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Building Digital Connections with Your Customers

Your sales team creates customer demand for your products and services, your production team fulfills that demand by manufacturing quality printed products on-time. Both your sales team and your production team need to be SOLD on the strategic, long-term importance of creating digital connections to your existing customers and using digital connections to win new customers.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: July 1, 2014

Your sales team creates customer demand for your products and services, your production team fulfills that demand by manufacturing quality printed products on-time. Both your sales team and your production team need to be SOLD on the strategic, long-term importance of creating digital connections to your existing customers and using digital connections to win new customers.

What is a digital connection?

A digital connection to your customer is established by leveraging print software to make it easier for customers to do business with you, extend your value proposition beyond your printed products, and embed yourself deeper into your customer’s business process. Digital connections are strategic. Don’t assume everyone in your company will understand their long-term importance. Your job as a leader is to help the two primary functional areas of your print organization; sales and production understand the value of building digital connections.

The most popular print software tool for establishing digital connections is web-to-print. This category of print software solutions enables your print customers to order from you in a self-service fashion, but that isn’t what makes web-to-print strategic. Self-service ordering is important, mostly because customer preference is trending toward more control, more visibility, and more asynchronous communication options for procurement in general. But web-to-print solutions that are adopted and utilized by your clients establish a strong digital connection which creates stickiness between you and your customer. When you take web-to-print a step further and integrate your web-to-print system with your customer’s software systems you create another layer of stickiness with your customers. Without digital connections, you are relying on relationships alone (very risky) to keep the connection between you and your customers.

Lots of web-to-print initiatives get stuck; seem to be in a perpetual state of technical configuration, or have an overwhelming amount of animosity between the printer and the software vendor. The primary cause of the majority of web-to-print project failures is a lack of internal (inside the printer) understanding and appreciation of the “why” digital connections are important to the print business. When your people, whether they work in sales or production can’t clearly recognize the value of something, they naturally don’t get behind it and therefore it forever suffers from the prioritization that is required to properly launch it. Change takes attention, change takes prioritization, change only happens with leadership that has provided the context necessary for all aspects of the organization to understand how this change relates to their job and the value it provides to the customer.

Let’s start with sales. Today your sales team is hustling to create demand, they are focused on winning deals, finding new prospects, and taking care of the customers they already have. They don’t want anything to distract them from the activities that they see as “revenue generating.” Yet you want to convince them to take the time and understand web-to-print and use it to build digital connections. Most sales people are comfortable with full control of their customer interactions; phone and e-mail provide a private and low-tech interaction. When your sales people communicate with phone and e-mail, you have no digital connection to your customer. You are relying on relationships on both sides of the equation (inside your customer’s organization and on your sales team), with no digital connections the level of effort for your customers to change suppliers is equal to dialing a new phone number or sending to a new e-mail address.

Your internal sales team has to be “won over” in order for you to establish digital connections with your customers. People change behavior when they understand what’s in it for them – here’s what web-to-print can do for print sales representatives:

  1. Scale: selling is all about leveraging the number one resource sales people have – their TIME. Great sales people spend their time as if it’s worth $1,000/hour. Web-to-Print streamlines customer orders that are more conducive to a self-service interaction. A sales representative frees up their time by essentially installing ATM machines at each of their customers. Sales take place without the representative’s direct involvement (which can be scary at first) but is actually preferable to the customer for simple orders and a key factor in the ability to scale as a sales representative.
  2. Increased Visibility: when a system is utilized for ordering, everything can be tracked. This provides data about your customer that can be used to better understand them and most importantly help you find more solutions to their challenges. Web-to-print isn’t about cutting the sales representative out of the ordering process, it’s about automating the ordering process and then giving the sales representative data that can be utilized to sell more.
  3. Reduce Sales Non-Value Added Activities: Too many sales representatives are taking orders and doing other tasks that are administrative in nature. Web-to-Print puts ordering, especially recurring orders into a program that is better managed by software than humans. If you’re still estimating every single order that comes in no matter how many times the customer has ordered that same thing, there is tremendous wasted labor.

Production needs to be “won over” on creating digital connections with your customers as well; this might sound silly since production will obviously fulfill anything that comes in right? Not necessarily true, production has an intimate understanding of what I call “order friction”. What orders glide through the facility (frictionless) and what orders cause nothing but trouble? For production to be “won over” on web-to-print, make the order friction as low as possible.

  1. Integration: an obvious place to start is to assure that when you go to implement a web-to-print system aim for making it have less friction than the current workflow. If a web-to-print system automatically shows up in your Print MIS, skipping estimating and pre-flight you are pretty much assured of production’s buy in. Integration isn’t always possible and when it’s not you have to find other reasons to sell production on the long-term strategic value of digital connections with your customers. Sometimes we need to do things that ONLY make the customer’s lives easier.
  2. Planning: when customers are ordering through web-to-print order data is available for everyone. What production loves is knowledge about what’s coming – this relieves anxiety and enables them to plan and make room in their schedules for the last minute orders that seem to be the new normal. Share the order volume trends from your web-to-print solution with production so that as more and more web-to-print clients come on board, they can see how the data captured via the systems can help them execute more efficiently on planning overall production.
  3. Customer’s Perspective: if you have to implement a web-to-print system that temporarily makes it more work on your production team you have to help them understand the long-term strategic value of this initiative.  From their limited perspective, this will look like a really dumb move unless you show them the customer’s perspective. Clearly outline the steps that the web-to-print is removing for the customer and the value of the digital connection in case the relationships change between your sales team and your customers.

Digital connections are an important part of your customer retention strategy and should be an important part of your customer acquisition strategy. Time is the most precious resource we can all spend (sales, production, leadership) but your customer’s time trumps all in importance. When implemented properly because it’s been internally sold to both sales and production, web-to-print can be a strong digital connection that keeps you in your current clients and differentiates you in the sales process by enabling you to solve more challenges on behalf of your customer.

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 Paul Gardner on Jul 09, 2014

Thanks for the very helpful perspective. This one thought should drive everything we do:

"make the order friction as low as possible"

Digital connections are one of the best ways to do this.


By Jennifer Matt on Jul 09, 2014

Paul - I think its important to look at order friction from the perspective of the customer's time. We all too often think we're doing a great job if every time the customer says "jump" we jump. The fact that the customer has to command you to jump means there's friction - are you providing proactive order status (so the customer knows where their job is before they think to ask you - for instance).

I think the hardest part of all this is that until we get the customer interaction into a software platform (and off the isolated tools of e-mail, phone, and FTP) we can't even measure the friction.



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