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Making Web-to-Print Part of Your Culture

Web-to-print is a strategic initiative that creates two service level paths through your organization; self-service and full-service. Your leadership is the key ingredient required for success.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: March 16, 2016

“I spent thousands of dollars on web-to-print software and lots of my team’s time and effort and we have almost nothing to show for it in the form of business being transacted through our web-to-print solutions.”

Here are some typical reactions from printers in this predicament:

  • I just need to hire the right person.
  • I’m shopping for a different web-to-print technology
  • I have to get my web-to-print solution to integrate with my Print MIS
  • I plan to throw everything out and start over

I’ll cover each one by the topic area:


I spoke with a printer last week asking about what kind of person they should hire to run their web-to-print projects? First and foremost, please call this staff member your “E-Commerce Manager” because in recruiting this will be a much more sought after job. E-commerce is hot and a known skill set that many aspiring employees would want to put on their resume, web-to-print confines them to this industry and is less understood outside the print industry.

Staffing is of course tricky but when asked what is the #1 attribute I would look for in your future E-Commerce Manager – it would be a positive, solutions oriented mindset. The worst possibly resource for helping you make a cultural change in your organization is someone who only sees challenges, talks about challenges, dwells on the challenges, and is paralyzed by the challenges. There are hundreds of web-to-print initiatives stuck under staff members who only see barriers to success rather than finding innovative ways to succeed in spite of all the challenges. You can’t get rid of the challenges but you can succeed in spite of them!

What kind of people make good staff members for running your web-to-print program?  First and foremost, consider where you are in your web-to-print journey. Are you at the beginning? Meaning you need to drive adoption, innovate, work around challenges, jump on a steep learning curve? This is where many printers find themselves even though they may have invested in web-to-print years ago, it still hasn’t truly been embedded into their culture, it’s still an exception rather than normal operating procedures. This is the building process, establishing a change in your culture to assess every customer, every job on whether they are a good fit for self-service order entry. This takes innovation, it takes someone who can work under the support of leadership to steer your culture in the direction of embedding the idea of self-service into your culture. Most importantly it takes your participation and support as the leader. Moving your business online is strategic and many of your employees will need your help in understanding why this is necessary to remain competitive.


The most common reaction to a failed web-to-print initiative is to blame the technology. The technology is rarely the primary cause of the failed initiative but technology is a target rich environment to find reasons to blame it for everything. The most active proponents of blaming the failed technology are the staff members referenced above who are focused on why things won’t work rather than focusing on how to get them to work in spite of the known flaws, weaknesses, etc.

When you blame the technology you start seeing the world through a very biased lens. The technology you have can’t do anything right and other solutions (of which you’re getting sales demonstrations on) seem to be perfect in every way imaginable. When you’ve starting down the path of alternatives, you have already made a decision, you’re simply looking for evidence to support that decision. You will fail to see all the shortcomings of the new solutions with this biased perspective - setting yourself up to make the same mistakes again and again.

The primary reason web-to-print technology gets thrown out is because nobody at the printer has “adopted the technology as their own” they still see it as belonging to the vendor and they are waiting for the vendor to make it successful for them. This will never happen. I was just in a printer last week, the gentleman sitting across from me knew Prinergy and RBA (rules based automation) better than anyone I had spoken to at Kodak in some time. This guy wasn’t sitting around waiting for Kodak to solve his issues, he was in conversation with them but he has fully adopted Prinergy and RBA as his tools. Do you have someone like that for your web-to-print solution? Someone who has taken a deep dive learning approach into what the technology can do and then how to best apply that technology to your business? This is what you need to be successful and the onus is more on you than it is the vendor.

When you dive deep into a solution its typically a self-learning exercise. You might call support but you always validate what they tell you on the system because you know not all support people know the whole system. If you get an answer that doesn’t sound right, you ask the same question again in another way. The other key to being a true expert at the technology is that you’ve found others (peers) who are like-minded experts whom you can go to when you really get stuck. This is a proactive approach to OWNING your web-to-print initiative, the alternative is a reactive approach where you rely on the vendor to make you successful which rarely if ever produces the results you desire.


