My Feet Need a Beer

Another in a series of blogs live from the Print Solutions show floor!

Despite aching joints, it was a good day. We made it through the inevitable issues with internet connectivity and electricity. Then it was clear sailing. Lots of interest in SAP integration. In fact, we’ve already closed a deal at the show! And Open Network Catalogs have caught the attention of smaller distributors who want to start selling online but don’t want to build products right away. There is a growing sense that online ordering is becoming a requirement, not an option.

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Sales: First it was the Joneses, then everybody got one…

I woke up one day and my differentiator was gone! I was a commodity, traded at the Merc next to the pits for pork bellies and soybeans. This thought came to me as I read the following, written by a successful print distributor and Four51 customer:

‘Our business used to be pretty limited geographically, but because of the internet and Four51, we are now not as tied down to one specific geographic area. We are now competing not only with “local” distributors but also regional and national companies who also are using the Four51 technology. I am currently in competition with another distributor from another state on a piece of business that we have had for some time–my competition also is presenting Four51.’

There’s much to be mined from this quote. Here are three ideas to ponder.

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Industry News: Social media for everyone

The indirect goods industry is constantly referred to as one that is stubborn and resistant to change. I say this particularly in reference to their adoption of new technology. Case in point is the medium most of our customers are most comfortable using: the telephone. For a long time, when our customers had a problem, we wanted nothing more than for them to pick up the phone and call us.

Recently, however, Four51 has created a number of online tools (Discover Four51, Forum Four51, Access Four51…this very blog!) to enable customers to find quick answers to questions and interact with each other. In almost all cases, customers are getting their inquiries answered quicker than a traditional support telephone line could have ever accommodated and the results have been fantastic!

At Four51, we often walk the line of being on the edge of the technology trends and leaving our customers and prospects feeling confused and abandoned by our adoption of new technology. But as a forward-looking technology company, we know that it is important to push our customers and prospects in ways that will help their business grow and remain profitable.

Four51 is just about a decade old now and benefits from a well-balanced group of young employees who are consistently bringing fresh ideas to the table. In the marketing department alone we have been aggressively pursuing Search Engine Optimization, blogging and executing multimedia campaigns to help drive our presence out into the market.

The PSDA (Print Services & Distribution Association) has jumped on the technology bandwagon with us and is helping to educate the industry as a whole on the value of new technologies. The PSDA has created membership groups on LinkedIn, a site for professionals to grow their connections to business partners, clients and employees. They also have a site called Print University where members can go to get educational materials about the industry, read about sales and CSR training, and even download a podcast series to listen to at their convenience

Lately, the PSDA has helped to push the technology front even further by creating Print Junkie, a new social networking site for the printing industry. At printjunkie.net, members have free access to blogs, forums, news, events, tutorials, videos and photos all pertaining to the print industry. The site already boasts 200+ junkies!

As partners in crime, the PSDA is helping Four51 change the way customers interact with us and with each other. We all hope to see a dramatic shift in our customers’ resistance to adopting these new technologies as they realize the added value they bring to their businesses and their own customers.

Mara

Thoughts from Four51: Tools and the way we use them

During my tenure as head of Four51′s Customer Support team, I focused on introducing online self-service tools that would help distributors get answers faster and help Four51 build a scalable, disciplined model for customer care. These tools included Access Four51 (for case submission and tracking), Forum Four51 (the user forum) and Discover Four51 (our new knowledgebase). There was some internal and external resistance to these efforts, of course. Change is hard and it tends to make happy people crabby and crabby people downright angry. I didn’t give it much more thought, until…

During a conversation with two Glatfelter employees at a recent PSDA event, I gained new insight. One of them mentioned that she hates to wait…for anyone, or anything, at any time. Given a choice between getting an answer from an online knowledgebase in 5 minutes versus a person on the phone in 90 minutes, she always chooses the knowledgebase. Her husband, however, is just the opposite; aware of the trade-off, he still chooses the human.

