The Costs of Supporting Multiple Print Software Solutions
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.
As a print owner or part of the print management at a print company, how do you think about the task of “procurement” when it comes to buying new printing equipment or software technology? Most print business owners I’ve met are really comfortable with buying new print equipment. When I say “comfortable.” I really mean they seem to enjoy keeping up with the new advances in equipment and the strategy for replacing existing equipment to optimize their manufacturing capabilities. This isn’t something anyone needs to remind them of, or that drops off their radar, because they see it as a core part of their leadership of the overall company. This all makes sense; if you’re running a manufacturing company, keeping your manufacturing capabilities modern is obviously important.
But…are you really running a manufacturing company anymore?
Is print about manufacturing or is it about communication? When print was the primary way companies communicated with their customers, the industry could really be all about manufacturing. Now that the communication options have expanded greatly with digital alternatives, print has to compete as a communication medium and the manufacturing complexities need to be invisible to the customer buying print.
Procurement priorities need to include the software technologies that make it easier to buy print from you and generally do business with you. Unfortunately, I hear just the opposite from print owners and print management executives about their comfort level in buying software. Not surprisingly, this lack of comfort means this isn’t something they enjoy doing, so it’s pushed off until later—forcing a lot of these decisions to be made under duress.
Could you imagine buying a new digital press that does exactly what your old one does but better and keeping the old one around even though you don’t need the extra capacity or the flexibility of two machines? You would never do that because you know the costs of having two machines around. Why do we do that so often with web-to-print solutions? So many printers are supporting multiple web-to-print solutions, yet very few of them understand the real costs of buying/subscribing to multiple solutions that do the same thing.
I was speaking with a print executive the other day who is in the middle of a major transition with their entire technology stack (Print MIS, Inventory, web-to-print, composition, etc.). There is this opportunity to recruit a sales executive away from another printer who is promising to bring all their accounts with them on day one (what sales representative doesn’t make this claim?). In the negotiations with this sales executive, they expressed their demand that the new company adopt the technology that his customers are using today for order entry, order management, and inventory. What would you do? The print executive I was speaking to used the term “no-brainer” because the amount of net new sales was significant, so adding the technology seems like an easy investment to make to get the business. I have a different opinion.
Adding another software solution to your technology mix is complicated for the following critical reasons:
- You have to staff to learn, maintain, implement, and support this additional technology. Once this technology has been deployed to a live customer who has live users, it is essentially permanent because who has time or the courage to burden your customers with a software transition if the technology is working for them?
- Any order entry technology has to integrate to your backend (MIS, inventory, pre-press automation); once you buy another web-to-print you will need to pay for the integration as well as pay for the staff to learn, maintain, and support the integration through upgrades of either technology.
- When you have two customer-facing technologies that do the same thing, your marketing team (do you have a marketing team?) has to explain to your sales team which one to sell. Most print sales people are challenged selling the idea of web-to-print. Do you know what you’re doing by asking them to not qualify the customer and pick between multiple solutions? I’ll tell you what happens: they show both solutions to the customer and ask them to choose. This is terrible idea because the customer always wants some combination of the two that doesn’t exist and sees you not as the expert.
The best idea for print software procurement is to treat it with the same strategic priority as you do your manufacturing procurement. You don’t think in silos when you replace your digital press, you think both upstream and downstream of the new press to make sure it fits in the workflow. These are major considerations when you’re talking to press manufacturers. Do the same thing with software. Every single piece of software you buy needs to fit into your overall strategy. If you have to have two different web-to-print solutions, there had better be a very good reason for it (e.g. one is a photo product application, the other is a marketing communication portal).
Software is less expensive than presses; the investment to get started in some software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions is hardly noticeable to your budget (hundreds of dollars per month) so it’s easy to buy multiple solutions. The strategic decision-making has to overlay all software decisions otherwise you’ll quickly create a large mess that is impossible to support and leaves you with many solutions that nobody on your team has time to become an expert at. The printers I see experiencing great success with web-to-print are creating deep internal expertise on the platform they selected and then spending a lot of time helping their sales team understand the unique challenges it solves. This targets the sales people to find customers with these specific challenges.
The people in your organization who are most pressed for time are your technical people. Don’t burden them by asking them to take care of multiple solutions when one solution will do. Vendors don’t mind selling you your third web-to-print solution; it’s their job to sell you their product. The strategic decision-making responsibility is all on you as the business leader. Becoming a strategic software buyer is a key skill to running a print business in this digital era.