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Commentary & Analysis

When Sales Isn’t Involved, Web-to-Print Projects Fail

If sales isn’t involved, your business-to-business (B2B) web-to-print project is going to fail. Web-to-print projects aren’t about features (solutions), they are all about solving the right customer challenges.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: June 29, 2016

The sales role in every organization is the one that has the clearest accountability. You generate revenue, you keep your job, you generate a lot of revenue, you give yourself a raise. The setup of the sales function actually makes both the company and the sales person value their time (which is great). There is always some thought given to “taking sales people out of the field” for anything that isn’t revenue generating. Time is the most precious resource all of us have, yet unfortunately we only apply this to the sales function. As a former salaried employee at several different large companies, I spent endless hours in useless meetings and even more wasted hours being a slave to my email inbox, while the sales team was left alone to do their job because their time was valued appropriately.

So we value sales people’s time, therefore we leave them out of a lot of decisions/projects that have a direct impact on them and more importantly where they have a UNIQUE perspective. Nowhere is this more evident than in web-to-print projects (customer facing, self-service online access for your customers). My first question when entering into any stage of a web-to-print project is; where is sales?

When sales teams are completely absent, I know exactly where this project is heading; no matter how good the technology, no matter how smart the team, no matter how much time and effort they have put into the project, it will fail. Sales is your voice to the customer. Web-to-print is your new online front door to the customer. When you leave sales out of the project, you set yourself up for failure. Your sales team has to believe in the new front door, know how it works, be able to demonstrate it, and most importantly uncover the challenges it solves and then sell the solutions. They have a HUGE role in the success of your overall web-to-print project. If they see web-to-print as a threat, you’re in real trouble because web-to-print is a phenomenal scaling tool for your sales team. It is a powerful way to extend their reach deep into existing customers and to win new ones. Seeing web-to-print technology as a threat means they don’t get it and you will fail until they do.

There are other reasons companies leave sale resources out of projects. Most organizations are afraid to tell sales anything, because they fear anything mentioned while sales resources are present will be sold to their next prospect. Basically, you don’t trust sales to sell only what you can currently deliver so you keep a lot of things from them. Sales can be opinionated and strong willed, so involving them in a project can disrupt the calm committee, group think, herd mentality. So you justify leaving sales out by saying, “we did customer research, we asked the customer directly so we have the voice of the customer represented in the project already.” The problem with that justification is that surveys don’t work, as Seth Godin puts it way more elegantly that I could “You Can’t Ask Customers What They Want”.

You should be more interested in the challenges customers are having, not the solutions you are proposing. Surveys almost always ask about solutions. FALL IN LOVE WITH THE PROBLEM For example, do you need multi-level approvals (this is a solution), instead of a sales person sitting with a customer while they tell them a story about this jerk in the Pacific Northwest who is constantly overspending on marketing materials and destroying their branding in the process. That is a challenge, that is what you want to know about, that is what good sales people do, they LISTEN for customer challenges. Sales needs to be in the room for web-to-print projects otherwise you’ll invest a lot time and money on solutions that aren’t relevant to your customer’s challenges!

How about if all stop thinking, talking, and organizing our web-to-print projects around solutions (aka features) and start organizing them around customer challenges? What customer challenges are you solving for? This will drag you and your team out of the feature weeds and force you to justify your efforts in alignment with the only stakeholder that matters – 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 Ellen Hurwitch on Jun 29, 2016

You are so spot on, Jennifer!
I cannot tell you how many times printing sales folks, and even print shop owners, are like deer in the head lights. Fear of change, fear of the unknown. Fear of losing the relationship they have with their customer.
This is NOT a case of build it and they will come!
If you don't engage the sales force at the get go, if you do not get them to believe in this as a new opportunity, then you set yourself up for failure.
Thanks for pujtting this out there!


By Robert Godwin on Jun 30, 2016

A sales person must add value. For many web-to-print companies the cost of sale is reduced because there is no sales person involved, and that cost reduction allows more competitive pricing for the client. Try googling “cheap business cards”. Where does a sales person fit in this sales dynamic? In these circumstance a sales person is more of a middleman than a value add.
Web-to-print self-service portals use marketing tools as the sales force. I am unclear on your target topic: Is it branded websites that are serving a single corporate entity with brand compliant products? Are they channels for uploading design files for pre-press and proofing?
Self-service trade and retail sites use marketing effectively (both digital and print) to generate sales. CSR’s provide support where needed.
Complex print projects are not normally suited to self-service print sites. This is where a sales person can add value on the best way to produce materials for a complex marketing or retail product projects. These projects, accordingly, hold greater value to the client and merit the expertise a sales person can bring. Certainly this is the precise value that print brokerages and the sales staff of a commercial printer provide, especially when print is not the core competency of a client company. Why staff when you can outsource?


By Jennifer Matt on Jul 06, 2016


I think you misunderstood me, Sales needs to be involved in the web-to-print program so they can SELL web-to-print sites (create self-service customers).

Most traditional printers are B2B - they do business with people they know. Web-to-Print enables those B2B relationships to have a self-service component to them (for the orders that fit in that model). Sales needs to be involved here because they are the ones that are going to "sell the program into their customer."

Googling "cheap business cards" is B2C, business with strangers where pure online providers are consolidating all that business through fully automated business where its hard to talk to a human.


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