It’s a New World7 Jan, 2013 By: Rob Gilbert, Sr, Industry Consultant imageSource
Remember when you used to be able to sell copiers for a profit? Remember when we used to be smarter than our customers? Remember when a “solution” used to be a dual line fax machine? Remember when customers used to place maintenance agreements on calculators? I hear these questions periodically today when discussions revolve around all the changes in how our industry has redefined itself. Without question, times are changing; things are evolving. Understanding needed change; anticipating fluctuations in the market, deciding where to turn during swings in business philosophy, even gauging your vendors’ decisions and new strategies are common occurrences today. Never before have so many different business units moved so quickly to change so much and so fast as in today’s current imaging market. The question isn’t “Will I change?” but “How will I change?”
There was a time when technological change happened at a rate measured by years. There were great gaps in those spans of time, and change was relatively minimal. Progressively, changes began to come more rapidly, and were much more adaptive in terms of capitalizing on market trends, electronic data manipulation, scanning, archiving, and now mass information storage, rules based routing, print and information management, and so on.
The Evolving Business Model
When I entered this industry, electronic typewriters were the rage and calculators were placed under service contracts. Analog copiers were on the scene in earnest, and mimeograph machines were common in school systems. Then liquid copiers came around briefly. But change was slow, and many businesses were not eager to accept new technology. Eventually, the first digital copier and duplicators were made available, and from that moment, technology began to increase exponentially.
As innovative digital technology was ushered in, so too, was the ‘solution provider’ mindset. Of course at that time, a solution was a digital copier with the hope that a customer might eventually buy a network card and hook it up so that it would print. Even as knowledge increased about printing, the industry still had a hardware-based mindset. This was based largely (and still is) on the manufacturers’ need to move units into the field.
As the need arose for true understanding of the print environment and how information moves in an organization, truly better technology evolved. It was slow at first, and somewhat manageable. Yet technology is exponential and increases at a faster rate over shorter periods of time. Other things also converged into the process; customers became smarter and savvier about the document movement processes, and newer generations of workers in the workforce began to understand how to leverage technology to perform tasks, because they had grown up accustomed to high tech gadgets and tools to help them do the things they wanted to do. Many companies struggled, and continue to do so, because of a lackluster job being done touting themselves as being solution providers, but can’t really provide a suitable solution.
At the same time, a swing was underway in the business world as a result of the technological age. IT managers began to rule the world with an iron fist. For the first time, companies were finding themselves dealing with personnel on hardware decisions that they had never dealt with before. This was challenging, because IT people speak their own language, and unfortunately for many, it isn’t “copier guy English.” The next resulting evolution was a re-education of salespeople, along with a different hiring philosophy for sales in general.
Simultaneously, an understanding arose that new tools were needed to communicate more effectively with an IT mindset, and the network assessment era was ushered in. It was at this point that many dealerships had to take a hard look at their business models and decide where they were headed. It seemed difficult enough to stay abreast of new technology from a hardware perspective, but almost impossible to retool an entire company’s thought process to a truly technological mindset. Add to this mix more pressure from the printer world and more confusion on pricing models for toner and service, and things can get really interesting.
Enter Document Solutions
Then, document solutions entered. In understanding the lifecycle of a document, it became apparent that the need for more concise movement and manipulation of information was at hand. This created an even bigger gap in sales training and skill sets for salespeople and potential customers. Yet another decision had to be made for many dealerships: Do we go down the document solutions road or not? At every step of the way, dealers had to decide whether to continue to embrace technology and change, or to stagnate and keep a hardware mindset.
A few picked up the progressive baton; most did not. The primary reason for this is that many companies are not willing to use the tools and innovative solutions they sell to their clients. The mindset of a successful company is one where the leadership understands that they need to “eat what they cook” and fully know about, take advantage of, and embrace the technology they provide.
Yet again, printer companies reacted and created tools for customer use, which in turn made customers smarter still. At this time, supply companies also entered the fray and tried to take back a slice of the revenue pie.
Now add in the global economy that drastically started to wane. That alone brings about its own challenges, but it also turned the tide back in favor of progressive dealerships. Financial decision makers (with the assistance of true consultants) began to realize that they had no control over internal expenses related to their office environments, for all the reasons listed above. Companies were, and still are, looking for the most cost-effective way to run their businesses, and need help to do it. What were our biggest headaches six or seven years ago has become the best reason for our greatest successes - if we can truly position ourselves well to capitalize on the opportunities available to us.
There is still a lot to learn, and a lot to know. Hardware, software, wide format, document solutions, scanning technologies, managed printing services, account mapping, file archival and retrieval, green initiatives, cloud based rules routing and job accounting are just a few. How will you proceed in this current market? Will you weather the storm and still continue to be primarily hardware-based? Only the companies that are willing to fully deploy their own technology internally will ultimately be able to articulate how change management can help, because they will have experienced it firsthand. Will you truly take the time, effort, energy, and pain that is required to totally immerse yourself in a climate of change? For those companies that have embraced a consultative and true solutions-based mindset, the sky is the limit. It first starts with your definition of the word “Solution.”