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).
Did you realize your business was getting married when you made that decision to purchase the print software that is critical to running your business?
You did. (Get married…to the vendor.)
You might not have thought about it that way during the sales process, but then again, the sales process is a lot like dating. You and the print software vendor only show your best sides. The software vendor plays the more stereotypical male role and pays for dinners, drinks, etc. They also are the chaser in the relationship because their goal is to close the deal. I won’t go into the dating analogy there—this is a family-friendly publication.
So, you’re married now. Not because of the contract you signed; you can easily get out of that. Not because of the money you spent; businesses walk away from sunk costs all the time. No, you’re married because you must make this partnership work by working together over the long haul. Neither party can make it work without the other—both parties are required to put forth effort.
This is one of the areas that gets confusing in a marriage between a print software vendor and a printer. From the real-life examples I’ve seen, I’ll describe what a successful marriage looks like. Just like human partnerships, it isn’t always positive or perfect.
For the printer, a successful marriage to a technology vendor depends a lot on one thing. Did the printer “adopt” the technology solution after they bought it? Do they treat it like it’s their tool? When a printer adopts a technology tool, they invest in their people to learn the tool. They build incentives around creating internal expertise around the tool. They spend real money and effort on learning the best practices of using the tool. They find other printers using the tool; call it a support system for the shared experience of using this software.
A printer who “adopts” the technology is almost always successful, but their success is not entirely dependent on the vendor/partner’s behavior. They are controlling most of the factors that impact their success with the software. You could say they are the driver in the relationship.
For a software vendor, a successful marriage to a customer is greatly determined during the sales process. Did the software vendor’s sales team sell the right product into the customer? When the wrong product is sold, the marriage is destined for a divorce which may come after many years of struggle, or they might even decide to live together forever in mutually agreed distain. Many of these decisions happen under the influence of alcohol, and the exuberance about what was seen on a tradeshow floor.
When the right product is sold into the customer, then the vendor’s job is to support the customer in their use of the software for their specific business. A vendor needs to set realistic expectations, which might be a little different than the expectations set during the sales process. This can be painful, but if you don’t adjust expectations early, you’ll set yourself up for lots of pain later. A software vendor’s job is to help transfer knowledge about their product to enable the printer to optimize their use of the software. The transfer of knowledge can come in many forms: formal training, support calls, on-site consulting, etc. The vendor has an established approach to the transfer of knowledge. A great way to optimize the transfer of knowledge is to first ask the printer what their priorities are. One of my biggest complaints about print software training is that they don’t prioritize based on specific customer needs. Why do you need training on something you don’t intend to use ever?
Because software is constantly changing, the marriage must evolve over time. For printers, the key to a long-term relationship is to feel like they have a “say” in the future of the product, some way to influence it or give feedback that actually results in features/functionality. For the software vendor, this feedback is critical to their ability to keep you on the maintenance plan and attract new customers. The software is under a lot pressure to add any feature any prospect mentioned to a sales representative because if that sales person fails to close that sale, they will blame the software. Any feature that an existing customer mentions that is holding them up.
One of the key weaknesses in the relationship between printers and print software vendors is that communication about the product roadmap. Both sides of the equation are so busy, this communication breaks down and becomes a source of frustration. Lots of work is being done on both sides, but the communication channels break down and nobody gets credit for the work.
Marriages take work, but they work better when there are aligned expectations and solid communication. Buying software is a marriage because you should think of it as a long-term commitment. Changing software solutions is expensive; supporting multiple software solutions is complex and costly. Look at each software purchase as long-term relationship that will be a constant work in progress.