You’ve got two options, and one requires a little help from a friend.
Selling a printer is one thing. Selling a printer as part of a managed print services program is another thing. However, selling a production printer is a whole different thing.
If you have been in the industry for a few years, say 10-plus years, you know what I’m talking about. The copier/printer salesperson profile has changed dramatically. Once it was enough to describe the hardware features, point out the simplicity of plug and play, install driver, and print; however, gradually, the list of features on the device grew, trumped by the list of requirements by the customer.
Fast-forward to the current state of managed print services. Hardware features have shrunk to a tiny point on the checklist. Integration, cost/user management, workflow automation, digital workflow solutions, and network/security services have moved up to the top of the list.
But what to do when the office imaging market is getting closer to saturation, and new deals become less and less profitable? You venture into new territory: production print.
Production print is like a spectrum and ranges anywhere from a device that captures all larger print jobs that shouldn’t run on a workgroup or team printer to the “big boxes” running millions and millions of pages per year. Selling into these verticals might require a serious upgrade of skillsets.
I remember a situation some years ago when a prominent office imaging brand was preparing to enter the production-print market. Our hardware/software product marketing team was asked to develop a few introductory slides to update the sales team. Naturally, coming from the production side of printing, I added IPDS, AFP, AS/400, Bus/Tag, DJDE, JMF/JDF, and so on, without any additional explanations to the workflow diagrams. As a reward, I was surprised with a room full of question marks.
I had totally overlooked the fact that office imaging doesn’t require any of the household acronyms of the production print environment. But it only got worse from there; data formats, personalized output on APA devices, transactional printing, barcodes, and post-production device control codes made the presentation a complete disaster.
Has much changed since? Yes and no. Most modern high-volume or production printers are happy to work with PDFs; in other words, you don’t necessarily need to understand data streams and data-stream conversion that much anymore. But with PDF, we run into a whole family of new problems: How do we prepare (optimize) PDF files so they don’t jam the RIP and we can produce at the rated speed? Another consideration is how to protect the data delivery, customer to PSP (print services provider), or one department to another, so they’re not exposed to cyberattacks. And what about accessibility? Depending on who’s printing for whom, accessible documents may be mandatory. Can the same input data be used to create printed documents and digital customer archives? What about commingling for USPS savings? And adding possibly personalized augmented reality?
And with all that, we didn’t even touch on label printing, wide-format printing, packaging, or sign printing.
How can you be a printer champion if the industry segments and verticals are so demanding? Well, there are two options:
- You are a geek and absorb it all, read a lot, and attend a lot of conferences and training sessions.
- You partner.
I prefer the partner approach—that could be a colleague, a pre-sales production-print specialist, or a third-party you may want to bring in on production-print deals. As usual, there are a few things to remember when partnering with someone:
- Do they understand/support the hardware brand you are selling (i.e., are they vendor agnostic)?
- Do they understand/support you with the initial site/workflow assessment?
- Do they understand/support integrating the new hardware and/or software into an existing environment? (You may need to integrate with an existing host system or printer brands other than the one(s) you are selling, such as print IMS systems, pre- and post-production hardware, existing document generation tools, web-to-print applications, archiving systems, multi-channel delivery requirements, proof/approval workflows, end-to-end and piece-level tracking requirements, white-paper factories, automated document factory automation, etc., etc.)
- Do they understand/support (data/cyber) security?
- Do they understand/support accessibility requirements?
- Do they understand/support USPS requirements?
- Do they understand/support data and privacy laws, print outsourcing regulations, HIPAA, etc.?
- What do their support models look like (both for you, your company, and your customer?)
- How long have they been in business/are they a trusted partner (i.e., recognized by the production/transactional printing industry)?
There are many questions and many more details to pay attention to. Let’s save these for a part two.