This article originally appeared in the May/June issue of Mailing Systems Technology.

Print and mail service providers are doing business in a “data first” marketplace. Their customers have invested in data analytics to improve the customer experience. If print and mail vendors can use data to create personalized and compelling customer content delivered to the right audience at the right time, they will have made the leap from commodity provider to partner. This is a good place to be in a competitive marketplace.

Transforming from vendor to partner is not automatic. If they aren’t comfortable with sales calls that stray away from traditional conversations about paper and ink for most of the meeting, salespeople will struggle. Some organizations will hire salespeople with consultative selling experience in another field and teach them about printing and mailing. Others may take salespeople who already know the printing and mailing business and train them in data analytics and consultative selling. Either way, service providers must usually change their sales strategies.

Selling Results, Not Print

A print/mail service provider bases their data-centric sales approach on helping customers achieve their goals. Instead of selling postcards, self-mailers, or even complete campaigns, data-focused salespeople sell results. This requires a clear understanding of customer objectives. Without this insight, salespeople revert to pitching products the print/mail provider has to sell, instead of supplying solutions to the problems customers want to solve.

Customers often verbalize their goal for marketing campaigns as increased sales, but consultative salespeople dig deeper to learn about the specifics. Perhaps customer interests include other achievements, such as facing off with a particular competitor or selling more products to existing customers.

Digging for Answers

Data-centric salespeople will ask a variety of questions to better understand their customers’ businesses. The answers help them suggest marketing solutions consistent with the customer objectives. Some of the information commonly gathered includes:

· Who buys the customer’s products or services?

Where are the customers located?

What qualifies them as buyers (age, income, business size, etc.)?

Besides postal mail, in which channels are the buyers likely to spend time?

· Why do they buy these products (what problems do these products solve)?

· What causes buyers to purchase these products (triggering event or condition)?

· How long does it typically take a prospect to progress from awareness to purchase?

· What steps do buyers usually take before they purchase?

Do they visit the company website?

Watch a video demonstration?

Download a free trial?

Visit the factory?

Read reviews or seek advice from friends?

· What content does the business have on hand to satisfy the needs of prospective buyers?

Salespeople should know how to keep asking questions to clarify what their customers aim to achieve in the short term and the long haul. Perhaps recognition as a leader in their industry is important to the customers. Maybe they want a reputation for low-cost products or they cater to an exclusive high-end clientele.

Armed with answers to questions like these, print/mail service providers can identify the data that helps them aim messages at their customers’ target audiences. Service providers will be able to compose relevant communications and construct calls to action designed to persuade prospective buyers to take those steps that lead to sales. They can show customers how they will use the data to control variable message components.

This is a radically different customer conversation than one concentrating on list size, cost, and schedules.

Why a “Data First” Strategy?

The benefits to such a sales approach are clear:

Higher Margins – Selling value based on effective data use is more lucrative than selling print impressions. The ROI is more visible, and service providers can reduce waste. No longer will it be necessary to win business based solely on price.

Differentiation – The ability to use data to improve customer document performance will be an advantage. Most of the competition will continue selling commodity print and mail.

Customer Retention – Wider and deeper customer relationships come with the data first territory. These bonds will evolve as print/mail service providers interact with customer representatives beyond print buyers or purchasing departments. Integration with customer processes also makes accounts more resistant to poaching by competitors.

New Customer Relationships

Cultivated relationships with customer representatives is necessary to manage a data-focused sales approach. Many of these relationships will be with executive-level people. They have a broader perspective on the business and can describe long-range goals they want the business to achieve. Relationship-building skills are probably more important than sales techniques when dealing with this group. It is necessary to establish trust and gain a clear understanding of the customer’s needs before any real selling begins.

In data-driven environments, proposals should focus on solutions, not products. Executives do not want to discuss print and mail details with salespeople. This tactic sends conversations right back to commodity bantering with lower-level employees. Solutions that help customers reach their identified goals are the important part. The documents service providers create and mail that are just one step on the path leading to the desired result.

Not One and Done

An important topic to cover with customers when talking about data-driven solutions is how to measure the results. This isn’t an area that comes up when selling commodities like sales letters or postcards. Print/mail vendors have no stake in mailed communication performance, but partners do. Partners want to know if the campaign isn’t generating expected results so they can help their customers alter the approach to achieve more responses and conversions.

New sales strategies based on data first approaches can be difficult to design and implement. If you need help, please get in touch with me. I can refer you to training and coaching resources that can prepare the salesforce for consultative selling.

Mike Porter writes extensively on topics of interest to companies and individuals working in the customer communications business. Visit to learn more about his writing and consulting services or follow him on Twitter @PMCmike or LinkedIn.