How a fine paper seller can add value to concept

Selling, especially selling of fine paper, needs not always be about price. A seller can also add value to the final product. Arjun Dewan explains

21 Jun 2017 | By PrintWeek India

Selling is not the same as peddling, though images of sales persons pushing products are universally unflattering. It is a fact that a sales person has the primary objective of selling. However, selling needs not be associated with peddling and a sales call needs not be seen as an intrusion.
When does a sales call move from being an intrusion to a welcome arrival? 
I believe it happens when the presence of a sales person adds value to the meeting.
We are in the business of fine paper selling and the thing with branded fine paper is that once somebody has tested and used a product, they can be confident of getting the same product consistently. Papers Worldwide, the company I am associated with, has exclusive arrangements with mills like Neenah Paper Mills, USA and Moorim Papers, Korea. Now, Neenah and Moorim have quality standards. So, a sheet of Classic Crest purchased today will be consistent with a sheet of Classic Crest purchased earlier, just like a bottle of Johnny Walker irrespective of whenever you buy it. 
The way a sommelier helps select wine or single malt, a seller of consistently produced fine paper can also add value. Of course, this value doesn’t equal better price, because when it comes to price, lower is always better. (The thing with lower prices, however, is that either the margins or the quality are squeezed, and in both cases, the relationship is not enduring.)
Understand the customer 
Understand everything, the machinery being used, the post-press treatments being planned, the ultimate product being created and the customer for whom the product is created. 
For example, while printing on HP Indigo digital press, ink adhesion on paper requires the paper to be surface treated. Here, if one knows that machines of series 7900 and 12000 come with an on-press primer, one can offer richly textured uncoated papers, rather than being restricted to the usual coated papers. Similarly, if one is planning on both embossing and foiling, it is important to select papers that have higher fibre content. On the same lines, if the ultimate product is stationery, it is important to know that coated substrates will not be suitable for fountain pens, and finally if your customer is looking at printing a report on sustainability, a paper that compliments the theme is only helping add another level of substance to the message. 
The key is to understand the customer and offer solutions that compliment that need. According to Biswajit Bhattacharjee of Delhi-based Lustra Print Process, the opportunities for such collaboration are rare and therefore very fulfilling.  
Bhattacharjee, whose list of successful collaboration includes work for CII, the prestigious coffee table book on tigers by Valmik Thappar and Encyclopaedia Britannica, spoke about the collaboration for the 2016 annual calendar for Encyclopaedia Britannica. The client, Bobby Jenna, wanted a paper that could withstand heavy UV effect to create a real life effect of paintings that depicted life in India. The budget was equally important and so in collaboration with the paper merchant and the client, Bhattacharjee narrowed down on Renoir Extra White, after a detailed assessment, breaking away from tradition to create a memorable printed product. 
Know your product 
Fine paper merchants represent several mills and all products have intrinsic qualities. The price difference between mills is the easiest to spot and also the highlights. For example, in the case of Papers Worldwide, products from Neenah Papers come at a premium when compared to products from Moorim Papers. This difference is enhanced because of the Free Trade Agreement between India and Korea. However, beyond the prices, the papers are fundamentally different. 
Writwick Ganguly of Thomson Press said that to be considered world class, a press needs to focus on quality and verify the claims made by vendors. Thomson Press has an in-house lab in its main plant in Faridabad that extensively tests the quality of all material the press uses. Vendors are screened on a number of quality parameters. 
In the case of paper, these include grammage, opacity, grain direction, burst factor and more, depending on the purpose for which a paper is being considered. According to Ganguly, marquee names like Thomson Press using a product give it that stamp of approval, something which is critical for success. For a vendor, it, therefore, becomes extremely critical to know one’s product. A wrong claim is equal to a closed door, possibly forever.
Recommend products based on use
Your customer wants to print a big book and asks for paper of a certain gram range. You are aware that your product range includes a product of a lower gram range with high opacity, and by using it your customer will not just save money but also lower his shipping rates. In such as case, do not be afraid to offer that alternative. Your customer will respect you. 
Supporting this view, Abhishek Nangia of Bharat Print Shop, a leading digital printer in New Delhi, with machines like the Canon 10000, Konica Minolta 1100 and the Xerox 1000i, said young students from designing institutes like NIFT and Peal Academy are leading the trend of innovation and are seeking alternatives. They are looking for solutions which involve all aspects of print, including the substrate, the printing unit, the post-press treatment and more. At the turn of the century, the focus was on volumes, now it is on quality, individuality and speed. The Xerox 1000i, which was the first digital machine in Delhi-NCR to print gold and silver colours way back in 2015, was installed to cater to such demand, as has the decision to keep an extensive range of printing substrates, rather than just gloss and matt art paper — a norm a few years back.
Know the market and your competitors 
For every product, there will be a competing one. Know about the products offered by your competitors. Not just their price and discount. Once you know about the products in your competitors range, you as a seller are better equipped to share your strengths and also assure the buyer. In addition to knowing what is offered by your competitor, it is also important to observe trends in the market. Information about that can add a lot of value to your conversations, making your sales visits an event that is welcomed.
Bring examples, samples on the table
No one believes the mileage claims made by an automobile manufacturer. One of the reasons being these conditions are not replicable in actual life. Something similar crosses the mind of a buyer when presented with swatch books and mill produced samples. It is, therefore, important to carry actual printed samples for your meetings. Whether the product you sell is well established or new, when you carry printed samples, you increase the confidence in its ability. 
Sanjeev Sachdeva, a print veteran with 32 years of experience, cites marquee names like RK Swamy, Accentive and Passi Publications as customers. Sachdeva, a partner with Naraina-based Rolleract Press Services, a boutique printing unit with machines like Heidelberg SM 74, an MOV four-colour and a CTP thermal screen unit, said printers operate in a high risk environment where the margin for error is low. Therefore, better safe than sorry becomes the operating mantra, thereby reducing the opportunity for experimentation. “We try a new product only after we are convinced about its quality. Printed samples help us giving a new product a chance,” he says. 
Your customer is a person, know him 
It is said that Brijmohan Lall Munjal used to remember the names of each and every dealer, made it a point to attend important functions and kept a pocket diary where he recorded important information about the people he did business with. Do you know about your customers as people? Because if you do not, there is no way you will be able to develop a relationship with them. 
Fortunately, online platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn help generate a lot of relevant information. An attitude to be genuinely interested in the people you do business with is, however, a precious characteristic.
Tail piece
On the other hand, printers and designers must see their fine paper seller as a partner or an ally. Share your product and design ideas with them, challenge them to find solutions. 
Just as it is said that democracy is not just about voting and forgetting, selling too is not just about offering a price quote and then following up to ask for business. Just like in a democratic set up where the electorate is the final authority, in selling, the buyer is the final authority. It is, therefore, important that the buyer, namely the printer, designer, corporate manager, challenge their fine paper seller to get more on the table.n
How a fine paper seller can add value to concept