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Digital Install--After the Sale

April 1999
In the rapidly evolving digital prepress and printing markets, technology suppliers are now technology consultants, systems integrators and digital workflow evaluators. Do digital press manufacturers care what happens after the digital press is installed? Do high-tech prepress providers make the commitment to introduce a traditional printer to a digital workflow? Put it this way: They better.


BY MARIE RANOIA ALONSO


The migration from conventional prepress and printing technologies to new, digital prepress and on-demand printing processes calls for a concentrated alliance between technology providers and commercial printers. After all, commercial printers, by and large, don't conceptualize the next digital prepress or printing revolution—yet, they are expected to eventually embrace, implement, understand, market and sell an array of digital technologies.

So, who's responsible for what? Quite candidly, it seems logical that it is the technology vendor's responsibility to clearly map out the ROI models, financing options, implementation steps, training requirements and other procedures needed to accomplish a smooth transition from a traditional prepress or printing operation to a digital working environment.

As for the commercial printer, the chief responsibilities are to make the financial and staffing commitments to get the digital technology implemented, running and making a return on investment in as expedient a fashion as possible.

This ain't your grandfather's customer service—the topic at hand is true integration, well-planned training and marketing support. We are not talking a panicked customer calling to request overnight shipment of a thermal imaging head, or a digital press operator phoning in a late night plea for a critical equipment part.

Creo's Michael Rolant, vice president of customer support, has a theory. "Customer support in today's digital prepress and printing environments is all about facilitating the production goals of our customers," he contends. "We develop partnerships with our customers in order to meet their production, support and training requirements; we are all part of the same team."

What if marketing is the greatest corporate challenge? What if implementing the digital technology and training staff on its functionality are less than half the battle—as is often the case in the on-demand digital printing environment, where selling the technology, not installing it, poses the highest level of difficulty.

Case in point: The rise of on-demand digital color printing tools has made for an interesting, competitive class of color copiers and digital duplicators, wide-format printers and digital presses—some armed with variable-data software.

Marc Orchant, market development manager for Agfa's U.S. Digital Printing Systems group, believes that digital color printing allows for the generation of strong profit margins, far in excess of those considered acceptable in the commodity printing business.

However, Orchant cautions, the real secret to achieving success in on-demand printing is to forego commodity pricing and to position digital color printing output as a new communications tool—not as a replacement for conventional offset.

Padgett Printing is the latest commercial printing operation to date to bring an Agfa Chromapress 50i into its facility. Why the digital printing install? The Dallas-based operation wanted to add variable-data printing to its capabilities. "When we started with digital color printing, it was our feeling that digital color printing would prove to be a valuable marketing tool for our customers—we wanted to do more than offer it, we wanted to be the authorities for its use," reports A. David Torok, president of Padgett.

Still, at first, Torok continues, the Padgett team had a few worries regarding their investment in digital color printing—Would stock limitations prove to be an issue? Would there be quality assurance obstacles with leery customers?

"Our earliest concerns of quality acceptance or stock limits were a worry initially, but, through work and research on our part, those concerns have been largely unfounded and in fact those are non-issues," Torok reports. "Once we have an opportunity to educate the customer about the results they can receive with variable four-color printing, we find that the selling acceptance is based on product success and not unit cost."

Torok credits Agfa's Fast Start program with arming Padgett with the right tools to better market on-demand digital printing. "Fast Start has been the necessary key to our own education and the ability to get a sales force behind something new and be excited about it."

Designed to help in the marketing of on-demand digital printing, via the Chromapress, Agfa developed Fast Start, a marketing development program that empowers Chromapress users with a series of sales tools and a marketing plan. Sales tools include cost calculation software—that generates the cost per page for any total job run on the Chromapress, as well as a detailed overview of labor, equipment and all consumable costs. The sales tools also found in Agfa's Fast Start program include on-demand information strategy software and a tutorial for sales staff new to selling digital output.

