The first myth of print sales: more sales activity creates more profit

Posted by Matthew Parker

If you throw enough mud some of it sticks

This is a saying that I hear a lot when I’m talking to print salespeople. They are focused on creating as much activity as possible. They are contacting as many customers as possible as many times as possible.

The main object is to get a lot of quote requests. These salespeople work on the basis that the more prices they give out, the more work they are likely to book in.

You have to admire these people. They are slogging away in a difficult market place, day in, day out. It is certainly hard work.

The trouble is, that this sort of activity tends to generate revenue, not profit.

It’s time to challenge the myth that being busy is being profitable

Being constantly on the phone is not necessarily a sign of creating pofits

Being constantly on the phone is not necessarily a sign of creating profits

People who challenge this myth tend to create better customer partnerships. They are moving away from commodity sales and into a more profitable value-added sale. These customers tend to buy solutions that mean they stay with the same supplier for longer. So the printer is in control of their sales pipeline. And they achieve better profits.

People who believe in the activity myth find it harder to generate profits. They tend to end up with commodity sales and commodity customers. They don’t have the same control over their sales pipeline. They are not achieving their full potential.

However, people who believe in the activity myth refuse to believe this.

Activity equals sales

Sometimes this is true and sometimes it isn’t. To demonstrate this I would like to quote some research from a book called The Challenger Sale. This research is based on profiling over 6,000 sales people from a variety of business sectors.

The profiling shows that there are five clear types of salesperson. One of these is the hard worker. The hard worker can get results. In fact, in commodity type sales, the hard workers form the biggest percentage of high performing salespeople.

However, when it comes to high complexity sales it’s a very different story. Here only 10% of the high performing salespeople were hard workers. There were other types of salesperson who performed much better.

In general, we should draw a slightly different conclusion than activity equals sales.

Activity equals commodity sales

Many of the hard work salespeople who focus on activity are winning work on price. They are focused on getting the orders in. But the rate of their activity means that it is hard to spend too much time on one sale. It’s hard to work on getting a decent profit margin from the customer when you are this active. It’s also hard to sell anything more than a standard print job.

That means we should also draw another conclusion about activity.

Activity equals disloyal customers

Because busy salespeople are winning work on price they are also more likely to lose their customers. Chances are, that as their customer chose on price, they will continue to do so. So as soon as another print sales person comes along with a lower price the customer will be off to a new print company.

The busy salesperson has to stay really busy. They need to replace all the customers that are leaving.

So what can be done about this?

There is another way. If print companies want to create better profit margins they need to concentrate on a different type of sale.

Firstly, they need to make sure that they can sell solutions, and not just ink on paper. Otherwise, they are destined to stay in a commodity market.

Secondly, these companies need to have a different type of sales message. They need to have a message that concentrates on the TPD principle: target market, pain and difference. I will be writing more about this in future articles.

However, there is still a problem

Research shows that the hard work type of salesperson is often not the best type of person to make this sort of sale effectively. Busy salespeople are going to have to work on developing new skills.

This doesn’t have to be an impossible problem. I have seen plenty of print sales people who have created a new offering and a new message. This has changed the fortunes of their companies.

Here are three things you can do straight away

  1. Review the type of sale you are making
  2. Start working on a TPD sales message
  3. Start testing this message on your customers

Remember one important thing

When you are working on new strategies, don’t try and change everything straight away. Make sure you have a gradual change. You don’t want to lose work because you have made changes that take time to work.

However, it is time to change one thing straight away.

Stop thinking that throwing mud is a worthwhile activity

If that’s the way you think about your sales, you’ll remain stuck in a commodity market.

Some people may feel that this article is irrelevant to them. They focus on building great relationships from which the sales follow. Relationship selling as a successful strategy is another myth that needs to be busted. And I will be doing just that in my next article.
P.S. Make sure you don’t miss the other articles in this series. Sign up right now to find out more about the seven myths of print sales and receive a free copy of  “Ten Common Print Selling Errors and What To Do About Them”.

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11 Responses to The first myth of print sales: more sales activity creates more profit

  • interesting stuff. I basically agree with your view on the ‘throw enough mud’ malarky
    We’re involved in solution selling and it’s always worth challenging the norm and hopefully working smarter

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Thanks for your comments, Mark. It’s great to know that others are with me on this.


  • Edward Zelasko says:


    I am with you on this point and have been preaching this to sales executives for years! I don’t totally discount certain activities, however, when the rubber meets the road it’s all about highly focused, strategic targeted activities that will put your company in a position to provide a unique solution to your existing and prospective customer’s needs. Selling the company’s “Value Add” may also mean looking at the sales executive’s comp plan and incorporating an element based on profit margin, not just revenue.

    • Matthew Parker says:

      Edward, many thanks for your comments. I particularly agree about reviewing how companies compensate their sales people.


    • I’m not sure I agree why salespeople need a comp plan at all. Aren’t the other people in your company working just as hard to produce the materials and products as you are selling them.

      Why not just offer a fair salary based on performance level and value to the company in general.

      For example I know ball players who hit 235 however there presence in locker room and influence of others make them a more valuable than a 310 hitter who constantly disrupts team chemistry.

      My gut tells me commissions don’t work as well for company as one would think. I’d like to get Mathews read on this.

  • David UNO says:

    Interesting article but we work on a different model. Most prices are taken from our price list and we have no outside sales. Quotes are given quickly and the same for the completion of our customers orders. We also try to educate our customer on how to use out price list, which is listed on our website. We have competitive prices but since our prices are listed, we quote quickly and move to running the order if the customer is interested.

    • Matthew Parker says:

      David, thanks for sharing your model with us. I think this works well for simple sales. Would this work if you were trying to sell your customer more complex printing solution?


  • Thomas says:

    Enjoyed your thoughts, would like to share some dialog sometime. Nice mindset.

  • Mr. Parker has a unique way of sharing his thoughts about sales and debunking the myths of this profession. His comments seem the common sense type things we should know but forget or don’t think about often as we should. I like to read his articles it helps me center myself on realities of marketplace.

    Thanks Parker you continue to shine a bright light of friendly reminders for me.

    Thomas Lickert
    Dallas, Texas

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