast turnaround

· Forms inventory maintenance

I am not suggesting these things are unimportant, but nearly every print and mail outsourcing company in the business offers them. When the same product is easily available from many vendors, maintaining client loyalty is challenging. A client may go shopping for another vendor if they can get a better price or if they think they can get better service elsewhere.

Consultative Selling Strategy

In contrast, a consultative sales approach focuses on discovering a client’s objectives. These have nothing to do with details like whether to print their statements with toner or ink or how clients can save a penny on postage. If the client representative insists on restricting the conversation to such items, the salesperson is probably meeting with the wrong person.

Outsource companies produce materials that contribute to the client’s overall objectives, but documents should not be the sole focus of the sales discussion. Instead, the conversation should center on subjects likely to be more critical for clients, like increasing market share or improving customer retention.

Consultative sales people must keep asking questions that focus on solutions for the client, not on products the print/mail vendor has to sell.

A Longer Process

Discussions about how the print/mail vendor will help their clients achieve their goals can only happen after the service provider has identified the client’s objectives, the target audience, and the value of meeting the objectives. The more important document-related questions are about why the client is generating the document.

· What do they want customers to do (or not do) when they receive the document?

· How can the documents improve the customer experience?

· What is the value of increasing per-customer revenue, renewing a customer, gaining referrals?

· How can the documents decrease client expenses (besides lower production/distribution costs)?

The people at client companies who can provide this information are likely to be management executives–people the print service vendor may never have dealt with in prior sales situations.

The sales process in a consultative relationship is longer than a transactional approach. It requires time to develop trust. Chief Marketing Officers, Chief Executive Officers, and others in the C-Suite are busy people. It takes patience to secure appointments with them. Print/mail vendors may be more successful at scheduling executive meetings by bringing the vendor’s own executives or other subject matter experts along to meet with their counterparts at a prospective client’s firm.

Print and mail service providers once focused on putting images on paper and getting them into the mail. Then they expanded to include digital documents, archiving, and payment processing. Most service providers can now offer multi-channel distribution and other services related to document production and delivery. There isn’t a great deal of growth opportunity in simply doing these things better than a competitor. The real benefit to the service providers, and their clients, is finding ways documents can positively influence the issues most important to the service provider clients.

Mike Porter helps print/mail organizations improve operations and develop strategies for growth. Contact Mike at or follow him on LinkedIn and Twitter @PMCmike to learn more.