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Web-to-Print: A Mission Critical Sales and Marketing Project

Web-to-Print is a sales and marketing project that happens to involve technology, yet most printers delegate the leadership of web-to-print projects to their technical resources. We are collectively as an industry putting too much emphasis on the technology and not enough emphasis on the sales and marketing aspects.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: May 13, 2014

Web-to-Print is a sales and marketing project that happens to involve technology, yet most printers delegate the leadership of web-to-print projects to their technical resources. We are collectively as an industry putting too much emphasis on the technology and not enough emphasis on the sales and marketing aspects of web-to-print. Technology is a required component of any online initiative, but the primary beneficiary of web-to-print is your customers. You should give leadership of your web-to-print projects to the people in your organization who interact the most with your customers (sales and marketing).

A successful web-to-print initiative is all about the customer, both the customer you already have and the customer you are trying to acquire through your sales and marketing activities. Think about web-to-print as a new “service” offering that you need to brand, market, and then sell first to your internal staff, then to your existing customers, and finally, leverage as a key part of your outbound sales pitch.

Create a Go-to-Market Strategy

A go-to-market strategy is simply deciding who you are going to target for your online solution. This might sound ridiculously obvious, but it is all too often ill-defined. This alone can cause you to buy the wrong technology, hire the wrong staff, and waste a lot of time and money. Be specific (everyone is not a valid answer) about the “who” you are targeting. Some examples are:

  • A B2B target market starting with our existing key clients,
  • A B2C target market focused on our regional area, or
  • A B2C target market focused on a specific product niche like banners, etc.

Once you have determined who you intend to target with your web-to-print solution, you then have to decide on the “what” you plan to sell them (everything is not a valid answer). Because the customer is ordering in a self-service manner online, what you sell them has to be products and services that are conducive to self-service. Don’t try to sell your most complicated product this way. Think about segmenting your products like the banks have,; simple transactions are done at the ATM, complex transactions are done inside the bank with people. Your simple products belong online because your customers want the convenience of self-service ordering and you don’t need the administrative overhead of handling these simple products manually.

The go-to-market strategy defines who you’re targeting, what you’re going to sell them, and finally, what business objectives you intend to deliver upon with this initiative. This is vital; don’t start a project without defined business goals. Notice I said business goals. Too many web-to-print projects have technically focused goals like “complete the implementation by this date” because they are being led by technical resources. Choose goals that are based on business results, not activities. I love the goal of “first live order in the system by this date” because this forces everyone to prioritize to get live and start producing revenue through the system instead of getting stuck in configuration paralysis. Technical success does not equal market success or business success. You have to keep everyone involved in the project focused on what matters – revenue, profitability, customer satisfaction/loyalty, and growth.

Branding Your Web-to-Print Solution

Names matter, and everything gets a name, whether you consciously choose one or not. If you are just getting started with a web-to-print project (shopping for technology, implementing, etc.), I recommend you pick an internal project name right way. Purposefully choose something that is obviously not going to be your customer facing name (e.g., Mickey Mouse). This gives your staff a way to refer to the project without developing bad habits like using the vendor’s product name as a reference to the solution or using the term “web-to-print.” When you launch the solution, you will give it a real external-facing marketing name. That marketing name will be unique to your company and your solution. Some suggestions on names: if someone has to ask you what it means, you missed the mark. Don’t get too cute. Think about extending your existing company brand and furthering your search engine optimization (SEO) by naming it something like “ABC OrderNow”.

Telling the Story of Your Web-to-Print Solution

Everything gets a story, whether you consciously craft one or not. This might be the most left out aspect of web-to-print projects. Don’t send your sales people out with this instruction, “Start selling that web-to-print thing we bought.” The risk here is high; when you don’t give your sales team a story, they make one up because sales people have great imaginations. The made-up story will get you in trouble because it will most definitely include lots of things your solution doesn’t do. When sales people don’t have parameters to work with, they tend to give the easiest and shortest answer at their disposal, which is, of course, “yes” to everything. Now you have a customer who believes they can use your web-to-print solution as a CRM tool.

Marketing is nothing more than determining how you are going to tell the story of your solution in a compelling manner that resonates with your target customers. The story should be told in terms of what your solution does for your customers (benefits) vs. what your solution does (features). This sounds like a very subtle difference but in reality, it is a huge difference. Customers don’t care about you, your business, or your technology; a customer cares about their businesses, their jobs, and their challenges. Too much marketing verbiage is written about the company, product, service instead of what the company, product, service does for the customer.

Marketing’s role in the online world is so much bigger than in the offline world because online customers can literally walk themselves through the entire sales cycle if and only if you have brilliant marketing. Think of the sales cycle as four simple steps; know me, like me, trust me, and then pay me. Virtually everything you’ve ever sold has gone through this cycle, sometimes the whole cycle gets completed over one beer, other times it takes a decade or more of consistent sales efforts. Customers are online looking for services (know me), getting first impressions of your company via your website or social media activities (like me), reading the content you are producing about the challenges you have solved for your customers (trust me), and finally ordering products from your e-commerce offerings (pay me). The entire sales cycle can happen without any direct communication between you and the customer. Stop and think about the implications of this model; it virtually has unlimited scale that isn’t tied to adding labor.

The story is important; don’t leave it to chance. Create the story, communicate the story to your entire company, practice and refine the story as you have more and more experience interacting with customers. Your story will always be evolving and being customized for specific customer challenges.

Prepare Your Sales Team

Marketing’s job is to set the sales team up for success by driving qualified leads into the sales cycle and crafting the message that sales will deliver as they establish relationships with prospects.

Sales needs to understand how to first and foremost listen for the customer challenges that web-to-print solves. For example, a company has a distributed sales force and needs to make sure they have access to the latest marketing collateral. This is a well-defined customer challenge that web-to-print solves. Because marketing has prepped sales to understand all of the challenges the web-to-print solution solves (from the customer’s perspective), sales just needs to listen for what the customer is struggling with and match those up with what web-to-print can solve. This isn’t an exact match; it takes some translation.

For example, the customer complains about how a division out West seems to be going rogue all the time, making unapproved changes to collateral, etc. This challenge is solved by a brand control solution that enables local variability with centralized control. One of the most important aspects of the story is to deliver only the relevant benefits to the specific customer. A rule I wish I could institute before every technology demonstration is: if I didn’t tell you about the problem, you aren’t allowed to tell me about the feature that solves that problem. This would make technology demos so much more effective. Right now we get on the conference call and I feel like someone turns on thefeature fire hose, 80% of which isn’t directly relevant to the customer because the demonstrator never asked a single question before they starting their spray. “Stop me when you see something you like” is not an effective demo strategy.

Web-to-print is a self-service order entry solution for your customers. It is also a very different way of doing business that requires you to treat it like a new service offering, create a strategy for it, name it, market it, and train your people how to sell it. There are too many failed web-to-print projects out there. A common theme to these failures is that lots of work was done and nobody is using the tool. The sales and marketing of web-to-print is more important than the technology itself, because sales and marketing is the driver of user adoption. No adoption – no return on investment. Perfectly implemented technology that never gets used is the worst case scenario, because money and time were invested with no return. No matter where you are in your web-to-print journey, step back and assess whether you have an effective go-to-market strategy, a believable marketing story, and a prepared sales team. It’s never too late to press reset.

Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions. You can reach her at jen@whattheythink.com.



By Tim Flaman on May 14, 2014

Jennifer: BANG ON! I would love to stir up the discussion but fully agree with everything you say here:) A very thorough and thoughtful piece. Thank you.


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