Jennifer Matt is the managing editor of WhatTheyThink’s Print Software section as well as President of Web2Print Experts, Inc. a technology-independent print software consulting firm helping printers with web-to-print and print MIS solutions.
Your business is made up of two kinds of processes: predictable ones and exceptions. A well-run business has codified or systematized the predictable business processes so that the humans working in the business apply all their skills to the exceptions.
Partnering can solve challenges that you don’t feel comfortable taking on initially. A partnership also helps you grow your expertise in an area so that when you do expand, you’ll make much better investment decisions.
More and more, the productivity of your company is based on the ability to efficiently work in the software applications that run your business. Don’t hamstring your mission-critical software applications by starving them of the resources they require.
Getting your customer’s pricing is a critical measure of customer satisfaction. Your customer might not be outwardly complaining, but many print customers are migrating to online solutions that provide immediate pricing. Not every job you produce deserves a manual estimate.
Every business has projects. Every business treats them differently. The range is enormous; from no project methodology to bureaucratic craziness. Print businesses of all sizes would benefit from a simple project methodology because it can quickly eliminate the most common reasons why things just don’t get done.
Evaluating print software is a process that desperately needs to evolve. Step back and look at the business objectives of the evaluation as a starting point to reinventing your approach to purchasing software.
So many trends are being amplified or accelerated by COVID-19; the evolution of the sales process is one of them. Your customers are being asked again to do more with fewer people and less time. They need vendors/partners that can help alleviate the pressure.
COVID-19 economic symptoms include the weakening of the “we’ve always done it this way defense”—which will have some positive impacts on outdated printer workflows and some negative impacts when customers evaluate print spend under new market conditions.
There will be a new, new normal after the height of COVID-19 passes. It will be even more reliant on software technologies to connect your employees, your customers, and your suppliers. The time to evolve to this new reality (often referred to as digital transformation) is now—crisis evolution cuts through a lot of the resistance.
Crisis creates an environment for rapid innovation. The digital transformation of all business sectors was in progress before COVID-19, and the crisis will continue to separate the digital haves and have-nots.
Understanding what the primary objective or challenge that a print software claims to solve is an important factor for shopping for print software solutions. You have challenges, print software vendors have solutions (in the form of products). The better defined the challenge, the better the chance of alignment and return on investment.
We are going to come out of COVID-19 into a different economy and a different print industry. Many of the changes taking place now will persist, even after we’re all vaccinated or have developed widespread herd immunity. Your customers will return with fewer people resources—a competitive advantage will be for vendors who can save customers time.
Adult learning is hard especially when you’re transitioning from a toolset that your people have been comfortably using for years. Do not give the resistance any power and do not try to force the new system to work like the old one—you will pay dearly for that in the form of lost productivity.
It's easy to get into a panic when you wake up to the reality that your approach to software in your print business requires a major overall. It probably took you years to get into this state; don’t freak out because it could take years to crawl out of it. The best thing to do is to calmly prioritize and then start making incremental progress.
Your software investments deserve big picture, strategic planning. It’s time to step back and assess your core business processes and how software helps, hinders, optimizes, or ideally automates the steps required everyday to deliver on your customer promises.
We have spent decades focusing and optimizing the production floor (where there is no carpet). It is time to focus our energies on the carpeted areas of the business which impact customer’s perceptions of our business.
Describe your business challenges: be specific, be precise. Then let go of any attachment to the “how this business challenge gets solved by print software.” You want your business challenges solved. One of the fastest ways to solve them is to describe them accurately and then to be open to all the possible solutions.
You purchase software to solve business problems. When evaluating software, keep your focus on the challenges you want to solve. This will keep you open-minded about all the possible ways your challenges might be solved, rather than attachment to one specific solution.
Technology is invading every corner of the print industry, and many print business owners are novices when it comes to technology. How do you make good business decisions when you are not the subject matter expert? Whom do you listen to? How do you know they are qualified? Run your business like a meritocracy.
People in your organization have to keep learning new things so that you can continue to optimize your business using new tools (mostly software). Leadership’s job is to deliver the “have to” part of the learning equation.
What do you provide for your sales team to get the upper hand in the marketplace? Do you have differentiation? Are you investing in something that will not only win new customers but keep existing ones?
