by Frank Kanonik And there's a whole new industry called variable data printing, and now the words "workflow integration" must appear at least 25 times in a proposal January 20, 2005 -- "I'm a printer. I'm not that familiar with the digital printing world, but I also know that I must start offering it to stay competitive. I'm doing about 9 million dollars in business right now. I have a great prepress and I've got a lot of offset firepower. My salespeople and estimator probably know less about digital printing than I do." "I've asked you to stop in today to begin the process of building a digital print business for me that includes variable data printing. I don't just want a proposal for leasing a machine. I'll need financial projections, help with a business plan, help with a marketing plan, help with my sales people, help with hiring an operator, and help with merging your machine into my present workflow. I can buy a printer from anyone and your competitors are coming in this afternoon. How can your company help my company to succeed with digital printing?" Ready to Take the Plunge The type of commercial printer described above is typical of a fair number of printers who are finally ready to "take the plunge" and implement digital printing. These types of printers are very different from the "upgraders" who are familiar with digital print and are just changing their machine to the latest model. They're looking at production-class color printers and are willing to invest heavily if they can see the return. To these types of commercial printers, it's 1995 all over again, but with a twist. The industry has matured and today's color printers are faster, better, and cheaper. And there's a whole new industry called variable data printing, and now the words "workflow integration" must appear at least 25 times in a proposal. Any customer can and should avail themselves of these tools and make them part of their own marketing strategy. Commercial printers that are totally new to digital printing are asking for more help when making their decisions. Because their operations are usually much more complex than a quick print operation, they rely more on the vendor for information, and are looking for more of a complete strategic plan. How much help can the digital printer vendor provide? The answer is much more than just a few years ago. Another very important question is how much help will they provide for free and how much is fee-based? All of the digital print engine vendors have a department called "business development." For some it is a couple of people, for others, it's a rather large group. They are primarily charged with providing their customers the resources that will help them to be successful with digital printing. Besides producing the obligatory CD-ROM of sample print files in PDF format, they also develop a wide range of other types of useful tools. And any customer can and should avail themselves of these tools and make them part of their own marketing strategy. What Can You Do For Me? When initially sitting down with the digital printer salesperson, don't be afraid to ask what kinds of help they can provide beyond supporting their equipment. When initially sitting down with the digital printer salesperson, don't be afraid to ask what kinds of help they can provide beyond supporting their equipment. Some of the major resources available from digital print vendors include: Business plan development . Help with formulating a business plan that includes digital/variable data printing that can be used for bank approval/financing. A business plan that includes equipment cost and profit projections, any additional infrastructure costs, staffing levels, quality control procedures, and help on how to price digital printing. Marketing Plan. Help with formulating a marketing plan to present an image that reflects your digital printing expertise to customers, and includes information on target markets, budget, and customizable templates for advertising materials. Provide information on different vertical industries to help my salespeople understand each of their unique business objectives and document needs. Open house support. Help with planning and running a successful open house event for customers to showcase your new digital printing capabilities. Case studies. Providing case studies of successful companies that utilize digital print. Include production notes and business cases of any applications that are mentioned. Samples. Providing digital printing samples to print and show customers that are relevant to their industry. Provide customizable PowerPoint presentations that salespeople can use during a sales call. Sales training. Support formal training for salespeople on how to overcome their biases toward digital printing. Teach them how to recognize digital printing applications, who to call on (Hint: It's not the print buyer) and how to call on a potential customer. Help to implement a sales strategy and compensation structure. User Groups. Providing a forum where printers with similar capabilities can share experiences and knowledge. Some vendors sponsor get-togethers at the major trade shows. Others have virtual user groups to help resolve problems and provide mutual support. Seminars. Help by bringing information to regional areas on a regular basis. Have topics that a printer can also pass along their customers. Workflow Integration. Support and training for integrating the digital printer into existing workflows, or recommendations on implementing a different workflow. Color issues. Help in implementing or improving a color management system to include the digital printer, and how to prepare files correctly. All in all, a commercial printer that is just starting in digital print will be doing a lot of hand-holding with their digital printer vendor. Ask what assistance they can provide early on in the relationship and with their help, your new digital printing operation will be successful.