It dawned on me then that some, perhaps many, view tech-heavy support and human-heavy support as incompatible–at odds and locked in mortal combat. The introduction of online tools must by definition mean customers will be forced to have less interaction with people. Why can’t Microsoft Support treat me like Nordstrom associates treat me? (Suddenly the folks who hid behind voicemail for years or gave you wrong answers are so much more desirable.)

My friend at Glatfelter doesn’t see it that way. She thinks great people are capable of creating great tools to help her get the right answer faster. For her, it’s about a better customer experience, not whether she got to speak to a person. And if the online tools fall short, then people are there to help.

Jim

Marketing: More thoughts from the STC

[The installment of Radio Four51 (podcast player above) features Rich Landa talking about the presentation he's making at the STC conference--have a listen!]

This post comes from Savannah, GA, where the PSDA (Print Services Distribution Association) is hosting another fine event for its members, the Spring Technology Conference.

Steve Cone’s keynote address focused on the power of strong brands. Cone, a Madison Avenue agency veteran and author, made the point that “the difference between B2B and B2C marketing communications is BS.” People are people in business and consumer settings, yet B2B marketers often ignore what they know to be true about human nature and play it safe. In doing so, they create “Me, too!” campaigns that gently disappear into the white noise of their targets’ lives. And you can’t spend enough money to transform a dull concept into a vital one; a big budget behind a bad idea is simply a really expensive bad idea.

I’m not suggesting that B2B marketers throw caution to the wind, but neither should we wrap ourselves in caution.

Jim

Radio Four51: Thoughts from the Spring Tech Conference

Our most recent podcast features Rich Landa discussing how you can add value to your business with technology-based services. The recording summarizes his presentation given at the 2008 PSDA Spring Technology Conference in Savannah, Georgia.

Rich talks about the evolution of web-to-print e-commerce from just a simple tool used for convenience’s sake to a dynamic and necessary tool that allows businesses to customize their operational workflows. Rich also touches on the ways Four51 has designed its platform to be a value-added community that can integrate with companies like SAP and Pageflex. This allows Four51 to effectively serve a wider range of print buyer, seller, and supplier needs that a lot of competitors can’t. Rich explains that when evaluating what system is best for your business, your thought process should extend far beyond just features and functionality.

Check out the podcast to hear more!

Sustainability: Truly a week of green

I was going to write a post about something other than the topic of green today, but there’s not much other news to be found–it truly is a week of green in the print industry. (And I’m certainly not complaining!)

In fact, an email just hit my inbox from the PSDA about a new category in the PEAK Awardsa green product category. In other email news, earlier this morning I received a message from WhatTheyThink announcing their new Environment & Sustainability section which is a fantastic addition for those seeking ideas big and small.

I could go on about all I’ve seen this week, but I’m sure you’re seeing a lot of the same information. Has it inspired any new plans or projects for you? If you weren’t convinced before, do you find yourself less skeptical now?

Laura

Four51 News: Credit cards and a Connect Four51 update

Four51 was featured twice in the March issue (currently on newsstands) of Print Solutions magazine.

Rich was interviewed for the Web-to-Print Feature article, “Running on Credit.” Surprisingly, many print distributors do not handle credit cards through their sites, a mistake according to Rich: “If you’re going to get into the online business, my observation is that you have to do credit cards. Distributors need to be looking at this in the long term, as it becomes an embedded part of doing business. It’s important to educate yourself before the customer asks about it.”

A Connect Four51 update was also included in the issue’s industry news section. The update gives a snapshot of the program, its participants, and its early success. As Connect Director Eli Sackett points out, “Ultimately, everyone wins, and everyone saves money. We haven’t had a single company say ‘no’ so far.”

Industry News: PEAK Nomination Time!

In case you missed it, January’s issue of Print Solutions magazine announced that application season is upon us for PEAK Award entries. Prograde used Four51 as part of its PEAK win last year, and we’re hoping to see even more leveraging of the Four51 application among entrants this year!

The deadline for entries is May 9th.