By Terry Nagi February 14, 2006 -- Like it or not, e-business for printers will have significant and long range impacts on operations large and small, and it would be foolhardy to assume the next few years will be "business as usual". All printers should have an e-business strategy -- even if that means sticking to business as usual. All printers should have an e-business strategy -- even if that means sticking to business as usual A strategy includes four points: * Surveying the top 20 percent of clients that provide 80 percent of most printers' business, to determine their initiatives in using the internet and the computer to purchase products and services, including print. * Researching and evaluating if the internet and use of computers with the printer's vendors will result in savings of money, labor and faster response time. * Researching and understanding the benefits and challenges of e-business when the time is right. It is also important that people with customer contact, from sales to customer service representatives, be able to intelligently discuss the topic when presented by a client. * Re-evaluate the roles and responsibilities of the professional sales representative and the customer service representative in implementing an e-business solution. Now for the Realities of E-Business Reality number one: E-business can save time and people. Repeat transactions, estimate write-ups, job ticket write-ups, inventory checking, e-mail , voicemail correspondence, web to print, bill paying, all initiated by the client, ultimately saves time and people costs. Reality number one: E-business can save time and people. More importantly, everyone involved in a print order has instant access to the latest information on that order, practically eliminating questions regarding what the latest instructions, versions, changes are and where that information is located. One of the greatest features of e-business is that it keeps everyone on the same page with the same information, updated instantaneously to all. Reality number two: The time saved by the printer's customer contact people, formerly spent taking down information, can now be reassigned to watching over more critical orders and clients. Reallocation of how customer service representatives use their time will become a more critical factor. One of the greatest features of e-business is that it keeps everyone on the same page There may not be fewer customer service representatives per million of sales, but their focus will be on being a very strong reason why key accounts are more loyal to their printer. E-business will accelerate the trend of making the customer service representative the primary contact for a contact from order entry through to the job delivered to the customer's door. Reality number three: The role of the sales representative will change from writing requests for estimates and job orders, plus following them through the factory, to new account development and critical account "solutions selling." Instead of tracking information on where an order is in the works and what changes have occurred, the sales representative will spend more time on the road. Instant access to information from laptops and palmtops will keep them informed of what is happening with clients and jobs, as conveniently in their cars as in their office. Sales people will have additional time to study the client's business and how the client's customers react to print, and provide value-added solutions to making print more productive and effective. There will be fewer sales representatives per million dollars of sales, but those left will be more valuable as finding new accounts is a critical process for the success of any printer in the future. Early movers into e-business solutions for their clients will have a new marketing tool for clients Reality number four: Compensation practices in the industry will change, especially for the entire customer contact team. Sales representatives now on commission will slowly move towards salary, plus smaller commissions on continuing accounts, with significant bonuses for new accounts. Customer service representatives now normally on straight salary will be paid a salary, plus incentive, as they become more responsible for current client maintenance and retention. The overall cost of sales people and customer service representatives, as a percentage of total sales will decrease. Reality number five: Early movers into e-business solutions for their clients will have a new marketing tool for clients seeking to computerize their purchasing process via the internet. In fact, reality number five is that sales people will be selling transaction efficiency versus quality of print. Reality number six: E-business systems will blend well with printing companies that offer warehousing/fulfillment/mailing/dealer programs, where clients are already familiar with online order entry, release of goods, inventory checking, e-mail communications and other internet transaction based processes. Reality number seven: E-business systems will be one of the driving forces to the ever-increasing growth of digital personalized printing, as web to print systems create a simply to use system for the creation on 1-1 printing for users of all skill levels. E-business systems will be one of the driving forces to the ever-increasing growth of digital personalized printing Reality number eight: Almost all printer software packages are developing their own e-business to provide an integrated e-business system. This means availability of whatever information you wish to make available, password protected, behind firewalls, to both internal employees and clients. Reality number nine: Printers capable of efficiently handling PDF file transfers and are successful in training clients how to build best files will find significant benefits over competitors. Saving time on transmitting estimates, orders and changes, manipulating and updating data and graphic files, will simply be less effective in e-business if workflow issues are not solved. Reality number ten: Vendor reduction will be continued by print buyers. Corporate management will simply insist that a select few printers serve the diversity of their print needs to simply save time and money. Reality number eleven: E-business transactions with suppliers (paper, ink, designers, etc.) will reduce administrative costs to the printer as well as speed timely information. The same benefits accruing to the print buyer are now accruing to the printer in dealing with vendors. Reality number twelve: Human-to-human (customer to sales representative or customer service representative) conversations will be significantly reduced. A plan of action must be initiated by the printer to make internet transactions more personable. Special events will have to be planned to bring customers and the printer's workforce together. Entertainment budgets will have to be increased. Plant tours will have to become more important. Presentation of new ideas in person must be heightened. The impersonal aspects of the Internet must be overcome by the personality of the company. A plan of action must be initiated by the printer to make internet transactions more personable Reality number thirteen: Client profiling will become more important. From data based information collected by sales and customer service executives, transactions by e-mail, voicemail, and phone or in person should include "friendly" information which fits the client being contacted. The success of Customer Relations Management (CRM) software confirms the necessity of understanding and data basing individual client characteristics. Reality number fourteen: E-business costs money. A printer's e-business strategy must find a way to absorb these fees by reducing the traditional cost of selling, customer service, estimating, administering a client's business and so on. Strategizing a change in a printer's organization will be essential. The final reality is this . If you think you can avoid e-business, you most likely cannot. Many printers thought desktop publishing and electronic file creation by clients was a non-starter in 1992. There is hardly a printer today that does not have a significant desktop operation. Of course, not every print buyer will be into e-business transactions with their printer in the next year. However, most major Fortune 500 companies will and this will trickle down to the medium and even small organizations. The retail business has embraced e-business transactions in less than two years, now it is forecast that business-to-business e-commerce will be ten times the value of retail e-business transactions by 2005. Whether printers like it, want it, understand it or believe in it, the time is now for all printers to begin creating a strategy on how to react to this impending major influence on the printing business.