When you talk about giving your customers the ability to submit orders into your business, you want those orders to enter all your systems without having to manually intervene. This is probably one of the best ways to drive internal adoption – when self-service orders “skip departments” e.g. estimating, customer service, planning, pre-press, etc. you are simplifying the lives off all the employees in those departments. When a web-to-print solution forces customer service to manually enter the order into the Print MIS, then you’re working uphill for adoption as internal staff might see customer order entry as causing them more work, not less.

Ideally you have some integration between your web-to-print and your Print MIS. The reasons for going online are first and foremost about your customer (NOT ABOUT YOU). So integration is important but the most important part of web-to-print is providing your customer with a self-service, convenient, way to do business with you. You can be successful with web-to-print even if for whatever reason integration isn’t possible at this time. The more your web-to-print volumes scale, the more automation/integration becomes vital to the overall success. Don’t make web-to-print or Print MIS decisions in isolation, integration should be the top or near the top of priorities when making technology decisions. You always have to think about how a technology purchase is going to impact both upstream and downstream in your workflow.


Where does the buck stop? It stops at the very top. If you’re web-to-print initiative has been a failure, then you (as the leader) need to take a good hard look at your role in it before you make any changes. Web-to-print is not a technology project, it’s a strategic shift in direction to go online because that’s where customers are expecting to find you. This strategic shift requires leadership at the highest level, you are the only one that can assure its success because it requires mindset change in every functional area of your business.

Start with the end in mind, what are you trying to accomplish, how will you know you’re heading in the right direction? What will be the indicators that you’ve achieved your goals? Here’s how I would describe the end goal of a web-to-print initiative inside a print company. The entire culture assesses the business at hand by what portion warrants full-service and what portion should be handled via self-service. This means that pre-press operators are bringing jobs to your sales team that would be a good fit for a web-to-print program. The press operators are making suggestions for how files flowing from the web-to-print system could be routed to hot folders for automatic imposition. Your sales team is constantly collaborating with your E-commerce manager about prospects and current customers who are good fits for a web-to-print program. You are keeping metrics for the % of work coming through self-service channels (web-to-print) and you have established a goal that is reviewed monthly with the team. 

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 Joe Fedor on Mar 16, 2016

Jen, you and I have been talking with folks about W2P and Print eCommerce since before those terms even existed. That's a lot of conversations on a lot of different topics. But I think, for where the print industry as a whole is in it's adoption of online business, these points you've described so well here are the most important and relevant things I can communicate to someone right now.

From my own experience, I'm seeing printers having the most challenges with two of these ideas specifically - (a) hiring an eCommerce manager, and (b) not blaming the technology.

Hiring an eCommerce manager - the pushback I hear on this is something along the lines of "So, you're saying I need to ADD headcount in order to succeed with this? What gives? This is supposed to take AWAY work my people do through automation." Yes - W2P is supposed to fit into your overall automation strategy, and free people up from customer service tasks that can and should be self-service, so they can spend their time on the things that need to and should be full-service. But you would not set up a digital department without someone managing it. You would not have a pressroom without a production manager. You would not let your salespeople call around all willy-nilly without someone managing them and driving them towards your goals and theirs. Online business and interaction with your customers is just as important an aspect of business today as any of these other areas. If it's not, you're just making it that much more important (and valuable) to your competitors.

Blaming the technology - in full disclosure for folks who don't know me, I'm a vendor (EFI), and I have the luxury of working everyday with one of the very best platforms for Print eCommerce available (Digital StoreFront - and the fact that my statement is biased does not necessarily mean it's not also accurate!). Of course I don't want to my customers blaming my tech when they are disappointed with their progress. But it's too easy of a trap to fall into, especially when there are other printers out there, just like you, that are succeeding by focusing on filling needs and solving problems for their customer with self-service programs - coincidentally, with the same tech you are blaming instead of mastering. When the promising salesperson you hired is not finding their feet, do you blame the business school they came from, or the former employers where they gained their experience? No, you take them in hand and you work with them to find their groove, and it pays off. I think the same thing applies to any technology you invest in - not just with Print eCommerce.

Great job, Jen, as always!


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