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.
Whenever more than one organization needs to come together to get something done (e.g. implementation of a web-to-print solution), the “project” is led by someone. All too often, the customer takes the lead because the printer’s implementation resources fail to assume the leadership role they should hold.
What does this mean?
Let’s start back where it all begins: with sales. The printer’s sales team has successfully sold a customer-facing technology (web-to-print) into their customers presumably as part of a print program sale. For our discussion purposes (try to imagine this), the sales representatives know nothing about the software, they are not focused on it (no commission tied to it), they reluctantly included it in the deal because the customer required it. I know it’s hard to imagine any of that.
The sale is consummated. Sales representative is calculating commission check. Customer is ready to start using the web-to-print system. Because of what has transpired up until this point, we are not exactly set up for success here. The parties have not really discussed the implementation as any discussion of the “details” was spurned by the sales representative as “slowing the deal down.” So now we’re in the “honeymoon” phase of the sale and we must establish expectations and dive into the details of a software implementation. We are transitioning from a “sales relationship” where “yes” was the default answer and overpromising might have been habitual into a software implementation relationship where two organizations must collaborate to successfully deploy the software and dive into the details.
Software implementation is not run by sales people. Software implementation is run by people who are by definition living in the details. The challenging part is that the customer has pre-built expectations from the sales process and the implementation team doesn’t have the context. The sales representative typically sticks around during the initial phase to make sure the customer is happy; so you have the “yes” guy who knows nothing about the software interjecting into the details of the implementation project.
How does an implementation team take the leadership role in this situation?
It is difficult because the sales team is constantly giving the power back to the customer. Customer asks when something can be done; the sales person answers without checking with the implementation team. The sales person is still selling.
A successful web-to-print project is one where the printer’s implementation team learns enough about the customer’s business in order to deploy the web-to-print technology in an optimal way for that customer. A successful web-to-print project is one where the customer learns enough about the technology to understand how to optimally use it to solve their specific business challenges. There are two organizations here; they need to both learn from each other (less talking more listening—the opposite of sales). Open, honest, collaboration leads to an excellent web-to-print implementation. It is not easy, and it is not the default. It is almost easier to tell you what typically happens that makes this open, honest collaboration not happen.
- The customer drives the whole thing, assumes the web-to-print solution can do anything they need (because the sales representative said it could). The customer looks at the project as something they can drive to solve any challenge exactly how they want to solve it. You are dead as an implementation team in this scenario.
- The printer’s implementation team is so rigid that they have a one-size-fits-all approach to implementation which basically means they are not here to learn anything. They are here to walk the customer through a pre-defined process that doesn’t take anything about the customer into consideration. The chances of a customer getting any ROI out of this approach are almost zero.
- There is no driving leadership on either side. The customer is passive, the implementation team is passive. The project will be passive. These are the projects that drag out over months and months—consuming time (and money) and delivering no value to either party.
Here are some recommendations for your approach to web-to-print implementations so you can avoid the common mistakes.
- Have an implementation process but make sure that process includes first learning about the customer and then determining which steps in which order make sense for the customer.
- Prevent a lot of this trouble by investing time into getting your sales team more involved, more educated, and on your team so that they can pass off the implementation with the expectation that you will be the leader and the customer is in good hands.
- Set the cadence of the project on your first interaction with the customer. Have a launch meeting. Dictate regular check-ins. Avoid “too many cooks in the kitchen”—the smaller the project team the more likely its success.
- Establish a centralized place to communicate about tasks and status (NOT EMAIL). Use a project management tool like Basecamp. Hold individual people accountable.
- Have a debrief after every single implementation—if you don’t make small adjustments to your process after every implementation, you are not paying attention. Each implementation should get better because you are learning.