Your print sales people need a different perspective when selling web-to-print solutions. They need to understand short vs long term benefits as well as how the customer’s convenience is driving loyalty.
The merger of software technology stacks and strategy is a key component to any two businesses coming together. It takes time, effort, and patience as technology is uniquely embedded in a business. Be strategic about what you address and when you address it. Not everything should change right away.
Software feels malleable. New features come out. Trade shows are packed full of vendors showing the bright new thing that might lure you into the sales process. Complex software (Print MIS) does not change fast (because it shouldn’t), and the sooner you realize that changing your business is a better strategy, the faster you’ll get to the ROI and business differentiation that a Print MIS can deliver.
The number one thing we hear when we engage with a printer who is having trouble with their print software (Print MIS, Web-to-Print, or Pre-Press automation) is “we didn’t get trained.” Ironically, more training is rarely the solution to this common complaint.
You have a bias for what solutions work; that bias is based on what has worked for you in the past. If you’re a print business owner, buying new stuff feels like a solid way to solve challenges of hiring new employees. Solving print software challenges requires expertise in print software.
We live in a connected world. The artifacts (documents, spreadsheets, etc.) we create for business should be stored centrally with controlled access in the cloud. Isolated artifacts on employees’ computers slow projects down and make research into past projects nearly impossible.
The dream of an online business that delivers profitable revenue from strangers is a good dream to have. It simply takes a lot of work to be successful at it. I have seen too many printers spend too much time focusing on the software and forgetting that internet traffic is not free or easy to get.
Building good software requires a very desirable skill set in our current economy. Virtually every single company on the planet needs to utilize software in order to increase their efficiency and reach more customers.
Getting outside perspectives into your print business is important, especially when implementing a Print MIS or other print software. You want people who see a wide variety of print businesses to weigh in on best practices.
Define the challenge you're trying to solve before you jump into a shortcut that borrows from another feature in your Print MIS or web-to-print. If you borrow too much, you’re implementation of the software will get detached from the vendor’s product roadmap—which can be expensive and painful.
The value in the print industry today is migrating from the production floor to the mobile device of your customers. How are you investing in providing your customer access to your business from their phone?
Print software is a pile of features that solve business process challenges. You have to learn how to prioritize what’s the next most important feature in the software by comparing its impact against all the other features.
Don’t let a feature stop you from implementing what works for you today. Don’t let the people in your organization that are good at looking for all the ways something won’t work win. Implement what works and then find ways around the missing features. Waiting is keeping your business in neutral.
Your print business has two kinds of challenges: the challenge of getting jobs out the door (tactical) and the business of continuing to strategically evolve so you maintain relevance and competitive advantage in the marketplace.
Learning is the most important part of software procurement decisions. The vendor needs to learn about you (to assess if you are a good fit for their solution) and you need to learn about the vendor. An RFP doesn’t facilitate any learning.
A learning event vs. a selling event—that is the event the print industry needs. An event where you go to solve your challenges through active collaboration, open-minded because nobody is trying to sell you anything.
Internal communication deserves better tools than email. Real collaboration happens best when more, not fewer, people are involved. Taking internal communication out of email reduces the cognitive overhead of deciding whom to communicate with.
Your print sales team has to evolve to understand and be able to sell the value of the software that enables print demand from business processes. Every printer should have a direct revenue line for their software.
The level of trust you have in the data in your Print MIS impacts all aspects of your business. When printers get their Print MIS to be “trustworthy,” they can move a whole lot faster, with less labor costs, and be more responsive to the never-ending request for more data from all stakeholders in your business.
Everyday, most of us choose the most important thing to work on. The employees in the carpeted area of your print business are making these decisions everyday. Do you know what they are prioritizing? Do you know how they are spending their time? You should measure time just like you measure revenues, profits, and costs.
Being strategic about print software is nearly impossible when you are in a crisis. Too many print software decisions are made under duress. When you have the discipline to plan before the crisis, you are being strategic.
The toolset for solving business workflow challenges has completely changed in the last decade. If the only tool(s) you’re deploying are email, spreadsheets, and/or PDFs, you are using yesterday’s tools to solve today’s challenges.
