SELLING ON THE WEB -- Internet Enabled
BY CAROLINE MILLER
If you want it done right, then you need to do it yourself. In light of the recent demise of many ASP e-procurement solutions in the graphic arts industry, that old adage seems to be gaining more and more popularity. And one printer that has put that "can-do" attitude to the test is Lynn Johnson, of Dallas-based Buchanan Visual Communications.
Two years ago, Johnson—Buchanan's vice president of sales and a former systems analyst—saw the need to offer clients an online presence. The $26 million sheetfed, web and digital printer wanted to revamp how it conducted business with its clients, recalls Johnson.
"We're very committed to making it really easy to do business with us. We actually redesigned all of our business processes from the outside in and our Website was an intricate part of that process," she says.
But there was a problem. The ASP models that were available didn't seem to fully meet the needs of Buchanan's customers.
"There are some wonderful ASP models out there and I've recommended certain aspects of those ASPs to others. But we didn't feel that they could fully address our needs. We found that they didn't solve all the needs of our customers. They were more focused on how a printer does business internally. Others were a day too late and a dollar too much. The intermediates seemed more focused on buying instead of developing relationships," Johnson remarks.
So instead of signing on with an ASP, Buchanan chose to become an integrator of technology. Johnson chooses best-of-breed technologies and then integrates those technologies into her company's Website.
For example, Buchanan decided to work with Twelve Horses, a Web-based literature management and deployment service that combines electronic messaging with traditional print services. Buchanan will create for its clients a virtual literature rack that acts as a digital storehouse for business literature. Twelve Horses also offers Messagemaker, which enables personalized customer ommunications using e-mail.
Buchanan's clients now have a variety of options at their fingertips. Currently, customers can build profiles at the Website, as well as see their orders in eight different languages, FTP a file, get advice on how to prepare a file for submission and manage their digital assets, Soon, clients will also be able to order, proof and track jobs via the Website.
By offering clients access to these tools, Buchanan hopes to foster a sense of loyalty in customers—while cutting costs in the process. "Fostering loyalty is the key to profitability. If people truly understood the cost of a customer, there's no question they would all be doing Websites like this," she says.
So why aren't more printers e-enabling their Websites? Well for one, Johnson believes that printers have always been a little shy of technology. "This fear of technology can be so debilitating. Printing is such a brick-and-mortar industry. It's so difficult to realize that we are no longer an ink/paper industry."
Johnson concedes that the e-commerce hype has not helped matters. Printers have had the ASPs forced down their throats so much that they've missed out on how it can help them develop better relationships. "All that many printers are looking at when it comes to e-business is the intermediaries. But many of the intermediaries are solely focused on selling. Printers forget that e-enabled Websites are tools to improve and manage relationships," she adds.
Still another roadblock is that many printers stop at the first stage of building an effective Website. Most printers only build a brochure-ware Website with limited e-commerce capabilities, according to Johnson. "Printers think that they're just spending money on a Website that isn't offering a return. And they're not designing their Websites to gather information about their customers," she says.
By encouraging clients to utilize its Website, Buchanan can gather information about their purchasing habits and needs. This enables the company to respond to customer needs before clients realize that they have those needs. "We are building profiles on our customers about what they like and what they don't like, and how they like to do business," Johnson reveals.
"We want to be an arm or a leg—an essential appendage of their business," she adds. While tying clients is invaluable to Buchanan, Johnson also sees the Internet as a way to increase Buchanan's profitability.
"The Internet is a powerful tool for increased profitability, and not just for doing business. Every printer needs to streamline its workflow. The Internet provides us with ways to streamline our paper procurement and management of ink and consumables," she says.
Ultimately, Johnson firmly believes that the role of a printer is broadening. "We are now in an industry of information dissemination. Print is merely one option.
"We have to provide the tools for deployment. We need to provide solutions for our customers' communication needs whether through traditional print or being able to manage their assets," she concludes.