Great Article by Jennifer Matt
By Jennifer Matt
Published: January 21, 2013
There is no shortage of talk about web-to-print technologies; there is too little talk about printer’s online strategies. Printers can talk for hours about how this or that web technology has failed them or this or that technology is what made all the difference. We’re infatuated with the features, and we actually convince ourselves that the next feature enhancement will really move the dial. I’ve never seen a feature do that – ever, the amount of complaining about the feature never equals its impact. What moves the dial is people and process – not technology. People and process are your differentiation, technology is a tool.
I’ve worked at many of the web-to-print solution providers and I’ll tell you a secret – every single one of them has printers that have similar approaches on the web – some have been very successful and others have been total failures, all using the same technology. I’ve seen printers completely fail and blame the technology – generally they can get away with this because the technology isn’t perfect but the reality is that the technology didn’t matter one bit, the printer had neither the people or the process to pull it off with any technology.
A successful web strategy is a combination of people, process, and technology. The challenge is that when things fail, we typically prefer to blame the technology rather than our people or processes. The limiting factor of virtually every web-to-print project I’ve been involved in is the people and the process – not the technology.
How many of us have heard a story that goes something like this? My customer said he needed a web-to-print system; we worked for weeks on the implementation and configuration of the site. He forced us to support credit cards and many complex variable data templates. The site has been live for 12+ months and we can count the orders on one hand. Ouch.
Technology is not going to protect you from this scenario because this scenario is all about people and process. Doing business online is first and foremost about customer adoption (if you’re talking business-to-business) or driving web traffic (business to consumer). There is no reason to talk about anything until you understand how user recruitment is going to work. Beware of the untested assumptions, unproven projections, and general exaggerations. For example, “we have 4,000 employees, so I suspect you’ll get 20 orders a day.” You have to probe further and get into the details of how many of those 4,000 people are potential buyers on the site, if its marketing materials – what percentage of the 4,000 are in a free cialis sales or marketing role? How will these people know how to find the site? Can these people buy these materials from other providers or are they mandated to buy from this site?
On business-to-business implementations, the most common miss is the people and process around user recruitment. Internal people (your customers) fail to realize that without a communications plan with regular follow ups, user adoption will not happen. If you build it, they don’t typically just show up, you have to probe, poke, prod, and recruit them. Once the site is launched the internal resource has checked it off their list and is onto their next project, it’s not unusual for them to have little skin in the game on site utilization.
This means that the printer just wasted their time and effort, my guess is that thousands of web-to-print storefronts exist in this state today and the typical approach to “fixing it” is to shop for a different technology. Buying a new system without changing your people or your processes will result in the same outcomes. Technology doesn’t do change management, technology doesn’t do user recruitment – people and process do.
When you setup a new web-to-print program with your customer, don’t think about launching the comprehensive, all inclusive, solution. Admit that both you and your customer don’t know what you need to know in order to invest that kind of time and money. Launch the minimum viable product (MVP), test, learn, iterate – rinse and repeat. Put a site up with the three most popular products first. Test your user recruitment strategy; include daily review of web analytics with your customers. You have to come to agreement what your shared idea of success is based on real data. Make sure the metrics have a real tie to business – page views do not equal anything, unique users do, so do conversions (transactions) and average order size, and average time spent on the site.
Every web-to-print deployment is a new launch to a new audience; treat it as an experiment rather than a technical implementation project. An experiment means you create a plan and then inclemently test against that plan vs. a technical implementation project where you focus on wiring up everything with the goal of just being “done”. In this case “done” doesn’t equal success and in most cases it just means “potentially wasted a boatload of time without enough data to justify the investment.”
Make your customers prove their hypothesis before you invest time and labor. With each experiment your team gets smarter about doing business online in general and you start to make data-driven decisions.