By Carole Alexander December 8, 2003 -- This is the kind of question, along with good advice, that was answered at the "Profiting with Color Variable Data Print" seminars organized by Interquest and Sig3 Events. Other thought-provoking ideas I heard included hiring salespeople who were MBAs, building cases for ROI, providing proformas, never losing a client, improving vertical marketing by hiring salespeople from the vertical market, campaigns that take 2 years to sell but are worth it, and jobs that grow from $50K to $250K almost overnight. They got my attention. Appearing in six major cities, the seminars had statistical content prepared by Interquest, combined with user presentations, networking and a panel of vendors. Gilles Biscos, President of Interquest, educated us on "What is the Color Variable Data Print Market?" I was surprised to learn that there are 153,000 printers increasing at the rate of 3 percent per year in China! Biscos predicted 3-4 percent growth in printing for 2004. "Most of the growth, however," he pointed out, "will be in ancillary services such as direct mail, web, communication, mailing, bundling and variable data programs." Color production should see double digit growth and variable data is the way to make more money. "The barriers to adoption are still the same," Biscos tells us, "databases, lack of awareness creating low customer demand, not understanding ROI and complex/long sales cycles." But, the use of variable data, for effective marketing will "fuel acceptance." Biscos urges printers to "move from print to campaign management." He identified the top industries for variable data applications as Financial/Insurance, Pharmaceutical, Travel/Gaming, Manufacturing/Automotive, Real Estate and Telcos. Toby Cobrin, also from Interquest, spoke on "Getting Started and Implementing the Process." She showed samples of the 7 levels of variable information documents, from simple static jobs to complex automated fulfillment. This was a welcome presentation because, as much as we admire most printers who speak at shows and seminars, they have already mastered some mind-blowing applications. It is good to remember that you don't have to start at the top. In fact, "crawling before you walk or run" is the way everyone starts, according to Cobrin. No matter how much I think I know about variable data, those who live through it every day consistently teach me something new. The three end user speakers in New York-- Nicholas Brusco, President of APT Digital, Robert Reeder, CIO of W.A.Wilde and Chris Petro, President and CEO of Global Soft Digital Solutions-- made the business come to life. According to Nicholas Brusco, who gave the Keynote, the single toughest thing he found was trying to determine--who are the decision makers? He recommends, "Find the core of your client's business to find the opportunities. Try to sell up and bring the buyers with you. But if you hit a concrete wall, go around them tactfully to the CMO, CTO, COO and CFO." Enthusiastically he advises, "You will not be profitable for the first 6 months, but there is gold on the other side of the rainbow. Margins are excellent. There is plenty of opportunity and I rarely have competition. There is some need for one-to-one in every company." Brusco emphasizes the importance of consulting. Not only do you have to "understand your client's business," but often "reframe the customer's problem to what the issue really is." He gave the example of ATT Wireless who changed printers because they perceived a turnaround problem when it was actually a complicated workflow problem. APT Digital is in its fourth year of digital printing and Brusco has never lost a client. There are applications that took years to sell and others years to deliver, and were still profitable. His secret (besides the fact that customers can't bring his services in-house so easily) is that he saves them lots of money. Sometimes it is as simple as presorting their mail. Brusco believes that customers do not really know how to measure what they are doing. "People are thinking about price per piece instead of price per sale," he points out, "so you must convert the dollars being spent into some return. You must show ROI and do proformas." For one pharmaceutical company, APT Digital improved a packet mailed to doctors, decreased the turnaround time and saved his customer $100,000. Brusco is so keen on showing the quantitative benefits that he has considered hiring MBAs as reps. Robert Reeder of W.A.Wilde dittoed the idea of building a case for ROI. "It's not about cost," he says, "it's about profit. You are building a business model, not a production model. You have to show customers all the way down the stream to shipping and warehousing, tracking the campaign and distribution costs." He also advised working with the people who understand you have value and leave those who are fighting with you to the others. Basically, "don't try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig." Equally valuable information came from Chris Petro from Global Soft Digital Solutions, Johan Laurent of Interquest and Denny Kerns of Exstream Software. Kudos to the sponsors of this sorely needed topic of education: Heidelberg, Scitex Digital Printing, Konica Minolta, Extream Software, PrintSoft, Innes Publications and Graphic Arts Monthly. I recommend you catch this show next time it comes around. As Robert Reede said, just ask yourself…. "Can you afford to have more profits?"