Evaluating Strategies and Setting Goals
Print companies must have clear strategies and goals to ensure continued success when implementing web2print. The first step is to evaluate the type of sales they make. There are two basic types of sales a print company makes: business to business (B2B) and business to consumer (B2C). It is very common for a printing company to serve a primarily B2B customer base; however, since B2C requires a vastly different storefront, this decision needs to be made early in the process of implementing web2print.
Once a print company determines the type of storefront its customers need, it should research the three basic types of service: print on demand (POD), variable data printing (VDP), and static warehoused items. By analyzing its target market, a print company can determine which of these services customers will use most. Once the print company chooses a software vendor that can provide the most suitable storefront, only then can it decide on the specific services to offer each of its customers.
Therefore, to be successful, a print company must:
- Know the target market
- Choose an appropriate vendor and storefront
- Make plans to add new customers to the system by setting goals
- Choose the types of products to offer to each customer based on need
Know the Target Market
Every print company has a different customer base, and thus serves a different market. A print company must analyze the customers it serves to determine exactly what its target market is. The biggest mistake print companies make when committing to the purchase of an online ordering system is not researching the technology in relation to their target market. Print companies should choose the system that best suits their needs and benefits their customers. There are hundreds of vendors and products with thousands of features, so print companies need a strategy to ensure they can maximize their return on investment (ROI) while providing the best possible services to their specific, targeted customer base.
Choosing a Digital Storefront and Variable Software
Since not all vendors of e-commerce systems are the same, print companies need to exercise due diligence in making their choice of vendor. They should analyze their own internal workflow to ensure they find a vendor that best meets their specific needs. As well, print companies should determine what their employees’ strengths are and ensure the appropriate staff are hired to accommodate online needs. Staff involved in the implementation and operation of an e-commerce ordering system need a basic knowledge of many web-based programming languages in order to give them a good grasp of the back-end coding necessary to build and maintain the online system. Every online ordering system uses its own method of coding to create its storefronts and templates, so having previous programming knowledge is a major asset.
Many companies such as IBM, HP, Creo, and EFI are building platforms to provide VDP service to print companies. The software these companies provide creates a web2print workflow. This includes the internal processes needed to print a job, as well as a client-facing website, from which customers can order. It is important to understand the benefits of every digital storefront as they all offer different options. Digital storefronts must provide a simple ordering process for the customer while being very robust and efficient for the print company. Selecting the order quantity and displaying pricing should be simple and not confusing for the end-user. Customizing VDP products or ordering POD or warehoused items should be simple and quick. The ability to split products for multiple-shipping destinations should also be considered.
Selecting a storefront that can be integrated into a management information system (MIS) to streamline orders from customization to invoicing is beneficial. The ability to have customers approve or reject orders placed by others is also beneficial, as it allows for an extra review to ensure order information is correct.
To ensure they make appropriate choices, print companies request copies of documentation from a software provider to see what they need to learn if they plan to be a self-service user of the software. They request references and ask how the software provider handles support, system outages, and upgrade development to get a sense of how other users perceive the company. Print companies attend demonstrations of the product and give specifics on what they want to hear beyond the generic sales pitch. Print companies also seek specific information about short- and long-term product upgrades, which gives them a chance to glimpse the software company’s strategic vision and how the product might develop in the future.
Other Considerations Before Purchasing
Print companies take other considerations into account before purchasing software.
Usability: If they have current B2B customers, print companies ask them to test the software before committing to a purchase. If these end-users have difficulty using the software, then it is not the right choice. If print companies have B2C customers, they ask someone without any print knowledge or experience to test the product. Testing against online competitors to see how the software compares is another way print companies assess the usability of a product. They also research customer feedback.
Partnership compatibility: The relationship between a print company and a software provider is a partnership, not just a sales interaction. Print companies are in frequent contact with their software provider to solve technical difficulties, arrange training, or add improved services. Therefore, determining if the software provider will make a compatible partner is important. Print companies don’t rely solely on what the sales rep tells them; they try to get a sense of the software provider’s team by calling the support desk and talking to customer service. This helps print companies determine how well they will be treated and whether the software provider’s staff are knowledgeable.
Features: Assessing software features is usually part of the decision-making process. Print companies generally want to know the following before purchasing:
- How easily will customers understand and use the software’s features in a self-service situation?
- Was the software built to support the print industry or first created for some other use and applied to the print industry? If the former, are the features transferable?
- Do the features allow set up and administration of the site, creation of B2B storefronts, and product development. Do they enable the print company to add variable elements, create users, and take orders without relying on the software provider?
An important tip when choosing software technology is to not put too much emphasis on the number of features offered. Features tend to constantly change, and more does not necessarily mean better. While software product development tends to centre on adding more features, it is not necessarily adding more value. If a feature is added to a product, but is never used by customers, it is possible that the feature did nothing more than add complexity to the ordering process. Such a feature may result in discouraging customers from using the system, or placing future orders.
