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.
Jennifer Matt takes an in-depth look at Liftoff, not a traditional web-to-print solution, but one that has expanded its feature set into other software areas (e.g., CMS, ERP). For example, the Liftoff product suite allows you to create content like blogs on your web-to-print solution.
Sales is being reinvented in the age of self-service. When the customer can make a buying decision without parental supervision (aka a sales representative), you can turn marketing into a sales engine.
Launching a new way of interacting with our customers can be scary. It is also the best way to learn how to iterate the solution going forward. The sooner you realize you don’t know how your customers are going to utilize new tools, the better for your business. It makes you a better listener and helps your customers feel heard.
Automation is the sexy sales and marketing term. Process improvement is where the magic happens. Keep your reality hat on and think about automation at the discrete task level of your business process.
Constraints are real. You can feel limited by them or you can decide to work with them in a way to maximize your results. No business is without constraints. With print software, humans and existing software are critical constraints to embrace.
Being busy doesn’t equate to business success. Is your busy-ness leading you in the right direction? Or are you being led by your inputs? Prioritization takes uninterrupted time and discipline, it results in your activities having strategic direction.
This Print Software Product Spotlight looks at EFI’s Midmarket Suite. EFI’s “suite” approach to software solutions essentially pre-packages a group of products that already work together to solve end-to-end workflows.
A strategic feature of software is a value driver that generally has prerequisites in order to reap the benefits of the feature. The sales process generally skips the prerequisites (for obvious reasons). It is your responsibility as the buyer to understand precisely what it will take to reach the potential.
Lift Software Print MIS/ERP was invented inside a large wide format printer. That alone will tell you a lot about how Lift perceived the challenges of running a print business. For most Print MIS solutions, supporting wide format has been an add-on to a more traditionally focused offset or digital print manufacturing focus. For Lift it is clearly a deep specialty.
The documentation of your repeating processes will change your business in so many ways. No matter how inefficient you might be today, the simple act of documenting processes and committing to iterative improvements will turn your business into a continuous improvement engine.
Software solutions have features that overlap and are outright solving the exact same issues. Just be careful of the tendency to assume that a small feature means more than it really does. Be wary of where the feature gets done in your workflows.
Lots of activity, little in the way of results is often the situation when your culture jumps to solutions without defining the problem first. Pause, say the problem out loud. Ask others to say it in their own words. Don’t move to the “how” until you all agree on the “what.”
The PrintVis Print MIS/ERP is an offering that combines a globally recognized ERP system from Microsoft (Dynamics 365 Business Central), with the print industry specific addon from PrintVis, and in this article we’re featuring Sabre Limited as the implementation partner.
Where are you headed? What is your strategic goal? Then who is going to execute on all the tasks required to reach that goal. Strategy + execution plays a part in almost every project you take on in your business—especially print software projects.
Training is not learning. Training is something you hire other people to do to you. Learning is something that you do. Start building a learning culture now in your print business; it is the only defense to the acceleration of change in our industry.
The integrity of your print business data is a foundational building block of your business. It impacts how fast you can move. Lack of data integrity is like an anchor your business has to drag around—it slows almost every aspect of your business down.
Replacing your Print MIS might be one of the most important projects you take on in the history of your business. Shopping is not the first step. Assessing your data and your processes is ideally done before you start interacting with software sales representatives.
Laggards are people in your company who have stopped learning and actually insist on doing their job in the same way they have been doing it, and for one reason: it’s the way they’ve been doing it. Investing in your laggards to drive software utilization is a good investment.
You getting paid is as much a part of your customer’s experience as placing the order. Make every effort to streamline how much customer time you consume. A vendor that is easy to do business with creates loyal customers.
You can’t start printing until you have approved artwork, but you don’t have complete control over this step in the process. You can optimize your press and finishing processes down to the second, yet you might wait three full days for artwork approval. The best you can do is make it as easy as possible for the customer to respond in a timely manner. Don’t confuse them, don’t make them work, and don’t underestimate convenience.
How are orders managed before they hit the press? In this third part of a five-part series, Jennifer Matt defines the complete order process from initial inquiry to invoice payment. This means a great deal of the process happens in the carpeted area of your print business.
Think about your front office in terms of what “objects'' you need to manage there. In part 2 of a five-part series, we discuss customers and prospects. This means tracking sales activities and inserting more valuable information (both quantitative and qualitative) into your Print MIS regarding your customers.
