A large printer faced a significant Print MIS decision (7 figures to the left of the decimal point kind of significant). They needed to replace an outdated home grown Print MIS solution which was way past its prime. They followed all the best practices of procurement; conducted a lot of market research, created an extremely detailed RFP, looked at several vendors, and orchestrated a process of elimination which eventually resulted in a vendor decision based on weighted criteria.

Fast forward 18 months and there is a significant roadblock in the implementation, a critical feature that is paramount to their business appears to be “not possible” within the current solution from the selected vendor. They looked back into the market and discovered a peer (another printer in their space) who made a different vendor selection and runs a business just like theirs. A quick trip to the peer’s plant and they witnessed “in production” on a solution they didn’t select, exactly what they need to do in their business and have failed to realize with their current vendor selection.

A peer (or better yet several peers), whose business is similar to yours, that has already implemented print software solutions that you are considering, is the best resource for you to assure you make great print software decisions.

There is so much to learn from this story for all the participants involved; the printer, the winning vendor, the losing vendor, and even the peer. For the printer, clearly in hindsight (after lots of money and time) the solution that is currently working for their peer looks to be a better fit. What’s the lesson here? The most important part of your research in a buying decision is to find peers who are like you and have already implemented potential print software solutions. The sales process only tells one side of the story, the positive side – everything that is great about the product and there is tremendous pressure to say “yes” to everything you ask. The people (sales resources) who are providing this steady stream of “yeses” aren’t necessarily product experts or experts at your business.

A peer, whose business is similar to yours, that has already implemented the print software solution you’re considering, is the best resource for you to assure you make great print software decisions.

When you find peers who have already implemented software you get the whole story. This means you understand not what is theoretically possible with a print software solution but what is closer to actually possible and how much time and effort things actually take to accomplish. You can get the whole story, not just the positive highlights!

When facing a print software decision, get the whole story. Find and collaborate with your peers otherwise you’re making a decision with only part of the story. You can start with the referrals provided by the vendors but it’s best to expand your search outside of that “vendor qualified group”. This is what makes industry associations and user groups critical, attend these events to learn but most importantly attend these events to find your peers! In the age of technology enabled connections, there is no replacement for the discussion over a beer/coffee between businesses that have similar objectives and face similar challenges. EFI Connect, Dscoop, AMPS/NAPL/NAPQ Executive Leadership, NPOA, and PODI AppForum all have upcoming events which offer the perfect venue to find and collaborate with your peers. When I speak at these events, I’m always shocked at how attendees sit off by themselves. The whole purpose of you showing up isn’t only to listen to the speakers; get to the sessions early, sit next to your potential peers, stay at the sessions after and collaborate with people who asked questions that resonated with you!

In a B2B buying study by SiriusDecisions, peers are the most trusted information sources, second only to industry analysts.

What can the winning vendor learn from this procurement story? The winning vendor oversold their solution, they failed to understand which requirements were critical for this customer and they oversold on those critical requirements. Everyone oversells and for most requirements it doesn’t matter because they aren’t important enough to derail the implementation. When a vendor sales person fails to understand the critical requirements and then oversells on those, there is nothing but frustration and wasted time and energy for all involved. Requirements are not all the same; this is why I hate huge requirement lists that treat each aspect of the solution equally. You will not use more than 50% of the features you are shown during the sales process. It is the job of the printer and the vendor to validate that critical features are not only theoretically supported but actually possible in a production environment without voodoo magic, brilliant resources, or an army of programmers.

What can the losing vendor learn from this story? If this losing vendor actually had a better solution, which it appears they did – there must have been something else going on during the sales process. They most likely had a trust issue, they could have mitigated that trust issue and won the deal had they proactivity inserted the reference “voice of their existing customer” into the sales process early on. A 7-figure deal lost when they had a customer who was a peer to this prospect! What a shame for them and the printer.

There is a growing body of research about how important the “voice of the customer” is to the B2B sales cycle. 84% of decision makers begin their buying process with a referral, which means your customers and your customer’s peers hold all the real power in marketing and buying your solutions. Vendors should spend a lot more time creating happy customers and then creating marketing materials that are in the voice of the customer. I love RSA’s approach to telling customer success stories on their website; “Read What Customers Say They Love About WebCRD”. What this site says is, don’t rely on us, talk to our existing customers and get the whole story.

Smart people understand that most sales people tell only the positive side of the story, which is really a shame because great sales people know that telling the whole story is what builds trust during the sales process. The most important thing a marketing organization can deliver to sales is content that is in the voice of the happy customer. I like to think about the sales process as four simple steps: know me, like me, trust me, and pay me. Most sales stall at the “trust me” stage. This is where you have to rely on customer referrals, peers, and content that is in the voice of the customer. Your prospects believe their peers 3x more than they believe you, to me that means your marketing efforts should be weighted 3x in the direction of “voice of the customer” and most important the ability for your representatives to find reference-able peers for the prospects they have in the sales pipeline. In our story above, had marketing delivered the reference-able peer in the early stages of the sales cycle, this 7 figure deal would have gone down in the win column.

The industry, the technology, and everything about how business is conducted in the online age are changing constantly. You will not succeed making all these decisions in a vacuum. Peers have never been more important. We see printers making the same mistakes, more peer collaboration could really decrease the waste in time, money, and opportunity cost with print software investments. You need to lead by example, establish a peer group for yourself (business leader), and then encourage those that work for you to do the same. We believe there needs to be at least three different areas of peer collaboration in our industry; business owners (which has been the primary focus of user groups and industry associations), software technologists – a completely ignored group that we’re trying to assemble through the group Dscoop Nerd Herd – stay tuned for more details. A marketing group; this group is growing as more printers realize that simply hiring more sales representatives is not a sustainable growth tactic anymore. Studies show that up to 50%+ of the sales process is over before there is an interaction with your sales team! This means that prospects are getting their first impressions of you and doing a significant amount of research online. Your marketing is critical to your sales funnel! Your marketing resources need a peer group to collaborate on what works, what technology tools they are using, and how to best allocate their time and effort.

Hope to see you at the upcoming industry events.

Jane Mugford and Jennifer Matt will be at the WhatTheyThink video booth at EFI Connect; January 20-23, 2015, Las Vegas. E-mail [email protected] to setup a meeting.

Jane Mugford and Jennifer Matt will be presenting at Dscoop X; March 5-7, 2015, Washington DC. E-mail [email protected] to setup a meeting.