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More Print Industry Shelfware: CRM Systems

Lots of Print MIS systems have added CRM modules to their offering. This makes sense, the Print MIS should be your system of record for all the interactions you have with current customers, adding a layer on top of your Print MIS would give you access to all the business the customer transacts with you.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: August 28, 2014

A CRM system stands for “customer relationship management” and it’s supposed to allow businesses to manage their customer relationships in all stages (prospecting through support). Lots of Print MIS systems have added CRM modules to their offering. This makes sense, the Print MIS should be your system of record for all the interactions you have with current customers, adding a layer on top of your Print MIS would give you access to all the business the customer transacts with you.

There are two stages / interactions that Print MIS systems need to add in order to be a true CRM system (one that manages customer relationships in all stages). The first and heavily used stage is the prospecting stage (the stage between initial contact and the first paying order otherwise known as the sales process). This is a critical component of CRM systems because tracking your sales activity helps you measure and monitor sales effectiveness and plan for growth.

As more and more print is sold online, the other customer interaction I would like to see added to Print MIS systems is the ability to track “support calls” or calls when customers need help with web-to-print systems or job status, or pre-press questions. Today I don’t see much tracking of these issues – generally there is a phone number/e-mail to reach out for help but nobody tracks who is asking what and when. This is another critical customer relationship contact that should be tracked so you can look at the data and figure out what parts of your business are generating the most calls for help. What is the labor being expended simply helping your customers do business with you?

CRM systems are bought a lot without thinking through what it would actually take to implement them. What I’ve seen, they get purchased as part of deal (a module of a larger Print MIS purchase). There is basic training given to the sales team and they are told – go for it. The results are not surprising, the CRM module becomes another victim of shelfware, two months after the training nobody is using it and everyone forgot why it was purchased in the first place. Implementing a CRM means you have to have a desired sales process in mind. You have to have a strategy as to how you want your sales team to operate, what you are going to evaluate them on, and the metrics that you’ll be tracking. I think CRM is a very powerful tool but it takes a real strategy and implementation plan to execute on it. Don’t buy it unless you are ready to invest the time and effort to truly implement it.

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 Trevor Cocks on Aug 29, 2014

Hi Jennifer, I agree with your sentiments generally about shelfware, this is a major concern for MIS vendors such as ourselves.

In fact it is an issue for not just CRM, but also afflicts other elements of the MIS and I suspect the entire Web2print industry... i.e underutilisation.

We don't have exact figures, but we suspect that in many cases only a fraction of the MIS gets fully implemented, perhaps as low as 20-30%. This also applies to larger installations that undergo very exacting selection criteria when they make their MIS choice.

The reasons for this can be many - change of company direction, change of management, buying due to "want" not "need", being misled, or not understandings what was being shown (sometimes a fine line). But in most cases I would say its because there was no internal MIS "system manager" with the vision, conviction, and decision making power to see through the implementation and/or because the there was no clear focus on the goals of the MIS (or CRM) in the first place. Appointing a system manager is crucial to the success and ultimately full utilisation of the system, to avoid the shelfware scenario. This does not have to be someone "technical", not someone from IT for example, it is usually middle management and someone who played a kingpin role before the MIS came along. Their role is to ensure everyone knows how to use the system, what their part of the process is, and that they carry it out.

I am talking about MIS, but I may as well be talking about CRM or Web2print...Because to us these are all fundamental integral parts of our Accura MIS solution. In fact to us they are one thing, not three separate things.

Unlike some systems we took a decision not to attempt to integrate with off-the-shelf CRM solutions, but to write our own, so that everything flowed seamlessly.

Just picking up on one of your opening points, you are right that CRM should not just focus on sales and marketing, but also on the customer-service side of the business. I am pleased to say that we have a whole area within our CRM module dedicated to "Service-tickets" I.e. The raising of an incident, assignment of that case, and logging of all activity until the ticket is resolved. Excuse the plug, but I am responding to your statement that this is lacking in some solutions.