All print business owners want more data about their businesses so they can make better decisions. It isn’t about reporting packages or business intelligence tools—it’s really about how your business generates data on a daily basis.
I wish all customers’ top priority was purchasing high-quality print; it isn’t. Your customer’s have upstream problems. The printers who go upstream and solve these problems will be rewarded as manufacturers downstream.
Learning is the experience of trying to do something without parental supervision. It is not watching a trainer do something and shaking your head that you understand. Holding your people accountable for learning activities is the most important part of improving user adoption of new tools in your print business.
Your print business is rich with patterns. By looking at patterns we can find ways to codify those patterns into processes that make us more efficient. You need real human processing for your business—free this up by taking the recurring stuff off their plates.
Automation starts with an understanding of the business process and how it’s done “manually.” Documenting this business process is called a “standard operating procedure” which is where you can begin your journey to some level of automation.
Your customers want convenience. Printers who prioritize around making it easy to do business with their customers will differentiate themselves. Don’t wait until your best customers demand online ordering and self-service access to the business they do with you—do it proactively and strategically instead of under duress.
Software is like a press; it needs to be staffed. Software is like a press; it needs to be maintained. Software is like your business; it needs to keep evolving. Your most important piece of software is your Print MIS—dedicate the tasks of your Print MIS to one individual.
New software tools are often rejected because the humans feel like their jobs are being replaced by computers. Software does math better, faster, and more accurately than humans—that is not debatable. But new tools augment brainpower—not replace it.
Your print business is being invaded by software tools. These tools require a level of thinking/concentration that requires blocks of uninterrupted time for your employees. Without this uninterrupted time, your software will remain grossly underutilized and lacking measurable ROI.
Think of your go-live date for your Print MIS as a flood. Prepare for it by training everyone how to create sandbags and then monitoring that everyone actually applied the learning and figured out how to do their jobs in the new system BEFORE go-live.
When buying and implementing print software, start with the simple jobs software does well, implement and learn. Do not get stuck in a myriad of “use case exceptions” as an excuse to do nothing. You will never get ROI and you’ll never find software that can do everything.
A lot of crazy things can happen in estimating departments. But estimating is the foundation of your print business. If your estimates are grossly inaccurate, you risk the utilization of your precious resources for the privilege of losing money. If your estimates are right on target, you are able to make very strategic decisions about customer pricing. Essentially, the estimating department is your profit management center.
Leading by example is the most powerful way to approach challenging business environments. When the leadership is engaged in constant learning, the culture of the company is much more likely to be a learning organization. If I could pick only one characteristic of a business, it would be learning because if you’re learning, you’re staying relevant against any future changes.
Technical people are a differentiator in your business—not just the typical geeks, but technical people at every position in your company. When your print business is staffed by technical people, they have a greater potential to deliver profitable growth.
Integrated software is a requirement for an end-to-end workflow. You will be faced with lots of decisions around integration when you’re purchasing new software tools. Never let integration to be a yes/no question—it requires much more exploration and understanding.
Software implementations evoke fear in the minds of your employees—these fears are manifested in a variety of ways. You should be looking for fear, not reacting to the symptoms of fear that cause all kinds of issues with print software implementations.
Your customers expect more than a “print order taker” print sales representative. Successful printers require a sales team that can dig in and learn about their customer’s business processes that involve print. When you understand the business process that print is involved in, you get the opportunity to solve other challenges and create more value for your customers. This is now an expectation of most customers.
The topic of Print MIS software can be a dangerous topic to bring up if you want to keep things low-key or drama-free. Most printers are really frustrated with their MIS. I’ve been working on customer-facing technology (web-to-print) my whole career—the Print MIS is by far the most important software tool you have in your business.
Software is never done. It has to keep moving to stay compatible. It operates in business processes that keep changing. The consumer expectation of how fast and easy software can change is being set by some of the most valuable companies on the planet.
What are you investing in that will result in the true differentiation of your print business? An important question in a market where many commercial printers look alike (same equipment, same sales approach, similar online tools). I think differentiation is about solving additional customer challenges that your competitors don't even know about.
Once you make a print software decision, you have to enforce it by communicating the strategy clearly and then repeatedly. Your people will forget, your business will evolve, sales people will appear from other solutions trying to convince your team of a different path.
