Q&A: Sell Mobile Printing To The Field Service Market
Mobile printing experts provide details crucial to increasing your field service sales.
In a May 2007 Business Solutions article entitled "Mobile Printing Is Not A Commodity," a panel of industry experts shared details on how VARs can increase sales by adding value to mobile printer solutions. Before tackling this article, I asked our panel of experts to weigh in on which market they were seeing the most growth. The unanimous response was field service. Indeed, current analyst figures estimate that 85% of U.S. companies now have a workforce that is mobile or field-based. The need for your services is present, so what do you need to know to land sales?
How big is the field service market, and to what extent has the market been penetrated by VARs?
Marty Johnson, mobile workforce practice leader, Zebra Technologies: The challenge in this market is to identify all of the different organizations that may have a field service business unit with mobile printing needs. These organizations may be business-to-business or business-to-consumer focused. VARs can perform a quick site survey by researching the number of vehicles an organization has in its private fleet. Virtually all field service workers will be assigned a vehicle, so there's typically a 1:1 ratio. However, there may be some opportunities within markets that have field service workers unassigned to a vehicle. The other factor to consider is that not all field service vehicles have a need for printing. For example, while the AT&T fleet is very large, some field service vehicles may be assigned to transmission line work and have no need to print local documentation. Other technicians, assigned to service residential and commercial customers, may have face-to-face interaction with end users and need to print some type of documentation locally for the end user.
- Today, field service organizations are being viewed as profit, not cost centers.
- Field service organizations need to find ways to increase efficiencies due to rising labor and fuel costs.
- There's been a convergence between handheld terminals and cell phones and the need to support printers.
- There's been a migration away from 8 ½-by-11-inch dot matrix printing to thermal 4-inch or less printing.
- There's been a migration to wireless communications between the handheld terminal and printer.
- Today, preprinted media is being used to enhance the end user branding with logos and color as well as information for the end user (remittance information, warranty information, etc.).
- Today, printers are being used to print more than just receipts (e.g. warranty information, contracts, customer surveys, remittance and contact information).
What are the needs/desires of the field service market that VARs can fulfill?
Johnson: The needs of the field service market will vary based upon the specific vertical submarket and the size of the potential field service end user. Large end user organizations may only ask the VAR to help them select the appropriate printing hardware and perform all the handheld terminal and software integration work themselves. Properly trained VARs have increased opportunities with smaller customers, who may ask the VAR to:
- help select all hardware (e.g. printer, handheld terminal)
- help select the application software
- help perform the integration or coordinate the integration with other vendors
- help select and integrate within a wireless infrastructure
- help select and design custom printer media and other supplies
- provide system training
- provide system training support.
Jeff Osborne, VP of branding & communications, O'Neil Product Development, Inc.: Improving field service productivity and operations through mobile printing solutions allows the automation of operations that were previously accomplished manually. All field operations involve some type of documentation such as invoices, receipts, work orders, service reminders, on-site payment, or reports, and each of these operations can be streamlined and made more efficient by the use of mobile data capture and printing solutions.
Most importantly, the reseller and end user alike must recognize that the goal in field service automation is to save time. As such, equipment downtime in the field should be kept to an absolute minimum. The environment for field applications is challenging, and the ability of the equipment chosen to function in that environment is key to the success of the application. Fundamentally, field-proven reliability and ruggedness should be crucial considerations when resellers select their mobile printing solutions.
Adam Ortlieb, associate director, Seiko Instruments: Most business travelers can appreciate the needs of a full-time mobile service technician. Usability, portability, reliability, and durability are critical design factors to look for in a solution. One important overlooked feature is buttons large enough to easily use.
How can VARs justify the cost of this technology investment to their customers?
Osborne: The automation of field service applications represents a compelling value proposition to the user. Any reduction in non-service-oriented processes can save valuable time at each call, and more time saved on each call translates into an increased number of productive service calls per day. Many service organizations' productivity and subsequent cash flow can be directly attributed to the number of service calls made. Making the service provider more efficient and productive translates into faster and better service to the customer, as well as increased service calls and subsequent revenues to the business.
Ortlieb: More productive service professionals and reduced error rates mean lower operating costs, while greater customer satisfaction levels can curtail the need for new customer acquisition investment. Meanwhile, added cross-selling opportunities and premium service offerings deliver topline revenue growth, while streamlined accounts receivable processes can accelerate cash flow cycles. I think this business case resonates with financial executives, IT managers, and even smaller business owners.
What is the typical sales cycle for field service mobile printing solutions?
Johnson: It varies based upon the size of the end user organization and supporting IT infrastructure in place. Sales cycles can be extended if back end software has not been selected, if application software is not yet deployed, or if the wireless infrastructure is not yet in place. If these all are in place, the sales cycle could be much shorter. It could vary from a few months to multiple years.
Corace: There is a broad range, from as little as 3 months to as long as 24 months or more. Oftentimes, the length of the project is dependent on its size, the size of the organization implementing it, and the complexity of the IT details of the application.
Ortlieb: It also is important to note that due to added complexity, anytime you tie into back office systems, you will lengthen the overall sales cycle.
Is there a particularly good way to get the attention of the target customer?
Johnson: It's about showing value and developing long-term relationships with the organizations. End users want to know that your company is stable, will be in business long-term, and that you can provide more value than just a source of equipment. End user reference lists and case studies are a good way to show what you have done in this market.
Corace: Whatever manner you choose to reach the target customer, it has to quickly and effectively speak to a particular concern that they have in their business. That may be improving productivity, improving revenue, decreasing expenses, or improving service to their customers.
if you're a VAR who's found success selling mobile printing solutions to the field service market, I'd love to read your answers to any of the above questions. Information considered actionable may be added to the online version in an extra"VAR to VAR" sidebar.