by Frank Kanonik An uninformed customer may be looking for all the benefits of digital printing but cringe when they initially compare a digital price to an offset price. March 3, 2005 -- "I'm a customer who buys printing. I'm not that familiar with the digital printing world, but I also know that I must start investigating it for my business. I'm doing about $10,000 in offset printing a month right now. I have a very creative marketing department and highly skilled designers. The people in my company that might be able to use digital printing include marketing, human resources, training and manufacturing. But they 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 strategy for me that includes variable data printing. I don't just want a proposal for buying printing. I'll need an implementation plan, help with ROI projections, help with training my designers to produce good files, help with setting up an on-line ordering system, and help with understanding what additional services besides printing that you can offer. I've been buying printing from your competitors for years, but as I'm learning more about what digital printing can offer me, I'm ready to switch to a printer who can truly help me. If you can convince me that we should do business with you I will be your champion with my colleagues. How can your company help my company to succeed with your digital printing services?" The type of customer described above is typical of a fair number of businesses who are interested in implementing a digital printing strategy. They may have become attracted to what digital printing can provide them by reading success stories in business journals, attending a seminar, or by talking to their business colleagues. They are now ready to change some of their internal processes and need guidance and help from you. As a digital printing company, what can you offer them to gain them as a customer? An uninformed customer may be looking for all the benefits of digital printing such as speed, smaller quantities and personalization, but cringe when they initially compare a digital price to an offset price. To be truly profitable with digital printing, a customer must be sold a comprehensive printing strategy, not just a printing job. Inside of that strategy, there must be some convincing reasons for them to become your customer. To be truly profitable with digital printing, a customer must be sold a comprehensive printing strategy, not just a printing job. Inside of that strategy, there must be some convincing reasons for them to become your customer. After all, you'll be asking them to make some major changes to their current print buying habits and they will need some hand holding from you to make the strategy successful. A customer may also have to sell your solution to other people in their organization. You never know, but the current offset printer may be the brother-in-law of the purchasing agent! How much help can the digital printer provide to a customer? The answer is much more than just a few years ago. Since many digital printers now provide additional services such as mailing and distribution, the digital printer is now looked upon as the "answer person" and is in a much better position to guide and counsel their customers. Much of this help is given to the customer for free, some is chargeable. What help can a digital printer provide to a customer? A comprehensive document strategy proposal: Help with a total solution for customers printing needs, from creation to fulfillment, capsulated in an easy to understand proposal. In an ideal world, the printing company salesperson will present their solution to all of the decision makers in the company, but it is the proposal which will be scrutinized behind closed doors. It needs to be comprehensive and present a complete end to end roadmap of how your company is going to help their company by using all of the services you can provide. Printing usage analysis : Help with formulating an ROI of your proposed printing strategy by evaluating their current print buying habits of each application. Digital printing may be more expensive per page than offset and provide a better value for some applications, but others are better suited to remain offset printed. This exercise also gives the customer a good reason to organize their digital files. Your proposal needs to present an end-to-end roadmap of how your company is going to help the customer with all of the services you can provide. Project planning : Help by becoming involved in the early planning stages of a new project. A customer doesn't want to discover that the piece they designed is too big to fit on your digital press. This is also a great opportunity to introduce variable data printing. File preparation : Help with preparing files that are optimized for a digital printer. Providing the customer with scanner resolution settings, bleed allowances, trapping considerations, PDF file settings and general guidelines on how color will reproduce on your digital printer. Expect to spend time with the creators on a one to one basis until they are familiar with the nuances of digital printing. Samples of paper stock : Help with determining what papers will run through the digital printer with a minimum of trouble. A good tool that can be distributed to customers is to print a page with a photograph, type and an illustration on several different types of paper. This allows the customer to determine how a typical element will look versus just showing unprinted samples of different papers. Happy hour workshops : Help your customers by inviting them to educational sessions led by your employees or by an outside expert. For larger customers these can be held at their location. Several good topics include: Creating Adobe Acrobat PDF files Effective use of color in a document Obtaining the best color fidelity Effective finishing techniques Profiting from variable data How to leverage database information On-line help: Provide a website that: Has contact names with phone numbers and email Includes easy to understand file preparation tips Includes complete size specifications on your equipment Has easy file upload procedures Allows on-line PDF file creation Allows easy ordering of products, including confirming emails Provides tracking numbers to know when a job will arrive Has driving directions to your facility Can actually be used at dial up speeds The sales cycle of digital printing can be a long one. You are asking a customer to make some changes to how they conduct their business and they will need a fair amount of help from you to ensure a successful implementation. You will probably be receiving orders from people that are not that familiar with the "printing world" and will need extra hand holding. By helping these folks, you will make not only make their life easier, but also your own.