“Software is eating the world.”
– Marc Andreessen
(coauthor of Mosaic, cofounder of Netscape and now leading venture capitalist)
“If coders don’t run the world, they run the things that run the world.”
- Paul Ford, What is Code? Business Week June 11, 2015
The number one question anyone who has ever worked on a print software project hears over and over again from business leadership is, “when will this be done?” It’s a bit like your children asking from the back seat of the car, “are we there yet?”
The answer to the question “when will it be done?” as it pertains to software is unequivocally “never”.
The word “done” should be deleted from the context of software projects. You can ship a product, you can go live with a software project, or you can upgrade an existing software program – those are all important business events, none of them mean you are done. You are never done. Software supports your business, your business is constantly evolving (if you’re planning to be around in the future), the ecosystem that software operates in (hardware, operating systems, and internet browsers) is constantly moving (and picking up velocity) – therefore your software projects are never done.
Here’s a trade-off, software can be done if you adding new things and changing your mind about what it should do for your business. See how that puts the onus back on the business? Do you want that software you built/bought five years ago to work well on mobile devices? Not done yet. Do you want that software to work on the latest version of the leading web browsers? Not done yet. Do you want your new web-to-print system to integrate with your green screen Print MIS that you’ve been limping along with for decades? You are really, really, really not done yet.
This “not done” state can cause a lot of frustration for print business owners. On one hand they are the people who are out in the market hearing new requests from customers and learning more about the market – bringing all these demands back to the print software team. On the other hand they are the ones paying the bills for the licensed software, the consultants to customize/integrate that software, or the vendor to maintain and upgrade that software. As a business leader you want to have your cake and eat it too – you want to be done (spending money), but you never stop asking for more features and functionality.
One of the driving factors in this insatiable appetite for more features and functionality is what I’ll simply call sales insecurity. Everyone in afflicted with this syndrome at some level or another. We want our software solutions to do more, better, and faster than our competitors because it’s the easiest path to differentiation in a sale. We obsessively focus on what our solution DOES NOT do and this energy comes through in our sales pitches. The customer can feel it. Does this sound familiar? “If you technical people would simply understand that if I had these three features, I could sell way more – that is what is holding me back!” Oh, if I had a nickel every time a sales representative said that to me, I would be traveling a lot more and working a lot less. Sales insecurity appears when sales people are asked about a feature that their solution doesn’t do or doesn’t do precisely how the customer described it.
You have a choice when you’re in this situation. The default choice is to take a defensive stance, mumble something about it’s in the product roadmap (even if you’re not sure), say it’s something you could easily add (even if you have no clue), or just squirm – giving the distinct impression to the customer that this is something that is vital and missing from your solution.
You could ask clarifying questions to understand what challenge the customer is trying to solve with this particular feature. When you ask clarifying questions, your prospect/customer starts to believe you’re actually listening and you care about their business! (Double bonus) This is the opposite of sales insecurity, this is confidence in your ability to discern the customer’s needs, understand them, and then take them back to your team to figure out if there is a solution. You don’t have a pitch (feature lists), you have a conversation with the prospect about their business challenges and then when appropriate you talk about how you’ve solved those business challenges with companies like your prospects. Your focus is 100% on what your product DOES TODAY and the benefits that it delivers for the customer. The feature comparison path is a road paved with frustration – you will always be chasing a few more features. Your customer can sense your confidence rather than your insecurity, they start to believe that your solution can actually solve their challenges because you understand their challenges and have solved them for others like them.
Software is eating your budget and it will continue to eat a bigger portion of your overall business investment in years to come. Software is the tool you’ll use to reach more customers (web-to-print, websites, and marketing automation), make your business more efficient (production workflow automation), and capture and understand the valuable data your business produces (Print MIS, business intelligence).
Software is becoming as important a tool in your print business as your presses. The thriving companies in our industry are focusing on software as their primary means of differentiation, start thinking about software as a part of your overall infrastructure investment.