Starting with a New Customer
One way to introduce a new customer to web2print is to build a single item for them. This allows the customer to learn the ordering process and the print company to learn and incorporate the customer’s products into a production workflow. A workflow should be designed to be as automated as possible, from order entry to production to invoicing. New workflows should include sufficient time to allow a customer to test the variable templates to extremes, entering best- and worst-case scenarios to ensure the template can perform in all situations without errors. Only once the initial workflow has been proven to be efficient should more products be added to the storefront. This ensures that both the customer (external activity) and the print company (internal activity) are confident enough in the workflow to handle more orders.
Setting Goals and Site Testing
Printing companies should allow time to educate their customers in all steps of the process when launching an e-commerce system or when adding a new variable-template-driven item. The easiest way to meet customer expectations is to involve them in the development process, regularly inviting feedback and eliciting suggestions for improvement. Customer satisfaction is important, so a company must ensure that it takes client feedback seriously, incorporating customer input to improve the service process. As the site is being developed, both the programmer and the customer need to rigorously test new products and templates to ensure they are completely satisfied long before allowing product ordering. It is common for a programmer to envision how a template will behave, while the customer intends it to behave in a different way. Often a customer has expectations that the programmer may not have foreseen. Once the entire site, including products and templates, has been developed, it still isn’t ready. A testing phase or pilot period is necessary to find any other bugs or shortcomings that may be more easily discovered once real data is being used. Implementing a pilot period before an official launch of the full workflow also allows everyone to learn how the system will impact them, exposes potential workflow issues (which can arise in the many steps between ordering and invoicing), and allows the customer to provide final feedback.
Most important to keep in mind is that the system only works when customers use it. They will often find opportunities during the pilot period to suggest where the process can be improved, as unforeseen problems are discovered only after people start using a new system or variable template. Often these user-experience issues can prevent adoption of the system by the customer. As well, customers may fall back to the more familiar method of traditionally ordering print if they do feel comfortable using the new system. Including the customer in the entire process allows for the greatest chance of success, and is the best way to ensure the success of the site.
Choosing the Right Type of Products
Before setting out to create products, a print company should determine whether it is a variable template, a print-on-demand piece, or a warehoused item. Other key information needed is the name of the product and the communication intent (i.e., Is the piece promotional or educational? What audience is it intended to reach? How knowledgeable is this audience?). Print companies also need to know whether the product will be ordered regularly or be a one-time communication. It is important to choose the right products before the development phase begins. It is common for a product to be almost completely programmed before it is discovered that another similar product would have been more appropriate. Below are explanations of the three most common types of products, followed by a list of more specific options.
Variable templates contain all the necessary information for a customer to customize and soft-proof a print order. This usually results in the creation of an automated, print-ready PDF, which is generated while the customer is still online.
A PDF of the design is created containing variable fields assigned for every element. Coding is then applied to each field to determine how the template will behave under given circumstances, such as during customization. For example, coding can force a name to be upper case or email to be lower case. Coding can also be used to upload custom images or force phone numbers to use hyphens (e.g., 604-123-4567) instead of dots (e.g., 604.123.1234). Coding is critical for keeping a customer’s brand consistent, so regardless of who creates an order, all products will be formatted consistently and have the same look.
Deciding which VDP software or plug-in is more appropriate and how it interacts with the digital storefront is important. VDP software comes in the form of third-party applications such as XMPie or is accessed online through a self-hosted dashboard.
Print on Demand
POD products are the opposite of VDP products. POD allows the customer to order a static product to be printed and shipped. POD products do not require customization and are printed using a completed file uploaded by the customer or stored in the system by the programmer.
Storefronts can act as an inventory management system for any products that can be warehoused. These products can be ordered online using the same process as a POD item. Each product has a real-time inventory count associated with it, which updates after every order. Notifications can be sent about low product inventory levels, reminding a customer that a product needs to be replenished. Inventory counts benefit customers by showing their buying patterns, which helps them to effectively determine future quantities.
Below are other examples of different types of products that can be ordered online:
- Ad hoc print: an online print product where the customer provides the content during the ordering process via file upload, such as brochures, flyers, and newsletters.
- Ad hoc business documents: an online print product where the customer provides the content during the ordering process via file upload, such as training manuals, presentations, and reports.
- Ad hoc oversize: An online print product where the customer provides the content during the ordering process via file upload, such as posters, signs, and banners.
- Static print product: An online print product where the content is stored in a catalogue and printed on demand after ordering, such as sales sheets, flyers, and white papers.
- Inventory product: An online print product where the content is stored in a catalogue and pulled from existing inventory after ordering.
- Digital publishing: An online product where the final product is a downloadable PDF instead of a printed product, such as white papers, personalized sales materials, and presentations.
- Kit: An online print product where the customer can buy a basket of goods contained in a single item.
- Promo product: A set of products that are branded with a logo for use in marketing or promotional programs, such as mugs, baseball hats, and pens.
- Integrated campaign: A product that combines multiple-marketing channels to create an integrated campaign a customer can use to track metrics when launching a new product or sales promotion.
- Photo product: An online print product using uploaded photos or photos from online collections, such as photo books, photo cards, and photo calendars.
- Quote request: An online print product used to request a quote for a print job.