Getting back to shelfware, my gut feeling is that many Web2print solutions end up this way too. Web2print is "sexy" - printers see flashy website templates, they see others doing it e.g. The Vistaprints of the world, and they rush in!... Some give little thought to the how the data will be processed, how of they will attract visitors to the site, what kind if buyers are they, how profitable can the jobs be, and how do they compete in this market? I am talking primarily about B2C here of course, but that is what seem instantly think of when the term gets mentioned. B2B can fail too, we think this is because too often it is not the printer being visionary and go-ahead that prompted them to look at web2print (sadly) - it is the client of the printer that has demanded an e-commerce web portal "or else!" (They'll go elsewhere). Then things change, perhaps they lose the client anyway and the w2p goes dormant. This is because they did not promote it to their other clients, they did not "train" them in the usage and benefits of the site.

So whether it's MIS (or parts of it), CRM, or Web2print... Sadly shelfware is all around us.

My take on it... I could go on, but I won't.


By Jennifer Matt on Aug 29, 2014


Thank you for commenting. I would like to build on (2) points you made about the potential reasons for software project failure.

No leader
No vision

I think the vision has to come first and I'm not talking about a bullshit statement over a picture of eagles flying. I'm talking about what you want to be the BUSINESS RESULTS of this investment (both in the software and the labor).

I like to describe vision in (2) ways:

1) This is what we will be able to "say" from all different perspectives. The owner might say after a successful Print MIS implementation: "I am now confident that we can make better decisions because we have easy access to accurate data about our business operations."

2) Metrics: decide what you're going to measure and then measure it regularly to track your progress. If you see the metrics going in the right direction - that gives you feedback to keep going in that direction. Web-to-Print - most people can't tell me the current traffic to their sites, unique users, conversion rate (this is basic web analytics).

You can't delegate MAJOR software implementations like Print MIS or Web-to-print b/c they require a full change-management program that have to be led from the top. This does not mean you have to manage down in the weeds (little details), but you have to STAY INVOLVED and remind everyone the end goal - BUSINESS RESULTS otherwise people get mired down in the technology and when they wake up, its been 18 months and you're still not getting any business results.



By Charles Gehman on Sep 01, 2014

I don't know why you would want the CRM functionality inside the MIS system. Frankly, the trend in software is away from cumbersome systems that try to do everything, because they end up doing nothing very well.

Instead, we should be able to pick and choose the best "apps" for the functionality we need, and have them integrate together in a seamless way. Unfortunately, the MIS providers have not excelled in open integration.

CRM systems like Salesforce and Sugar are so robust, and have such robust global communities around them, that no MIS provider would ever be able to deliver a system that works as well as they do.

CRM systems have become an absolutely integral component in digital marketing and marketing automation, too, of course. This is another area where the majority of Print MIS systems have no relevance whatsoever but is becoming an extremely important area of functionality to printing companies' futures.

Fortunately, several Web-to-Print systems can interact via integration with popular CRM systems and digital marketing solutions, so PSPs are not completely out in the cold.


By Jennifer Matt on Sep 02, 2014


I agree, Print MIS vendors are going to struggle to keep up with the likes of Sugar, Salesforce, Zoho, etc. One thing I do like about CRM within the Print MIS is that it keeps everyone in the same place AND it simplifies things a bit. The technology is the easy part - establishing a sales process that you then ask your sales team to follow is the most difficult part. There is a lot of resistance here from both leadership and sales.

Start small, incrementally move data out of closed, isolated systems (e-mail, contacts, notebooks, etc.) and into a system that belongs to the business and can be accessed and mined for data.



By William Ray on Sep 02, 2014

For a long time I argued that applications should stand alone atop a common data set. Each application would be unique and have both an individual value ad as a process but also could have an individual and unique extended data set. So, commonality in core data allowing a mosaic of unique tool sets for a given problem. Embedding data in an XML process was then, and I believe still is, unreliable and cumbersome.

That debate was lost and now, too late, it seems to be returning. Everything seems to go in circles, it seems!

How is it going, Chuck?


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