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Buying and Selling Print Software by the Pound

When you buy and sell software by the pound (# of features), you get distracted as a buyer as to what business challenge is actually most important to solve. As a vendor when you build software by the pound you keep adding without going back and refining the core features of your solution.

By Jennifer Matt
Published: September 21, 2016

Last week I sat through a technical demonstration of a digital asset management (DAM) solution (a solution to store lots of images and text in one place). The first screen that the vendor brought up to demonstrate their DAM was a calendar with appointments and tasks on it.

Lucky for the vendor and my customer, I was on mute. I jumped up and down and let out a rant of frustration.

I have a calendar that I use to manage my work life. That calendar is made by vendors who are in the business of building calendars, email systems, appointment setting, and task management systems. Why the heck would I need a calendar in my DAM system? Why would I need a calendar in my Print MIS? Why would I need a calendar anywhere but where I’m already managing my life? More calendars are not better, more calendars are complicated and confusing. Managing your life on multiple calendars is a recipe for missed appointments and crazy-making.

Why did this vendor feel the need to put a calendar into their DAM system?

They are selling software by the pound.


When you sell software by the pound you ‘think’ that more features equates to more value. When you buy software by the pound you compare software products using a checklist of features. You do your homework and then you buy the product that has the most features for the best price. How could you possibly make any mistakes with this bullet-proof way of thinking?

Buying software by the pound is the worst way to buy software.

Selling software by the pound is the worst way to sell software.

You buy software to solve important business problems, the kind of problems that are worth solving. What important business problem is the solution “putting a calendar into a DAM solving?” It isn’t solving anything; it’s only adding weight to the software product so you have more features to barf out during a demonstration. Listening to someone sell software by the pound is like watching someone gorge themselves at an all-you-can-eat buffet. It’s kind of uncomfortable. They operate under the misperception that more is better so sales representatives speak very quickly, leaving no room for questions so they can cover all 352 features because their competitor only has 347 features!

You want to buy software that solves your important business challenges. The number one mistake I see in technology purchases (especially print software) is that the printer has failed to define the problems they want to solve! I get emails all the time asking what web-to-print solution to purchase, yet the printer can’t answer basic questions about what problems they are trying to solve with web-to-print? Defining your business challenges isn’t nearly as fun as shopping for new software, nobody takes you out to dinner or buys you drinks. You are just working with your internal team to do an honest analysis of your business and where it could be improved. Quite often your challenges are boring. You need to clean up your approach to pricing, standardize how you’re doing estimating, get pre-press to execute on the proofing cycle according to the defined process. Nothing about these “boring” challenges would cause any kind of “sizzle” in a tradeshow booth. You wouldn’t think, if I solve this, it will change my business. Yet, the boring challenges are actually the ones that do fundamentally change your business.

The other side effect to selling and buying software by the pound is that we start to expect software solutions to do everything. When a DAM solution shows you a calendar, you start to think of all the challenges you have to scheduling, then you ask the question during the sales presentation – “could your solution help us with scheduling print jobs?” It’s not the question that is so much the problem, it’s the context in which its being asked. You are in a sales process and generally that means everyone on the sales side will do everything in their power to say yes to anything you ask. This is not a good thing.

The correct answer to your question is, “our solution is about storing, organizing, and managing your assets, solving your print scheduling challenges, while interesting is not the business challenge we set out to solve. I’m sure there are many vendors who are specializing in just this area, we are not one of them.” DONE. Full stop. This is the confident sales person response to a question about a feature their solution doesn’t support. This answer is so rare I generally stop the sale and congratulate the sales representative for their honesty.

Your DAM shouldn’t have a calendar, it shouldn’t solve your print scheduling challenges, it shouldn’t do your laundry, or order toilet paper for the staff bathroom. My colleague, Chris Reisz-Hanson, whom we often refer to as “analogy-man” says “stay on main street with your software partners.” Do not ask them to customize you into a dark alley where no other customers hang out. Stay with their roadmap, ask them to solve the challenges all their customers are asking them to solve. This will make you a much happier customer, it relates to my article from last week about your attitude when implementing Print MIS software – flex your business process to fit the software, because trying to force the software to fit you is an exercise in frustration.

Best Practices on Buying Print Software (not by the pound)

  1. Define and agree on the problems you want the software to solve (have the discipline to NOT describe how you need them solved, just the problem – be open to any solutions, even ones you haven’t thought of).
  2. Review these problems and make sure you’re not going off main street with the vendors (you might need several software solutions to solve all your problems, don’t look for one that does everything half way)
  3. List the top 5 things this software needs to do BRILLIANTLY in order to solve your business challenge. Do this before you get a demo. Focus on these things, focus on not only do they do these things but HOW well do they do them? For example, for a DAM my #1 top priority was the user experience, can I easily add, edit, and find assets among 1,000s of items? Every DAM will do this, some will do it brilliantly and for some the interface will make you want to cry.
  4. Ignore all the “nice to haves in your evaluation” make your decision on the top 5 priorities. Everything else is extra and features will be changing. Don’t get stung by the bright shiny demo where the solution is solving a problem you don’t even have!
  5. Do NOT make a feature list, please don’t. It will force you and your team down to the feature level. Pull everyone up to the strategic level. One feature is not going to make or break your decision, if it will then it should be one of your top 5 priorities.

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.


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