Future Proof the Business – Guiding Your SMB Customer Through the Evolution of Printing

The small-to-medium sized business (SMB) is a critical component of a dealer’s customer base. Apart from the tighter budgets and perhaps fewer IT resources, in terms of their requirements for printing technology and solutions, SMB and enterprise customers are very similar. Dealers know that like enterprise customers, SMBs want reliable and high-performing products with low maintenance requirements and a low total cost of ownership. It is crucial, then, for dealers to provide differentiated solutions that are not contingent on price in order to extend their business to this customer set with unique needs.

More so than an enterprise customer, the SMB customer values the relationship they build with their local dealer. They want a dealer that offers a high level of service with a personal touch, cares about their success and ensures their customers’ systems are up and running efficiently.

Aside from providing value-added services that expand beyond print, SMB customers rely on dealers to serve as technology consultants — ready and willing to educate on printing technology trends taking place in the market that target cost savings and quality.

Part of building that trust is educating prospective SMB customers before placing a printer in their office and shifting the decision-making away from habit, custom practice and price comparison. That means taking the time to understand the customer’s workflow and environment and being able to provide them with new, innovative options beyond the horizon in print. In doing so, a dealer’s role is to help future proof their client’s investment.

Leverage new technology trends

As dealers look to attract new customers, inkjet printing technology is an option that will help differentiate a dealer’s business by expanding beyond laser technology offerings. In essence, this is also a strategy to future-proof the dealership as well. 

Trends show that inkjet dominates at the low and high end of the market, representing over 90%of unit placements in the consumer and wide format segments. Office and production are the only segments where laser continues to have a foothold, but we see that changing.

Looking back over the years, we’ve seen several key turning points in the marketplace that have influenced changes in the printing solutions provided and the way those solutions are sold. In the 2000s, we saw the transition from larger, complicated analog multifunction printers to relatively smaller, more efficient digital printing solutions in the office. As the technology further developed, color entered the previously monochrome-only market, introducing not just an added benefit of a new product offering, but also a new ink supplies revenue to dealers that was not available before.

Over time, companies started to see printing costs rise, but still needed to have color in the workspace. As a result, the first MPS services sprung up, educating dealers on how to analyze workflow and reduce unnecessary expensive color printing costs as well as identify and reduce the number of individual desktop printers in the office. The standardization across the office with homogenized printing supplies led to fewer overall printers and less need to store multiple printer supplies. This brought on the rise of software solutions to further optimize workflow throughout the office. And now, thanks to breakthroughs in printing technology, inkjet is a viable option for the office, with some devices offering fast print speeds previously unseen outside the production environment. 

Inkjet is quickly infiltrating the office segment of the market. When determining which technology to lead with, dealers should strongly consider the shift taking place in the market and inherent benefits that inkjet technology provides such as total cost of ownership, low energy consumption and ease of maintenance.

As the value proposition of inkjet technology continues its upward trend, early adopters will see greater sales opportunity and growth potential with first mover advantage.    

Trusted manufacturer partner

As dealers seek to establish their roles as trusted advisors, successful dealers will help guide their customers with a plan and path to remain current with the most reliable, high-performing products available today. Part of being an advisor is being knowledgeable of new printing technologies and subsequent end user benefits. SMB customers want a dealer they can depend on, and in turn, dealers should also look to partner with a printer manufacturer they can trust.

The office printing market is primed for significant change and disruption. It is imperative to partner with a forward-thinking manufacturer that is leading the technology trends and making the appropriate investments in R&D and product development to provide dealers with a variety of solutions.

Collaborating with a manufacturer who exhibits a “channel first” approach ensures dealers will be supported every step of the way and have all the necessary sales enablement tools required to effectively sell to the SMB. With the manufacturer’s support, dealers are primed to confront both current and future challenges in today’s business printing market, such as continued price pressure and declining print page volume.

