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Web-to-print: Avoiding Typical Missteps

As your in-plant prepares to implement a Web-to-print solution, beware of these three common mistakes that many printers make.

January 2014 By Heath Cajandig
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Over the last 15 years, we have seen Web-to-print technologies become increasingly common. Thousands of print providers have stepped up to implement solutions to serve their customers, some with great success and others with not as much.

From the creation of the bleeding edge front runners to today's market where a myriad of specialized commerce solutions exist, I'm fortunate enough to have been heavily involved in this niche of the industry. For more than a decade I've been working with both vendors and printers on a daily basis as they go to market with new solutions in this space. Along the way, I've learned some things that I believe can make a real difference for you and your organization when it comes to offering online self-serve for your customer base.

I was once asked what the success rate was for my product(s) while I was a product manager working for a large, well-known print software company. My guess was that around 40 percent of the Web-to-print storefronts were still being used after 18 months…meaning that more than half of them ended up being shelfware. It was a very sobering realization.

Why is this the case? For the first half of my career, I was convinced that the technology was the problem, and while it has improved, I now understand that the biggest keys to success are all about how you identify the right challenges to solve and then deliver a well-planned solution to your customers.

Common Mistakes

Here are three of the most common mistakes that in-plant printers make when trying to implement a new Web-to-print solution.

Failing to understand which customers and problems your Web-to-print solution is for.

The most important thing you need to know about your services are the groups and types of customers that you serve within your organization. This means that you know who they are, what problems they need solved and why. You should have an answer to all of those questions for your most important customers off the top of your head, and if you don't, your customer service team does. Any technology or service you offer needs to be mapped to those who will be using it, and in this case you are implementing a solution for your customers to use.

Take the time to be clear about what you want to do and what you aren't trying to accomplish. Business cards, for example, are typically a product everyone orders, and the online solution solves the problems of personalization and proofing the content. It is an online service for practically everyone in your company or institution, and it makes their lives easier because they can quickly personalize their content and be given confidence that the finished product will have the right information.

On the other hand, consider complex bound documents for a moment. They are commonly ordered by training or educational organizations to serve as the learning or reference material for specific groups of people attending their classes. This is a very different need, and an online offering of value here requires specific functionality to best solve their problem. Customers' lives are being made easier because the solution may allow them to upload many files, assemble them, insert tabs, select paper stocks and many other options. The problem being solved is this: easier assembly, proofing and ordering of content and specifications by a learning or teaching department.

Think you can just get a solution that does everything? Probably not. Today's solutions are flexible and powerful but none are likely to solve all of the challenges your different customers want you to solve. Be very diligent in prioritizing what you want to solve online.

You have many groups of customers that have different problems. Make sure your entire business strategy is focused on prioritizing and measuring your success with each of them, and your technology decisions will become much easier.

Viewing the launch of your online storefront as a single big event.

One of the great lessons of the last 10 years in the Internet world is that everything is a guess or hypothesis until real customer use provides insights. You need a well-defined starting goal that gives your staff an opportunity to comfortably get their hands around the solution as not only a new service channel, but also an online customer service laboratory that will always be changing to better meet the needs of different customer groups.

The goal of your online launch should be to deliver the most basic solution that is still compelling enough to provide value to the group of customers you are starting with. Learn, adjust, prioritize and repeat as you enable more online services and functionality. Make sure you have a very clear idea of what you do and don't want to offer online. Think of your online storefront as an ATM—a self-service portal that allows the customer to accomplish things on their own when it is easiest. At the same time, you would never apply for a mortgage through an ATM. Likewise, trying to use an online storefront to handle complex tasks that are best done by people is a bad idea that generally results in people working around the system.

Failing to establish the right solution owner for this new way of offering services.

Launching an online solution impacts the entire organization, and you need someone who will be an owner and advocate across departments, both internally and externally. It has to be someone who understands the problems that your customers have and how your new solution will help make their jobs easier.

Your online solution is going to represent your services to your community, so it is really a marketing and revenue or service channel that needs a champion who understands the big picture. This has to be someone that can not only bring people together across departments inside your in-plant, but who can be an ambassador of your services in your communities of customers.

Note that I haven't once suggested that the product owner needs to be the most technical or skilled computer person in your organization. This is where people frequently go wrong. It helps if they have technical expertise, but taking someone from prepress who happens to be great at correcting difficult files, for example, and placing that person in charge of the Web-to-print solution isn't always a good idea.

The success of the storefront relies not on the technical setup, but on how the solution is delivered and configured as a service to your customers. Leaning on the computer geniuses for behind-the-scenes help makes sense, but don't confuse technical capability with the business, marketing and communication skills required to launch a Web-to-print storefront that will delight your customers.

Wrapping it up

Whether you are considering an online storefront for your customers, in the middle of an implementation, or lamenting the challenges and failures of one that you have, these tips can help you reach the level of online success you are looking for. Focus on the different customer groups you have, how you serve them and why you are important for each other.

Prioritize, and then select a target group and offer them a basic product or service that really makes a difference. Learn from that, and continue to expand your offerings as you keep racking up small victories...and failures (lessons).

Finally, understand that online commerce and services are the future. You need someone who is directly responsible for making sure that what you have to offer is well represented in this space, because it is a service and marketing channel, not simply a technical challenge.


Heath Cajandig serves on the Web2Print Experts team as an industry expert in product management and Web commerce solutions. Prior to joining Web2Print Exerts, he was a director of product management at Mimeo.com where he was responsible for product road map and execution for new initiatives. In addition, his prior experience with eCommerce for print includes serving as the global Web-to-print product manager at EFI. Before focusing on Web technologies, he gained operational experience as a workflow consultant for Xerox and was the digital production manager for University of Missouri Printing Services. Contact Heath at heathcc@gmail.com.
 

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