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Naysayers and Yea-sayers

Every organization has naysayers and yea-sayers. The number of their complaints or compliments can affect—and even determine—the perception of the in-plant.

February 2011 By Howie Fenton
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For example, in one large university in-plant we learned that the largest group of customers bought stationery products. Of course, this is a commodity product, and in the focus group we learned that those customers appreciated the competitive prices. The next largest group of customers identified in the survey talked about more specialized and expensive products, including large-format printing and VDP. In the focus groups we learned that these customers felt the in-plant provided greater value than the competition, and these products were used for marketing and sales purposes.

Don't Ditch Commodity Products

What can you do with this kind of data? Many experts will say you have to distance yourself from the commodity products because it's too tough to compete on price for them. These same experts will tell you that you have to grow the more value-added products and services. While we agree with the second point, we disagree with the first. Often you need the volume of the commodity products to afford the slow growth of the more value-added products such as VDP.

We recommend that you don't try to discontinue the commodity products until you have exhausted your ability to drive the price to competitive levels. First work on automating the production of the commodity products so you can achieve cost competitiveness. It's possible that online solutions, automated prepress workflows and digital printing could lower your price to competitive levels.

Comparing Performance

One tool we use to measure how your customers compare performance to outside vendors is the NAPL Competitive Edge Profile. This is a way of learning more about your naysayers and yea-sayers. It's not a customer satisfaction survey in which you learn that your average score was 7 out of 10 (and then you wonder what you could do to improve your score). Instead, this is designed to ask your customers how you compare to outside suppliers, and you learn from more than 20 questions exactly where you are better or worse than the competition in your customers' eyes.

It's designed around a score of 100. A score below 100 means your customers say that your performance is not as good as the competition; a score between 100-105 means you're average; and a score above 105 means you're superior in your performance. Poor performance is predictive of challenges ahead. Three scores below 100 is average. Four scores below 100 says you'd better be working hard and fast to improve performance. Six or more scores below 100 means there are too many naysayers, the value of the in-plant is being scrutinized and something is going to change.

In contrast, the number or the amplitude of your fans and their compliments also determines the perception of the in-plant. A score above 105 in the Competitive Edge Profile means your customers say that your performance is better than the competition. Three scores above 105 is good; six scores above 105 is great. And when you're the University of Michigan and you get 16 scores over 105, you win an NAPL Customer Plus award.

Fans Over Foes

When you have more fans than critics you have a greater chance of convincing them to try your new and more effective technologies, such as online services and VDP. I was reminded of this during a phone call with Noel Ward, who wrote the article in this issue (page 12) about the success of the AARP in-plant. I had the opportunity to work with AARP last year to identify additional synergies of their multiple sites.

AARP has two in-plant production facilities: one on the West Coast, which creates much of its outgoing mail campaigns; the other on the East Coast, which focuses more on the needs of its headquarters. Noel's story is about the latter, which is run by Pat Peterson, and its success in growing the volume and types of work it does.

Print Services for the Washington, D.C., facility were originally located in Lorton, Va., and housed in the same facility as Fulfillment Services. This was relocated to the D.C. headquarters in 1985 to provide closer and better access for the staff. If you ever get the chance, move closer to your customers. Anytime you can decrease the distance between services and customers, you will increase the number of fans. This is often seen when university in-plants on large sprawling campuses create small satellites.

Since the move to headquarters, Pat's team has increased the volume and types and of work done in-house. Technology has been incorporated and upgraded regularly. The majority of job requests are now received electronically, logged in, scheduled and processed using an automated system.

Variable Data Growth

What is most interesting is growth of VDP at AARP, which is no small feat for any company. Few commercial printers or in-plants have been successful in offering VDP for more than a handful of clients.

In the NAPL Digital Services Study we did a few years ago, we asked printers: "Overall, how would you rate the net effect of one-to-one marketing on your business?" Only 57 percent answered "positive." And in the 2010 IPMA Operations Survey, when asked to list the VDP software used, only 33 percent said they owned VDP software.

Why are some organizations more successful in growing variable-data printing than others? If you read enough articles or books and attend enough seminars, you will see that some common denominators appear. My list has at least five reasons.

1. You need an evangelist who can talk with enthusiasm about the advantages of the technology.

2. You need to understand where it works best (markets).

3. You need to understand which applications (i.e., post cards) are most effective.

4. You need to understand that there is a synergistic effect when offering more than one strategy (e-mail, PURLS, social media, etc).

5. You need to deliver on the promise, measure the results and prove the success of the campaign.

But there are other subtle reasons why some succeed and others fail with VDP. Among them: establishing credibility with existing products first. Is there a relationship between naysayers and credibility? Is it possible that one aspect of credibility is the ability to convert naysayers into yea-sayers? This may be one reason that AARP and other companies have been successful in growing VDP.

Vigilant Focus

All in-plants have naysayers and yea-sayers. It's likely that the numbers or the ratio may determine the perception of performance and how closely the in-plant is scrutinized. You should measure and quantify your competitiveness in comparison to outside suppliers and vigilantly focus on areas that need attention.

As you achieve greater success, you may have a better chance of motivating your fans to try innovative products with higher value. While many in-plants have traditionally focused on high-volume, low-value products, they should add higher-value products.

To do both requires a focus on two objectives: Streamline and reduce the cost of the commodity products while building and motivating the adoption of higher-value products.

Often it is the higher-value solutions that create the perception of a higher-value in-plant.IPG

NAPL Senior Consultant Howie Fenton conducts in-plant audits and surveys that measure productivity and customer satisfaction, specializing in increasing productivity and reducing costs. He conducts customized surveys to measure the competitiveness of in-plants, and his services are used to benchmark financial and operational performance and to demonstrate or improve performance. To learn more, call (201) 523-6328 or e-mail:



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