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3 Top Reasons Web-to-Print Projects Fail

The three top reasons web-to-print projects fail; the lack of business leadership, the sales team fails to sell the solution, and the customer fails to adopt the solution.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: September 8, 2014

I was speaking to a long time print sales representative this week about a new web-to-print program the company was implementing. We were speaking on the phone and he said, you can’t see me but I just want you to know that I’m older than I sound and I’m not technical at all. I immediately said, “Are your customers technical?” He said, they are for the most part not technical. I said do you understand how to listen for the challenges customers are having and then describe the benefits of working with you and your company to solve those challenges for your customers? His voice changed and he said, “That is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last thirty years!”

Web-to-print is not a technical project. Web-to-print is a sales and marketing initiative that happens to involve technology. Does this mean you have to make your sales team “technical”? Please don’t try to do that, it will result in a lot of wasted time and frustration. The role of sales is to listen, qualify the customer, and then describe the benefits of working with your company.  Nothing about this conversation has to be technically oriented. In fact, when sales people try to be technical it usually ends up confusing the customer because they list the technical features of the product instead of the customer benefits. The customer doesn’t care what the technology does (features); they only care what it will do for them (benefits). The great thing about this is that your existing sales team can speak to benefits, don’t make the mistake of trying to teach your sales team technical features – that is not what the customer cares about.

What are the top three reasons web-to-print projects fail?

  1. Business fails to lead the project
  2. Sales fails to sell the solution
  3. Customers fail to use the solution

Business Leadership

Most web-to-print projects play out something like this. Business owner understands they need to do this “web-to-print” thing because everyone keeps talking about it and the sales representatives from the print software companies keep calling and telling them how vital it is to their business. They select a web-to-print solution by asking a technical person on their team to compare the solutions based on functionality; more features must mean better product and better value right? With the solution purchased, they feel they have done their part, they think about their best technical person (who happens to be their busiest person) and delegate the task of getting this web-to-print thing working. This scenario has been played out in thousands of print businesses around the world and it consistently produces one thing: failed web-to-print projects.

Web-to-Print is a fundamental change in the way you do business; this requires business leadership from the top. You cannot delegate and step back, you have to be involved and stay involved because this is not a technical project, web-to-print is a sales and marketing initiative that should change the way you do business from order entry to invoice (that impacts everyone in your company). Executive level leadership is required to make this kind of change. Delegating the overall leadership of this project to a “technical” resource buried in pre-press or IT is setting them up for failure and virtually assuring the project’s failure.

Business leaders need to have a vision for how you want to engage with your customers online and then you need to communicate this vision to the whole company, preferably before you start the project. Although it’s never too late to set the strategy even if you’re well into your web-to-print initiative. You can still have a technical resource on the project but you have to assign a leader who has the ability to influence all the functional areas of your business, most importantly sales, marketing, and customer service. Web-to-print is primarily a tool for your customers, too many printers have delegated it into a technical role and then it gets implemented as if it’s a tool for print production. Yes, it has benefits for print production but there is zero benefit to print production unless sales sells it and customers use it. 

Sales Engagement

This leads us to the next reason web-to-print projects fail, sales doesn’t sell the solution. One of the first things I ask printers when they describe their failed web-to-print projects is, “how is your sales team involved?” The common response to this question is “why does sales need to be involved, they don’t know anything about technology?” Web-to-print is a tool for your customers, your sales people are the main conduit of communication with your customers. If they aren’t involved from the very beginning, you have a serious problem.

Sales isn’t involved in configuring the product, sales has to understand what the product does for the customer (preferably delivered to them in a solid marketing program) and then sales needs to understand how to qualify candidates for web-to-print. Lots of train wrecks are created when sales simply goes out there and starts selling what they think the system can do for the customer. This behavior leads to missed expectations, frustration with the internal staff responsible for configuring the sites, and a never ending laundry list of feature requests to the vendor. Once this cycle starts, it is very hard to break. The root cause of this situation is the lack of marketing preparation for the sales team, the outcome is usually lots of finger pointing to the vendor because the product doesn’t have every single feature the customer dreamed up and the sales representative said yes to.