Under marketing, the Fast Start package includes a self-assembled box for brochures and prints up to oversized A3, and an envelope suitable for small quantities, samples and proofs. Business plan software, designed to assist new Chromapress owners with analyzing the business potential for their new digital presses, is also included in Fast Start, as is a Chromapress color guide and multimedia presentation kit, featuring user testimonials on variable-data and distributed printing.

Additionally, Agfa provides its Chromapress users with a variety of support materials outside the scope of the Fast Start program—chiefly the Chromapress Users Group Internet address (www.chromapress.com), where Chromapress owners worldwide can have discussions and transactions relative to the Chromapress.

"Agfa recognized the importance of providing market development support to adopters of our Chromapress digital color printing systems very early in the development of this technology," Agfa's Orchant reports. "FastStart incorporates customized consultation with each customer to integrate digital printing into their business in the very best way possible—this is an evolving partnership that will continue to create profitable new applications."

The moral of this story: If you are shopping for an innovative digital prepress or digital color printing solution, it might prove wise to shop for more than the technology itself. Putting proactive training and marketing support on your buying list may result in not only a smart technology purchase—but also a sound business plan and, ultimately, the profits to prove it.


Pick Your Digital Prepress Partners Wisely—
And Make Them Sweat!


Allen J. Dunn, senior product development manager for electronic imaging devices, Fujifilm, tackles the topic of vendor relationships, evaluating technologies—and the art of asking the right questions.

Every customer operation is unique. Being unique has its advantages, but it's also very challenging for system integrators, manufacturers and for the customer himself.

A customer might ask: What type of solution can fit into my environment, whether it be commercial work and packaging, short-run digital printing, computer-to-plate, computer-to-film or even web-page design. What will give me an edge?

Anyone who has been involved in the digital game for any period of time knows the challenges of keeping up with technology—the concerns with buying technology and having it obsolete before it's delivered, installed and sometimes operational.

Knowing what the latest and greatest products are and what is coming down the pike is a daunting task—we have meetings about it, seminars to understand it and trade shows to sell it. Let me share a way to cut through a lot of the trials and tribulations of advancing the learning curve for digital technology—ASK QUESTIONS! You must ask the right questions to get the right answers—do not assume that any particular prepress technology provider will automatically cover all the ground you need or want them to cover, when a new digital prepress device is arriving at your loading dock door.

Don't Be Afraid to Ask
Now, this seems like a pretty simple solution, but you would be surprised how many times I have met with companies whose decision-makers did not want to seem foolish or who are not up on the latest and greatest technology.

The first step is to succumb to the understanding that you can't know everything about everything. What you can do is surround yourself with intelligent individuals, who are very capable of getting the information you need, and ask questions.

Your best bet is to align your company with an integrator and supplier who will guide you into the future, not sell you down an expensive dead-end road. This is definitely easier said than done, because all too many suppliers and integrators are looking at you through a 30-, 60- or 90-day window. Make smart connections!


Ten On-demand Tricks to
Generate On-demand Profits


1) Eschew commodity pricing—digital color printing does not replace offset. They are complementary.

2) Think beyond short runs— develop programmatic solutions for vertical industry markets or individual customers.

3) Make a commitment to develop marketing skills within your organization.

4) Learn to use variable data color printing in your own marketing communications—walk the walk before you talk the talk!

5) Create marketing and sales synergy between digital color printing and everything else your organization offers it customers—sell total capability.

6) Never assume that prospects and customer "get it." Truth is, they probably don't.

7) Develop the skill sets to support both Macintosh- and Windows-based customers. Don't be a platform bigot!

8) Study and integrate the lessons of one-to-one marketing into your own business—know who your best customers are.

9) Educate your market about unique solutions provided by digital color printing. Show them how to integrate this technology into their communications strategy.

10) Build into your business the ability to accept files digitally—expand your market beyond a 10-mile radius!

Tips provided by Agfa's Chromapress team. Visit Agfa at www.digitalroadmaps.com for more info on digital prepress/printing technologies.
 

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