Every software tool sets out to solve a set of problems, all too often the problem is never defined because the sales process focuses on solutions, benefits, and features. Take the time to understand the problem print software solves and most importantly whether you have that problem!
Software is the business tool of our time, no doubt about that. The toolset has such great promise and then the inflated marketing around it can make it seem downright magical!
Software solves a problem. You should be perfectly clear on what problem the software you are evaluating solves before you buy it. Don’t think features, don’t think integration, don’t think cloud vs. self-hosted, understand and be able to communicate the problem it solves. There will be resistance to this line of questioning. The sales process is way more comfortable with talking about solutions, benefits, advantages, than it is defining the problem. Talking solutions is expansive, defining the problem can be limiting (like this problem is interesting but not relevant to my business aka welcome to the end of the sales process).
For example; a web-to-print solution could solve the problem of making order entry easier on your customers and available to them in a self-service fashion. Web-to-print can also solve other challenges that really don’t have anything to do with print like enabling a large community to have access to approved content that can be “localized” under brand guidelines and then digitally downloaded. One of the ways web-to-print software deals get off the rails is that printer looks for web-to-print to solve pre-press issues or production issues when web-to-print is really a tool to solve a challenge for your customers!
When you step back and look at software from the perspective of the problem it solves, you become a more informed software buyer. Too many businesses buy software for problems they don’t have. For example, there is a lot of print software out there that is promising automation. What if you don’t have the order volumes that warrant a heavy investment in automation? What if your orders require collaboration with the customer before they place the order? Never buy software thinking “I aspire to have this problem; therefore, I’ll buy the software that solves it.”
What is the primary problem the print software is solving (question #1)?
Do you have that problem? (question #2).
Are you sure (question #2a)?
If you are sure you have the problem, then proceed. If the answer is no, then focus elsewhere.
Don’t count on the vendor to explore whether you really have the problem their software solves or not. Their role in the transaction is to sell their solution. Their tendency is to go very broad in defining the problem so they can fit their software in more and more places. We did a panel discussion with Print MIS vendors at Dscoop last year, a gentleman in the audience stood up and described his business as one of the largest wide and super-wide format printers in the country. With just that sentence, I looked at the panelists and thought more than half of them should say their product is not a good fit. Don’t count on that happening. It didn’t happen on that panel, it doesn’t happen on everyday sales calls. Product fit is your job.
It is still a mystery to me why vendors don’t see the value in assuring product fit first (before the hard sales process begins). The short term “gain” of a software sale is far outweighed by the long-term pain of having a disgruntled customer who will be constantly asking your software to solve problems it was never meant to solve. You may “win” with a sale, yet at the same time you set the rest of your company up for failure because the problem your software solves isn’t relevant to the problems that customer has.
When evaluating software, the first couple questions should be about what the software solves well or is optimized to solve well. When you start here, then you’re figuring out whether there is alignment from the very beginning. I like to ask software companies, where their sweat spot is? What kind of printer do you typically work with, who do you experience the most success with? Some products are optimized to work with small print businesses where there isn’t lots of technical expertise on the ground. Other products require highly skilled technical people to write scripted rules and build workflows. Can you imagine (some of you don’t have to imagine at all because you’re living it) – buying into a solution that requires skills you have never had in your business?
Fall in love with the problem on all fronts. We think that talking solutions makes us look smarter, feel smarter, appear more productive. I’m finding just the opposite. The smartest people I engage with ask more clarifying questions, are more curious about the why? They take more time to try and truly understand the problem. When you fall in the love with problem you have more material to innovate with. When you step back and ask a few more questions, the immediate assumptions you made start to fail upon further inquiry.
The first solution is the most obvious and is the one based on the most untested assumptions. Just a few more clarifying questions can go a long way to a better understanding of the challenge. What problem are you trying to solve? What solution solves that challenge? When you make that match first, the probability of failed software investments decreases significantly.