By John Giles We heard first hand accounts of printing companies increasing their sales because of the new ways to manage and buy printing. April 21, 2005 -- The recent The PODi Applications Forum in Las Vegas gave me a new perspective about how printing companies are using technology. Working with small commercial and quick printers, I knew that technology could drive sales. What surprised me was that the big printers have the same problems as small printers--getting the customer to understand the why they need to use the new technology. Forum participants were excited because the printing industry now had examples of how variable data and web-to-print services were working for print buyers. Companies such as Disney and Charles Schwab reported their success in using new printing technology to control content and generate sales. Instead of hearing stories about how good the technology was going to be, we heard first hand accounts of printing companies increasing their sales because of the new ways to manage and buy printing. Before printers get too excited and start buying hardware and software, they have to realize the increased sales wasn't coming from print sales people beating on doors. The successful printers were using direct marketing companies and advertising agencies to sell their services. The printers were providing the technology knowledge and the direct marketers and ad people were providing the marketing talent. The successful printers were using direct marketing companies and advertising agencies to sell their services, letting the marketing experts drive variable data opportunities. Printers who had the equipment and software were either partnering with outside sales and marketing services or buying ad agencies and direct marketing companies to deliver the variable data and web-to-print message. It was the marketers who defined the message and explained the advantages to the customer. Rather than the printer bragging about how fast his digital printer is, the marketer is going out and demonstrating how the customer can increase sales. The successful printer is letting the marketing experts drive variable data opportunities. Several presenters focused on the "show and sell" technique for explaining the new printing services. The printer, working with a marketing professional, would create a solution to a perceived need of a targeted client. A working example of how the solution would work would be developed. The marketing team would then make a presentation to the buyer's top decision makers. Rather than attempt to sell a concept, the printer would attempt to sell a working demo. If a buyer wasn't interested, the printer would then call on others in that market. What many printers had was a template that could be sold over and over in a vertical market. If the printer had something to show the customer, then the chance of closing the sale was much higher. Many printers had a template that could be sold over and over in a vertical market. Most of the technology and opportunities discussed at the PODi Applications Forum were outside the capabilities of most printers. A small printer in this market is described as a printer with sales as low as $15 million. This could cause confusion when talking with vendors and describing yourself as a small printer. When a vendor tells you that all you need to offer web-to-print and variable data services is a good designer they assume you already have an IT person with strong Windows systems and database experience. They assume you are managing your own web site and have someone who can integrate new services into your existing site. For a truly small printer with $2 million or less is sales, the infrastructure required to provide the new technology could be daunting. The printers who are offering variable data and web-to-print solutions are calling themselves Digital Service Providers (DSP). PODi identifies approximately 1200 DSPs who are attempting to make themselves difference from the commercial printer down the street. These companies are going after the Fortune 500 accounts or large niche markets such as the real estate and travel industry. These are the pioneers who are going to blaze the sales for the job shop printers serving small local printing buyers. PODi identifies approximately 1200 DSPs who are attempting to make themselves difference from the commercial printer down the street. What was exciting about PODi for the micro-printer (sales of under $2 million) was seeing the potential for offering digital services to small print buyers. As more of the DSPs have success in selling their ideas and services to the large corporations, smaller companies will want the service. Since the smaller companies are already doing business with micro-printers, they will turn to their current printers for these services. The cost of the technology is dropping. Most small commercial and quick printers already have digital printers that are capable of producing variable data printing that mixes text and graphics. Most already have the computer power and RIPs to handle the data stream and run the printers. A savvy printer with some marketing knowledge could deliver DSP-types of services used by corporate America to small companies. A savvy printer with some marketing knowledge could deliver DSP-types of services used by corporate America to small companies. I expect to see a new DSP emerge -- the micro-Digital Service Provider. This will be an under $2 million in sales printer who discovers a business niche that can be served with the existing equipment and software found in the small shops. They will create unique products that can be used over and over for a specific industry. They will use the power of the Internet to expand their geographic base. They will template a solution that can be plugged into almost any business selling something to somebody. These micro-DSPs will evolve from printers who are already being proactive and selling their services rather than just taking orders. I'm looking forward to the PODi Application Forum that includes the micro-DSPs who share their products and vision with the other micro-printers.