Hardware Focus Keeps Us All In the Past

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Hardware Focus Keeps Us All In the Past

“Will adding a software solution to this sale, slow it down or overcomplicate it?”

Does this sound familiar? I’ve heard this question a lot. A channel (large equipment manufacturer) sales force is so focused on selling hardware, the software solutions are frequently seen as a nuisance.

You can’t blame the sales team; the hardware could be as much as a $500K sale and you’re trying to convince him to spend sales cycles on a web to print solution that is $1K/month subscription. The commission on the web to print solution is probably too low to measure!

The impact of this spreads across the industry. The printer can sense a lack of focus on the software solutions – maybe he takes this as “it must not be very important.” The sales force doesn’t invest time in learning the software solutions because 90%+ of their commission comes from hardware.

Does the investment in hardware grow businesses? Not by itself.

Yes, it’s a requirement to have the capacity and the quality to manufacture your product but capacity and quality can be bought by all your competitors and MORE importantly your competition is NOT other printers – its alternative methods of communication and promotion other than print.

I can geek out with the best of them about new equipment, I had my time in that space dreaming about faster throughput, heavier stocks, larger sheets sizes, etc… Its time to collectively change our geek preferences to learning about how the web and software and everything about the digital economy is changing the way people communicate.

Are the new breed of pure online printer providers winning because they have different hardware than you? Nope. They don’t even call themselves printers – read any press release by VistaPrint, they never use the word printing! “a leading online provider of professional marketing products and services to micro businesses.”

Growth in this industry is about moving our focus upstream (away from the equipment) and onto ways of making the print procurement process brilliantly easy for customers as well as understanding who our real competition is.


  1. Bruce Watermann on August 15, 2010 at 1:33 pm

    At Blurb we require our print partners to be proficient in three areas; printing, IT, and fulfillment at a unit of one. I could make a case that printing is by far the easiest because all of the major player in digital printing will train you to use their equipment. IT can be hired in, and Jennifer is right on point that the integration between the presses and the production infrastructure is key. But an IT strategy that brings in the tools needed to track and produce orders down to a single SKU is critical to success.
    The landscape is clearly changing. Just take a look at a new ink jet production press and you’ll see that it is IT and operator-performed maintenance as a core competence that is required.

  2. Thomas Bougher on August 16, 2010 at 10:43 am

    Certainly a key to growth as we emerge from this economy is to leverage the investment already made in hardware with an investment in technology.

    In the recent past a print service provider could differentiate themselves with the hardware on their floor. Hardware alone could provide capability their competitor did not have.

    In the information age knowledge can now be communicated via pixels not just on paper. Hardware manufacturers who do not provide technology solutions are doing a great disservice to their clients. Printers who fail to leverage technology will not only fail to grow their business they will simply fail.

  3. Dwight Squires on August 16, 2010 at 10:44 am

    This is so true. Nearly all of the printers who embrace the web (not just put up a web site) are doing well. The others not so well. This seems to be a market differentiator in August, 2010.
    We are all buying mortgages, houses, dvds, books, and digital cameras on line. We are paying our bills on line, why do the printers think that we won’t buy at least our print ‘products’ on line too?
    young print buyers are looking for quotes on line and looking for printers who will answer their emails in seconds, rather than days. It has all happened quickly, but we won’t be going back to the old way any time soon.

  4. Jennifer Matt on August 16, 2010 at 4:34 pm


    Well put – track orders to a unit of (1) – that’s a long ways away from mass media, long run, lots of waste printing of the past.

    We think of 1:1 in the form of variable data products, your business is 1:1 in that your print providers need to figure out how to make money producing a single unit. Makes you rethink your entire process because if you’re operating in the developed world (high labor costs), manually tracking the order just once could eat up all the profits.

  5. Jennifer Matt on August 16, 2010 at 4:39 pm


    I think we all wish for the time where simply investing in the new machinery made us different – I think that time is not coming back – ever.

    We have to invest and innovate on how and what we deliver as our final products. The investment of course includes technology as you said, I also believe it involves getting more intimate with content and the purpose of the communication you’re producing. You can’t simply be a manufacturer of toner/ink on paper – you have to understand the intent in the communication and then look for ways to increase the value of that communication. This is the only way to compete against alternatives to print – understand the purpose and then be able to both advise where print is superior and hopefully offer alternatives where print isn’t.

  6. Jennifer Matt on August 16, 2010 at 4:45 pm


    You describe what many call “web-centric” behavior. People who look to the web first for virtually everything. If you look to the web for everything – then print better be included on the web. I think we get stuck in our own way, believing that print is special and requires special ordering skills, special language, special brain power. People are buying insurance in a self-service fashion on the web today, print can be procured in a self service fashion as well.

    The other trend I see is “transparency” – many printers are reluctant to offer self-service because they don’t want to expose their pricing. Sometimes I think its fear of showing pricing to their competitors or allowing price shopping, other times I know that there is no way to encode the black magic, seat of the pants, quote from the hip pricing that is going on out there. Customers want to buy without talking to you – that means they have to be able to get a price without talking to you.

  7. Amer Mallah on August 17, 2010 at 1:35 am

    This is right on! More and more, hardware is being reduced to a checkbox on a list, but the ability for a business to use that hardware in an impressive or useful way (this is almost always based on what software you have mastered) is what the great differentiator is. The argument can easily be made that this is not limited just to print, but all industries.

    A customer is always impressed by the dog and pony show of modern hardware and production techniques, but this is unfortunately very misleading. What they are really looking for is improving their ability to meet the needs of their own customers. Hardware only answers the question of “can it be done?”, but when a customer is trying to decide who can do it best, that’s where software comes in.

  8. Jennifer Matt on August 24, 2010 at 1:08 pm


    Hardware is core to our business but its our business. Our customers want to know how we’re going to impact THEIR business. Too many printers try to use hardware as their value proposition – how many printer websites have pictures of their presses? The customer wants to know about solutions not manufacturing techniques.

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