This is the second of a three-part article covering three characteristics of a thriving print business in 2020. In the first article I covered the idea of diversification; in this article I will cover the idea of being engaged in the online channel.

Let’s start with what being online does NOT mean.

1) Online does not mean you are seeking to compete with Vistaprint for $9 business card orders from strangers.

2) Online is not necessarily about drastically changing the products you sell.

3) Being online is not primarily about your business (internal focus); it’s about how you engage with your customers (external focus).

4) Online is more than just trying to sell stuff there (e-commerce).

5) The online channel isn’t something you can continue to ignore.

I want to step back and review two really remarkable changes that we have all witnessed during our business lifetimes. With the advent of the internet and the exponential growth of this extremely powerful business channel, search has become the primary way customers start their online journey. The language of the customer is in charge online. Their journey predominately starts with a search typed by them in their language. This is a big change, when customers found local businesses through the yellow pages; it was communicated in the language of business and organized alphabetically.

As I said in my last article a key to your success is becoming more externally focused, being successful online starts with understanding your target market and their language. You have to be found online, you want to be found by qualified prospects that have business challenges that your products and services can solve. Everything about your online existence should be built with the language of the customer in mind.

This is a huge change for our industry which has for the last several decades been manufacturing focused. It isn’t surprising to me that most printers’ websites talk extensively about their manufacturing equipment – this is how your business thrived in the print industry for decades. Your competitive advantage was dependent upon continuous investment in manufacturing equipment as a means to differentiate your business. As we move into competition with online alternatives, a manufacturing focus is irrelevant to your customers. The language of print manufacturing is definitely not the language of your customers. Your customers care about their business challenges, their communication objectives, and innovative ideas on how to bring solutions that create real business results for their business.

The second remarkable change to doing business online is that we have to compete or pay to be found in a dynamic (constantly changing) environment. A static directory doesn’t exist anymore and organization by alphabetical listing is a thing of the past. My nephew asked me the other day, “why do so many businesses have stupid business names that start with “A” e.g. AAA Plumbing? Isn’t that a great question from a teenager? He doesn’t even know what the yellow pages are – he has no idea why someone would name their business AAA anything. Choosing your business name by where it falls in alphabetical order is no longer helpful; choosing your business name by how well it helps your search engine optimization is the modern equivalent of AAA Plumbing!

The online channel is growing, your online presence and engagement in this channel is becoming mission critical to the overall success of your business. Engaging online is a new way of thinking about your business, for a long time I called it “a new front door to your business.” The only thing I would change about that statement today is “the online channel will become the primary way you engage with your customers.” You have to change your priorities. You have to move away from the things you focused on before and move your focus onto figuring out this new channel.

Your online presence should be as good as your offline presence. I always ask this question, “what is the ideal initial interaction between your business and a new prospective customer?” I get varying answers but all have the same characteristics, you get a chance to explain your story, you get a chance to hear the customer’s challenges, or best yet the prospects hear about your company/service via a referral. The voice of your current customers is the most trusted and powerful sales tool in your arsenal. I guarantee your current customers are not going to talk about your manufacturing equipment, they are going to talk about their challenges and how you solved them.

What is a prospect’s experience when their first impression of your business is 100% online? What do they learn about your story, your customers, or your experience solving challenges like they have from your website, your social media channels, or your blog? Can a customer find you online? Can a customer then shepherd themselves through the first two stages of the sales process (know me, like me) by reading your content, watching videos, seeing what your customers are saying about you? When customers interact with the “online you” are you putting your business in the best light possible?

There is a lot of industry talk about the evolution of printers to become marketing service providers. The first step in this evolution has to be a whole scale engagement with the online world for your business first. You have to eat your own dog food – meaning you should think of the way you market your own business as the place where you learn, experiment, and then eventually show off what you could do for your customers. Here are some of my favorite meaningful metrics to track in your journey to become more engaged online.

1) Order entry breakdown: self-service (web-to-print) vs. full-service (e-mail, FTP, phone, fax, commissioned order takers, etc.). Start measuring this % today, even if its 100% full-service and 0% self-service, that’s a great place to improve from! Self-service requires you to leverage software and the internet to meet the customers where they are and provide them the convenience of a self-service interaction.

2) Lead generation sources: track where leads come from and what activities caused them. It seems like the only time businesses track leads is when they are paying Google for them. If that’s the only time you track leads, you start to think that’s the only place you’re getting them from. Track leads from everywhere. Please track leads that you get from organic (non-paid) search as well. Don’t overcomplicate this, track it on post-it notes to start if you have to then move to a CRM when it makes sense. Just start tracking them today. When you get a new customer, stop and ask how you got them?

3) Traffic and Conversions on your website: this requires a bit more work because the act of tracking these things requires some website infrastructure. You need to have Google Analytics activated on your website and configured properly (this is where most fail). You need to have a “goal or conversion” – if your goal is to have someone call you, please do it via a track able phone number (here are some suggestions for call analytics: dialogtech, keymetric, or Marchex). If the only call to action on your website today is “call me” at least add the ability to track how many conversions you are getting.

This leads nicely into next week’s article about the third characteristic of a thriving print business in 2020: data-driven. The most compelling aspect of online communication is that virtually every engagement can be monitored, tracked, and analyzed. A thriving print business in 2020 will be diversified, online, and data-driven.