I was speaking to a long time print sales representative this week about a new web-to-print program the company was implementing. We were speaking on the phone and he said, you can’t see me but I just want you to know that I’m older than I sound and I’m not technical at all. I immediately said, “Are your customers technical?” He said, they are for the most part not technical. I said do you understand how to listen for the challenges customers are having and then describe the benefits of working with you and your company to solve those challenges for your customers? His voice changed and he said, “That is exactly what I’ve been doing for the last thirty years!”

Web-to-print is not a technical project. Web-to-print is a sales and marketing initiative that happens to involve technology. Does this mean you have to make your sales team “technical”? Please don’t try to do that, it will result in a lot of wasted time and frustration. The role of sales is to listen, qualify the customer, and then describe the benefits of working with your company.  Nothing about this conversation has to be technically oriented. In fact, when sales people try to be technical it usually ends up confusing the customer because they list the technical features of the product instead of the customer benefits. The customer doesn’t care what the technology does (features); they only care what it will do for them (benefits). The great thing about this is that your existing sales team can speak to benefits, don’t make the mistake of trying to teach your sales team technical features – that is not what the customer cares about.

What are the top three reasons web-to-print projects fail?

  1. Business fails to lead the project
  2. Sales fails to sell the solution
  3. Customers fail to use the solution

Business Leadership

Most web-to-print projects play out something like this. Business owner understands they need to do this “web-to-print” thing because everyone keeps talking about it and the sales representatives from the print software companies keep calling and telling them how vital it is to their business. They select a web-to-print solution by asking a technical person on their team to compare the solutions based on functionality; more features must mean better product and better value right? With the solution purchased, they feel they have done their part, they think about their best technical person (who happens to be their busiest person) and delegate the task of getting this web-to-print thing working. This scenario has been played out in thousands of print businesses around the world and it consistently produces one thing: failed web-to-print projects.

Web-to-Print is a fundamental change in the way you do business; this requires business leadership from the top. You cannot delegate and step back, you have to be involved and stay involved because this is not a technical project, web-to-print is a sales and marketing initiative that should change the way you do business from order entry to invoice (that impacts everyone in your company). Executive level leadership is required to make this kind of change. Delegating the overall leadership of this project to a “technical” resource buried in pre-press or IT is setting them up for failure and virtually assuring the project’s failure.

Business leaders need to have a vision for how you want to engage with your customers online and then you need to communicate this vision to the whole company, preferably before you start the project. Although it’s never too late to set the strategy even if you’re well into your web-to-print initiative. You can still have a technical resource on the project but you have to assign a leader who has the ability to influence all the functional areas of your business, most importantly sales, marketing, and customer service. Web-to-print is primarily a tool for your customers, too many printers have delegated it into a technical role and then it gets implemented as if it’s a tool for print production. Yes, it has benefits for print production but there is zero benefit to print production unless sales sells it and customers use it. 

Sales Engagement

This leads us to the next reason web-to-print projects fail, sales doesn’t sell the solution. One of the first things I ask printers when they describe their failed web-to-print projects is, “how is your sales team involved?” The common response to this question is “why does sales need to be involved, they don’t know anything about technology?” Web-to-print is a tool for your customers, your sales people are the main conduit of communication with your customers. If they aren’t involved from the very beginning, you have a serious problem.

Sales isn’t involved in configuring the product, sales has to understand what the product does for the customer (preferably delivered to them in a solid marketing program) and then sales needs to understand how to qualify candidates for web-to-print. Lots of train wrecks are created when sales simply goes out there and starts selling what they think the system can do for the customer. This behavior leads to missed expectations, frustration with the internal staff responsible for configuring the sites, and a never ending laundry list of feature requests to the vendor. Once this cycle starts, it is very hard to break. The root cause of this situation is the lack of marketing preparation for the sales team, the outcome is usually lots of finger pointing to the vendor because the product doesn’t have every single feature the customer dreamed up and the sales representative said yes to.

Business leaders need to have a vision for how you want to engage with your customers online and then you need to communicate this vision to the whole company, preferably before you start a web-to-print project.

Sales is a key player in web-to-print; start with sales instead of worrying about the technical side of implementing the product. Understand the customers your sales team is working with today, understand their ordering patterns, and understand what products you produce today that would be suitable for a self-service order entry system. Not all products are suitable for self-service – that’s what web-to-print is, a self-service order entry solution. The most successful web-to-print projects I’m aware of have strong sales engagement because the sales team understands that web-to-print is how they can scale their book of business, create digital connections to their customers to defend against competitors, and provide the customer the convenience they desire for the segment of their work that is suitable for a self-service interaction.

Customer Adoption

The third reason web-to-print projects fail is the customers don’t use the solution. You sold the customer on the program, you implement the technology, now the store sits there and nobody orders from it. Customer adoption is often forgotten because it’s not clearly stated upfront who’s responsible for it. Sales typically think their job is over once the program is sold – this is a dangerous thought. Your sales team is responsible for customer adoption and the work to build customer adoption has to start during the sales process. 

A customer adoption program for web-to-print includes the following four components:

  1. Location, location, location – where is the link going to reside for members of your customer community to find the store? This is critical. First understand who are the members of the customer community that are eligible to order from the site, and then find out where they go within the customer’s intranet to conduct other regular business. Get your link on the most visited page on their intranet, near other like services. Do not leave this to chance – it can kill all your efforts if you don’t get good placement. If nobody can find you, nobody will order from you.
  2. Discuss the launch communication plan with your customer contact, how will the customer’s community get informed about the products and services you are offering through the store? Do not assume they have this covered – make it part of the sales process.
  3. Things are in a constant state of change, you will add new products to your store, and the customer community will grow and shrink. What is the on-going plan for updating the community with announcements, etc.?
  4. The most strategic sales representatives out there go the extra step and look for ways to embed the web-to-print solution into the customer’s business processes. For example if you provide corporate identity like business cards, are you part of the customer’s new hire program? If you provide sales collateral, are you part of the onboarding process for new sales representatives? 

Too many web-to-print projects fail and most often printers are pointing to the technology or the technology vendor as the cause of the failure. In our experience the root cause of failure is more than likely related to one or more of the following; lack of business leadership, lack of sales engagement, and no thought about customer adoption.