Your web-to-print solution is underutilized. Do all functional areas of your company—sales, customer service, technology—understand all the challenges your current web-to-print system solves? Probably not. You can’t be “solution focused” without understanding the challenges your toolset solves.
A print business that learns is one that has a foundation for tracking its business processes and improving on them. From a cultural standpoint, a learning organization has to be able to talk openly about mistakes made from all levels of the organization.
The implementation of print software is as important as the software itself. With every software tool there is a foundational knowledge that will help you be more self-sufficient. Those printers who understand their software tools succeed in spite of lack of support from print software vendors.
The ability to make data-driven decisions is critical to your business success. The various software systems (Print MIS, web-to-print) are your primary tools for managing this data. When you do integrations make sure you keep the control of right data in the right hands.
The process of getting your Print MIS into a “trusted state” can be difficult, but the effort is well worth it. Printers who 100% trust the data in their Print MIS move faster and are more profitable than those who are constantly questioning the data.
Print software is a powerful tool to create efficiencies in your business. Your success with print software is dependent upon how well you can make the various technologies work and play together in your overall technology stack.
Buying more software isn’t always the best option. Duplicate solutions that solve the same set of challenges (e.g. multiple web-to-print solutions) have extra costs and require extra understanding by your sales team. Buying software should be at the same strategic level as buying presses is in your print business.
Working smarter is an evolution. Digital tools are providing us ways to work more efficiently, but it comes down to being able to work with other humans. Efficient communication is the key to working smarter and optimizing the digital tools at our disposal.
When sales become more complicated, involving more people on both sides of the equation, you need a team player to facilitate collaboration. A winning sales team is a combination of subject matter expertise and relationship building.
A disruptive market creates the conditions for acquisitions. This has been happening with printers for years and print software vendors are experiencing the same conditions. As a customer of these products, you must understand the conditions of the acquisition in order to prepare for how it will impact you as a customer of the software.
When you invest in software for your print business, it’s like a marriage because you want to have a healthy long-term relationship with the vendor. Changing software is painful and expensive (like divorces).
You work with a team. It’s time to upgrade the tools you use to foster more efficient teamwork and better management of the artifacts that are created in projects. Email with attached files doesn’t cut it anymore. We are creating an isolated mess of artifacts that cannot be effectively found or used in the next project.
A culture of finding ways to optimize software in your business is something you can control. The successful printers will be the ones who are getting the most of their print software tools—mostly by being open to evolving their own workflows to fit the how the software works best.
The source of our innovation is moving from the production floor to the customer’s mobile device. We are going from the differentiation based on speed, quality, and finishing to differentiation based on solving customer’s data challenges way upstream of the printing press.
Sales is about catering your company’s solutions to the specific challenges that are relevant to their current situation. There is no better way to lose a prospect’s attention then to talk about subjects that aren’t relevant to them.
The transition between sales and implementation of web-to-print systems can be a rough road for the implementation team and the customer. The leadership of the implementation belongs with the printer—all too often the customers take the leadership and run the project off a cliff after spending lots of time and money.
When you lose a sales deal, how does your company react? Do you have a culture of learning from losses or do you have a culture of blaming? A sales loss is a treasure trove of learning—successful companies evaluate and adjust for their next pitch.
Prepress automation, streamlining your customer service department, and reducing the time between inquiry and jobs getting on press – these are common feature requests for web-to-print systems. They are all about you (the printer) – web-to-print isn’t about you! Web-to-print is for your customers!
Every industry is being transformed by a new staffing option for the “jobs to be done” and that staffing option is software. Your business needs to get stuff done—some of that stuff needs to be done by humans and a lot of that stuff needs to be done by software.
WhatTheyThink is the global printing industry's leading independent media organization with both print and digital offerings, including WhatTheyThink.com, PrintingNews.com and WhatTheyThink magazine versioned with a Printing News and Wide-Format & Signage edition. Our mission is to provide cogent news and analysis about trends, technologies, operations, and events in all the markets that comprise today’s printing and sign industries including commercial, in-plant, mailing, finishing, sign, display, textile, industrial, finishing, labels, packaging, marketing technology, software and workflow.