This article, the first of a five-part series on the modernization of your print business front office, starts with some guiding principles and then discuss the various “objects” that are managed by the carpeted area of your plant.
If you run a print manufacturing business, chances are you should invest in a print-specific MIS/ERP solution. However, proceed carefully if you insist on adopting a generic MIS/ERP software solution. Don’t get caught up in paying for customizations that are expected features for a print business.
Technical skills are important in every functional area of your print business and sales is no exception. Every salesperson needs to be able to calmly and strategically uncover business challenges and communicate these challenges to your technical resources without limiting potential solutions or setting unreasonable expectations with the customer.
Understanding your customer segmentation and even more importantly the “jobs” the printed products do for your customers can help you better target your sales efforts. Diversity is a hedge against catastrophic market segment collapse (another lesson of COVID-19).
Feature requests are popular. The default response to new software to ask for it to be changed to fit the way you specifically think it should fit into your specific environment. “Change your processes to optimize your use of the software” is the one statement that would save the print industry millions of dollars.
The printing industry is becoming more dynamic—not just as it relates to COVID-19 but in general. Everything is moving and increasing in velocity. Our ability to thrive in this environment requires a dynamic business approach, one that is characterized by constant change. A business must adjust according to its current conditions. This is a path to systemizing a dynamic business, one that is characterized by constant change—but a constant change that doesn’t leave your people behind.
Integrate with your customers’ systems so that your technologies have relationships just like your people have relationships. The more ties that bind you and your customers together, the less likely you will divorce!
Selling during the pandemic is like selling during a widespread economic downturn. You have to figure out the market segments who are least impacted or, in COVID-19’s case. find the companies who are positively impacted. Directing your sales efforts is critical to closing new business.
The future of your customer service department still involves skilled labor. In fact, the labor is more skilled than it is today and it will be able to handle more volume because of the self-service tools your customers will have access to. Customer service will turn into customer success—a proactive element to drive more business and maintain loyalty thru convenience.
WhatTheyThink Print Software section editor Jennifer Matt looks back at the year 2020 in software, some of the trends that emerged from the pandemic, and how software has become an important element in helping print companies adapt and pivot.
Humans resist change, even when it provides them real value. If you need a group of humans to change, you have to think about your approach in order to optimize the outcomes. This applies to your existing customers and how they engage with your business.
Selling during the pandemic is like selling during a widespread economic downturn. You have to figure out the market segments that are least impacted or, in COVID-19’s case, find the companies that are positively impacted. Directing your sales efforts is critical to closing new business.
A crisis is also an opportunity, and COVID-19 is no exception. The rate of adaptation taking place is one of the most powerful forces at play in 2020. Entire populations are expanding their comfort zones with online tools, remote learning, and working from home.
Your business processes need to move off of paper and into software. This was important before COVID-19, and like everything else, COVID-19 has simply accelerated this trend. Paper is no longer a viable business process medium.
Sales is never going back to normal. The pandemic didn’t create anything new—it simply accelerated what was already happening. Evolve your sales team now; donuts and face to face meetings aren’t coming back.
Most web-to-print software solutions are built inside software companies. Propago was built inside a large commercial printer. This is a unique origin story for a software platform and it tells us a lot about how and why features made it into the Propago product. Print Software Section Editor Jennifer Matt takes a close look at Propago’s web-to-print solution.
Making decisions wears us out, even easy decisions like what to wear, what to eat for breakfast. Decision fatigue is something we need to manage especially when it comes to projects that require lots and lots of decisions (like Print MIS implementations).
Web-to-print portals are the enabling technology behind a “print program” which can elevate your relationship with your customers from transactional to relational. That relationship becomes “stickier” when technology is embedded into the customer’s organization.
Don’t have a mindset like a lighthouse. Have a mindset like a fast, nimble, ship with the most advanced navigation systems. When navigating the waters of the print manufacturing industry, stationary businesses will not survive.
Like it or not, all work involves learning. Not like our education system, but self-directed, project-based learning. You have to be a self-learner and as a leader you have to hold your people accountable for self-learning.
As your business matures and grows, you will need to improve your processes. As software invades every corner of your business, your processes have to change to adapt to the new reality. You need to know who in your company is a process creator.
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.
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.