Business leaders need to have a vision for how you want to engage with your customers online and then you need to communicate this vision to the whole company, preferably before you start a web-to-print project.

Sales is a key player in web-to-print; start with sales instead of worrying about the technical side of implementing the product. Understand the customers your sales team is working with today, understand their ordering patterns, and understand what products you produce today that would be suitable for a self-service order entry system. Not all products are suitable for self-service – that’s what web-to-print is, a self-service order entry solution. The most successful web-to-print projects I’m aware of have strong sales engagement because the sales team understands that web-to-print is how they can scale their book of business, create digital connections to their customers to defend against competitors, and provide the customer the convenience they desire for the segment of their work that is suitable for a self-service interaction.

Customer Adoption

The third reason web-to-print projects fail is the customers don’t use the solution. You sold the customer on the program, you implement the technology, now the store sits there and nobody orders from it. Customer adoption is often forgotten because it’s not clearly stated upfront who’s responsible for it. Sales typically think their job is over once the program is sold – this is a dangerous thought. Your sales team is responsible for customer adoption and the work to build customer adoption has to start during the sales process. 

A customer adoption program for web-to-print includes the following four components:

  1. Location, location, location – where is the link going to reside for members of your customer community to find the store? This is critical. First understand who are the members of the customer community that are eligible to order from the site, and then find out where they go within the customer’s intranet to conduct other regular business. Get your link on the most visited page on their intranet, near other like services. Do not leave this to chance – it can kill all your efforts if you don’t get good placement. If nobody can find you, nobody will order from you.
  2. Discuss the launch communication plan with your customer contact, how will the customer’s community get informed about the products and services you are offering through the store? Do not assume they have this covered – make it part of the sales process.
  3. Things are in a constant state of change, you will add new products to your store, and the customer community will grow and shrink. What is the on-going plan for updating the community with announcements, etc.?
  4. The most strategic sales representatives out there go the extra step and look for ways to embed the web-to-print solution into the customer’s business processes. For example if you provide corporate identity like business cards, are you part of the customer’s new hire program? If you provide sales collateral, are you part of the onboarding process for new sales representatives? 

Too many web-to-print projects fail and most often printers are pointing to the technology or the technology vendor as the cause of the failure. In our experience the root cause of failure is more than likely related to one or more of the following; lack of business leadership, lack of sales engagement, and no thought about customer adoption. 

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 Kate Dunn on Sep 08, 2014

Great Article! You have thoroughly covered the reasons that companies fail when deciding to offer web to print solutions.
I would add also that it is very typical to see poorly adopted sites when the sales team has given the set up away. The customer may not fully understand what they have because of how it was sold and they have no "skin in the game" for a successful implementation because it was free. I run across sites every day that were created for business identity products and there has never been a conversation with the customer about expansion into marketing collateral. A web to print solution can save the customer money on customization costs, warehousing,obsolesce and other process costs and it can help speed the time to market helping to increase sales for the customer. Sales reps need to understand the real value solutions like these provide to their customers. Too much emphasis is placed on technical training and not enough on what the benefits really are worth to an organization.


By Tyler Ashcraft on Sep 08, 2014

RE: customer adoption

No one knows more about the potential of a W2P solution than the sales rep. And thus, no one can sell it better than the sales rep. While having an advocate at your customer push the idea internally, after the solution is launched it's best to gather the key users on a conference call or, even better, in a room. Get them excited about the ease-of-use, the time savings, the loosening bottlenecks. Once it's sold, sell it all over again.


By Tyler Ashcraft on Sep 08, 2014

I also agree with Kate. Unfortunately, I have made that mistake quite recently. :/


By Jennifer Matt on Sep 08, 2014

Kate - thanks for adding to the article. My favorite quote, "too much emphasis is placed on the technical training."