Demand and lead generations should also be a key decision-making factor when considering a manufacturer partner. Like the end customer, dealers are also looking for a dependable manufacturer partner who can be trusted to help navigate the changes in the industry. With a strong team in place, dealers will better meet the needs of the SMB and build value to their brand, in turn earning more business.

Competitive advantage

Forging a true, lasting relationship with an SMB customer goes beyond providing hardware. Working with the customer to understand their objectives and pain-points and introducing solutions to help manage costs helps build a long-term relationship that will grow as technology changes.

As the need for information security grows, the ability to identify areas of vulnerability within a customer’s document workflow is another area of opportunity. Knowing what security tools are offered by manufacturers will help to develop a plan to mitigate risk for customers.  A simple approach can be to leverage the OEMs’ expertise and serve as conduit between the OEM and the customer with security tools and information. With security being one of the main concerns for many of today’s vertical businesses like healthcare, education and government, dealers who understand how to address security can use this as a competitive advantage.

When maintaining SMB relationships, it’s also in the dealer’s best interest to make regular check-ins to find other customer pain points that might have come up. Addressing concerns by providing a new, unique solution can make for a lasting business relationship. For example, high costs from power usage can be a concern, and solutions featuring simplified power requirements and lower power consumption can be a resolution.

Unlike high-speed laser MFPs, the current generation of inkjet solutions typically require a fraction of the power, thanks to the simplicity of the printing process as opposed to laser. What that means to the end user is that a 220-volt power connection is no longer required for their printing solution. This eliminates the costs of having specialized outlets needing to be installed in an office for printing, and keeps the floorplan of the office flexible in the event the company needs to change, grow or evolve. And let’s not forget the timely and expensive costs associated with construction and electrical routing. The dealer saves the end user by deploying an inkjet solution that offers savings passed directly to the customer. Finding solutions for issues the customer knew about can increase the relationship and improve loyalty to the dealer for future printing deployments.

Build a positive reputation

Prospective customers trust feedback from their peers and are more open to change when a dealer can provide examples of the great service experience they provide. Testimonials and references are powerful tools and should be leveraged as often as possible. It goes without saying that specializing in specific verticals or industries raises the level of credibility and chances for success. Demonstrating expertise in industry-specific applications can be the differentiator necessary to close the deal.

With inkjet technology, the compelling total cost of ownership provided by fewer supply costs, lower energy consumption and less servicing required means the customer will be more likely to provide a positive reference. It simply takes raising awareness for inkjet technology for it to be an added asset to your new business arsenal.

Don’t stop at printers

Enhancing your product portfolio doesn’t stop at new printing technology. Understanding the customer’s workflow and environment can allow customers to be more productive and efficient and can help expand your business. Offering companion printer technologies can help streamline processes and provide added benefits. For example, document scanners easily and quickly convert hard copy documents to digital, minimizing the amount of paper customers must deal with regularly. From display signage and posters to project management documents, technical drawings and maps, presenting a large or wide-format printer to bring in-house could be favorable for high-quality on-demand print needs. Another technology offering is display technologies. For example, projectors can enhance visibility and communication with presentations in meeting rooms as well as encourage collaborative work sessions.

There are also different types of IT services that can be provided to not only expand on relationships, but also help businesses reduce any downtime so they can run smoothly and optimally. Services can be offered through a regular monthly fee or through an on-demand case-by-case need. Preliminary setup services can be offered to get networks up and running. There are also managed service providers, which allow businesses to service a company’s network on an ongoing basis at a regular rate. This helps in preventing expensive costs that otherwise can come up over time. Additionally, remote monitoring and support can alleviate a team providing on-site support.

Offering a suite of business technology products and services with low intervention rates equates to better efficiency and productivity and a better chance for overall success.

There are untapped small-to-medium-sized businesses ready for the future of printing. Are you leading the change in your market? 

Joseph Contreras is Commercial Marketing Executive, Office Solutions, for Epson Ameria Inc. He oversees portfolio management, strategic partnerships, software integration and support, and sales and marketing programs for Enterprise inkjet printing solutions.