I was involved in an RFP-like process recently, the organization made the following statement which I haven’t stopped thinking about since it dropped into my consciousness.

“We’ve been running this program about the same way for a decade, nothing is inherently broken, but management is challenging us to see if there might be a better way.”

Why did this particular comment stick so powerfully with me? Let me remind you of everything that has changed in the last decade. Smart phones were introduced and have revolutionized online access, e-commerce is expected to top $1.29 trillion in 2013, social networking, 2.4 billion people are now online globally, tablets will soon outsell PCs, etc…

So this individual and their division hadn’t seen one new thing come on the horizon with all these changes to impact the way they were running their program? Can any business say that the changes listed above haven’t fundamentally impacted their business, their customers, and their employees?

What’s your answer to the question “how has my business adapted to the fundamental changes that have taken place in the last decade?” Is your answer similar to the one I heard in the RFP process, “nothing is inherently broken, so we haven’t changed at all?” What if you’re assessing “broken” according to how the world worked ten years ago?

I heard the author, Gary Vaynerchuk speak at the last Dscoop conference. He attributed most of his success to the fact that he’s marketing and selling based on the current reality, most people are marketing and selling based on the reality of a decade ago. I thought this was the most important statement of his speech. Most businesses are a decade behind. In the past this might have been called conservative or calculated evolution. You might not have been the first guy to invest in digital because you were waiting for others to be the early adopters.

The digital economy is different. The pace of change is different. The changes are tectonic. The changes listed above are merely the highlight reel, virtually every single one of these changes impacts the way we run our businesses, the way our customers find us, and the location where commerce takes place.

In this landscape, what amazes me most? We have print tradeshows that are still dominated by bigger and faster presses, while the technology and expertise to do business in this new digital economy are a small side show. Look at Print 13. Look back at Drupa 2012. Our main industry gatherings are not focused on the subjects that are vital to most printers’ survival.

You want to step out of your comfort zone and focus on the future? Go to the Inbound Marketing conference put on by HubSpot, Boston August 19-22. If you’re going, please let me know – I would like to sponsor a Meet-up for all print industry participants.

I speak at a lot of print-related conferences and at each one I’m trying to bring more attention to and airtime to the subjects of software, integration, web strategies, online marketing strategies for printers, etc… Each time I’m surprised how many printers choose to go hear about the subjects within their comfort zone (ppm, dots per inch, substrates). There is nothing wrong with having excellent manufacturing expertise but I’m pretty confident your future business success depends more on your ability to adapt to the digital economy then it does to print faster on a wider range of substrates!

I believe printers can and should learn about APIs (application programming interfaces), CMS (content management systems), and web services. This has to become our collective new comfort zone because these are some of the tools of the digital economy.

Let me get one point very clear. Moving your business online and leveraging the amazing tools of the digital economy is a marketing and sales project, not a technical project. The technology merely enables your marketing and sales strategy. Don’t think buying technology will make you successful in the digital economy. Doing business online requires you to learn and stretch because doing business online requires printers to confront the area of their business very few have invested in – marketing.

Growing your offline business was about scaling your sales team, growing your online business is about investing in your marketing strategy and resources. I feel for the whole field of marketing – they used to have such an easy job, if you had a budget you hired an agency to come up with clever words and pictures which you spread in your sales collateral. If you were a small company, you got yourself listed and potentially advertised in the yellow pages and maybe bought local advertising space.

Today marketing is a connected, interactive, bi-directional conversation that can be measured for ROI every step of the way. This is so much harder. You can’t hide behind an agency – your prospects and customers want to know who you are (authenticity counts). Companies who are thriving in this new marketing world are telling compelling stories and most importantly attracting customers via inbound marketing by giving away valuable advice that proves their expertise and makes prospects want to engage with them.

Remember the phrase, “everyone is in sales?” I think it’s time to change it to “everyone is in marketing.” You can’t delegate marketing to an individual, every person in your company is needed to help present the story of your brand online in an authentic way. This is a tectonic change from the polished, bland, and over stylized marketing materials of the past – this is real communication that counts.

The way you’ve been conducting your business for the past decade has to adapt to the new realities introduced by the underlying digital economy and the online world. Sit down and list how your company has adapted in the last ten years. Are you selling and marketing your company the same way you did it ten years ago?