This article is sponsored by arifiQ Development makers of the arifiQ Estimating and Print Quotation System as part of WhatTheyThink's Print Software Product Spotlight series. In preparing this article, the WhatTheyThink Print Software Section editors conducted original, in-depth research on the company and product. This Product Spotlight describes what the editors feel are the company and product’s strengths in the marketplace. arifiQ Development reviewed the final article for accuracy but had no editorial control over the content.

When people outside the print industry ask what makes our industry unique, we often start with the idea of “custom manufacturing” because it helps others to understand that every job we do for each customer is unique. This characteristic of “uniqueness” has driven a lot of processes in production and in the way we interact with our customers over the years. Some of these processes make sense, for instance allowing the customer to select the stock that fits best with their intended use of the print piece. Other processes around how we engage with the customer have been held onto for far too long in the face of a growing desire on our customer’s part to have more self-service options, transparency in pricing, and quicker turnaround times. For many printers the pivotal function in the customer engagement process is the estimate. For many Print MIS solutions the workflow is driven exclusively from a full-service estimating function.

Full-service estimating by a skilled and dedicated staff was an appropriate solution in an offset-driven world, with turnaround times measured in weeks, and manageable print order volumes. We don’t live in this world any longer. We live in a digitally-driven world, with turnaround times measured in days/hours, and growing order volumes at lower average values. The lifespan of a printed piece is decreasing because the digital world has set the expectation that everything should be up-to-date all the time. Think about the printed newspaper which has to make that cut-off every night when news is still happening in order to “get to print” – the online world has no cut-off, no pause button, is always-on and always up-to-date.

Many printers continue to operate as if we still live in a world that simply doesn’t exist anymore. Printers have the estimating function stubbornly fixed to one or two people – a single point of failure and a bottleneck. We have prioritized our desire to have complete control of the estimating function over the needs of our customers who want faster turnaround times, more self-service, and transparency when it comes to pricing. We want to give a customized quote by a qualified person for every single job, no matter the size or the complexity. This adherence to a process that doesn’t fit our current business environment is costly to printers (labor) and costly to printer’s customers (poor service). Back in October of 2014 I wrote an article called, Every Print Job Doesn’t Deserve an Estimate, to explain why we need to break out of this mode of operation to make print easier to buy for our customers and lower our labor costs (in particular our SG&A expenses).

arifiQ is a tool that can help you expand your estimating function internally, the whole idea of the tool is to “democratize estimating” by making it easy, quick, and accurate. For many pilot customers of arifiQ, this has led to customer service representatives giving quotes in real-time while on the phone with customers, and sales people providing quotes from the field – enabling them to close the deal on-site with the customer rather than waiting for an estimate. The biggest advantage of expanding the estimating function is speed. Many people think of quoting as a golf game – the lowest score wins; in fact it’s a sprint – 35% of sales go to the first quote submitted because the customer doesn’t even wait for the others (time is money). While you invest expensive labor to do the perfect quote, others who have a tool like arifiQ are submitting first and increasing their winning percentage. Most procurement departments require that buyers get quotes from at least three vendors, that doesn’t mean they have to consider all three in their assessment. Our customer’s preferences have changed, the business environment we’re operating in has changed, our approach to just about everything (including estimating) has to adapt to these new realities.

If you expand who can do estimates internally, you should become more agile and quick in your delivery of estimates. Of course that is the first step; customer’s strong preference is for self-service, which means we need to put simple estimating tools in the hands of our customers. I can feel the reaction to that sentence as I type it – are you crazy, allow my customers to estimate their own jobs? Yes. If quoting for simple jobs is a race, what better way to assure you are going to win then to put the quoting tool into the hands of your customers? arifiQ does this in two ways; first by embedding the quoting/estimating function into an InDesign plug-in and the second is to have an API so you can embed estimating/quoting into your existing web-to-print or Print MIS customer portal.

arifiQ has built an InDesign plug-in so that quoting is now part of the design process. A key to keeping print relevant among all the digital alternatives is embedding the print offer inside existing business processes.  Design is not going away; in fact the digital world has made design more relevant. Designers are creating content across multiple channels, arifiQ’s plug-in embeds the print option where designers are working and makes print easier to buy. Many printers will feel uncomfortable with this perceived lack of control; the natural desire is to want to have a meaningful conversation with the customer so you can upsell your products and services. This resistance to empowering the customer is preventing us from making print easier to buy. The customer doesn’t want to talk to you every time they order. You don’t have to believe me, read this fascinating article in Harvard Business Review by Matt Dixon and Lara Ponomareff Why Your Customer’s Don’t Want to Talk to You.

arifiQ’s solution can be embedded into an existing web-to-print system, greatly expanding the utilization of most web-to-print solutions which are primarily focused on catalog products (not ad hoc products). Most print jobs are done once; include customer artwork, and a custom quote. Most web-to-print systems today support repeated print, static print, and personalized print – leaving out the most popular type of print job. arifiQ would enable your customers to order ad hoc print jobs (custom specifications, asset uploads, with full estimating) in a self-service fashion. arifiQ can also run as a standalone estimating tool in combination with other Print MIS functionality offered by arifiQ.

Our customers have changed their preferences due to the overwhelming influences of the online world. Our willingness to adapt processes that have been in place for decades will determine our ability to remain relevant in this new business environment. We all want loyal customers, loyalty used to be measured primarily by the quality of our product and our customer service, today more than 50% of customer loyalty is a result not of what you sell but HOW YOU SELL IT (the sales experience matters) – make it easier to buy print.