Even if you know how to operate every single function that a web-to-print system offers that does NOT assure success. That's what makes business leadership, sales engagement, and customer adoption so much MORE IMPORTANT than technology.

I have seen success with almost every single product on the market, very rarely was the success due to the technology itself - it was due to the business leadership + sales engagement + customer adoption.

You know what's great about this? Printers have all the power to make web-to-print work for them because they control leadership, sales and customer adoption. The bad news is, printers don't get to blame the technology vendor anymore (which is way easier). The message to the web-to-print technology vendors - focus more on helping printers with the leadership, sales engagement, and customer adoption if you want to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.



By Jennifer Matt on Sep 08, 2014


I agree with you, sales reps are the key messenger to the customer. Sales is only as good as the marketing support they get. When sales is just pumped up and told "go get um tiger!" they run out there and say "yes" to everything and cause all kinds of train wrecks which impact everyone behind them.

Marketing's job is to educate, inform, and AIM the sales reps so they actually sell what the product does and have the confidence to NOT say yes to everything.

Sales deserves to be handed a message that describes the challenges the customers are having which are uniquely solved by your company, your products, and your services (web-to-print). Then sales deserves to have the benefits (from the customer's perspective) - what is it for me?

Lots of printers hire more sales reps or different sales reps when they could optimize their current team by giving them solid marketing tools, a go-to-market plan, all the elements required to aim at the right customers and pull the trigger only when they have properly qualified them.



By Cory Sawatzki on Sep 09, 2014

Very well spoken Jennifer. Again, great job.

We really pride our self on finding out exactly what the customer wants. Helping them understand what they need. Then providing what we decide on. Together.

That is why we keep the software out of the box.


By Robert Godwin on Sep 15, 2014

I think your article on solutions selling and W2P was more to the point than this piece. W2P sites ARE a sales engine; much the same as a package on the shelf in Home Depot is. Sales people that are simply bagel and donut runners will be the ones that a web site negatively affects.

Sales teams that provide consultative, solutions based advice on how to effectively produce a printed campaign are adding value and ahead of the W2P sales exchange.

Printing companies need well designed websites AND salespeople that understand print usage. These, in proper balance, are the efficient sales tools. Bagel runners are simply tools.


By Jennifer Matt on Sep 15, 2014


I think we are in agreement that we need sales and e-commerce to be successful. The difference between a product on the shelves at Home Depot and a web-to-print solution is location, location, location. The sales person has the opportunity to impact where the web-to-print solution "lands" on the customer's intranet "shelf". When reps don't pay attention to this - the web-to-print store basically never gets found b/c its essentially in the backroom and not even in the retail area.

Sales people have to "sell" the store, much like Home Depot needs to market their products through their merchandising activities.

There is an upfront effort to setting up a store for a customer but good sales reps like the ones you described understand the investment is worth it b/c moving to self-service frees them up from being directly involved in every order. Gives them more time to be solution providers.



By Robert Godwin on Sep 16, 2014

What you are describing is really the role of a sales manager. They should be responsible for balancing the mix of consultative salespeople and the customers that need that 'high-touch' service, and the customers whose needs are serviced by a set menu of print options.

The high touch customers are of greater value (re:profit)but fewer in number and harder to bring into the fold. The other strata of customers need to be introduced to the lower cost (re: less sales cost) W2P solution.

If the situations you have described exist in an operation, it is the fault of the sales management, not the sales people.


By Patricia Green on Sep 19, 2014

What the sales reps can do is: have their customers or prospects that would be a candidate for W2P go to a demo room and watch a fully functional W2P software working with a printer or multiple printers. This will establish credibility for a good size sale of W2P software and also hardware.


By Foster Austin on Oct 19, 2015

Lack of user training about the product or service is a drawback. Company who provide web to print solutions should have good communication strategy to make a customer aware about the product, its features, how it works, what are the limitations and possible situations to cope with. An educated user always come with a positive word of mouth and reduces the probability of failure in web to print projects.


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