GregWalterscolorsqby Greg Walters

Back in the day, about four years ago, every OEM, large dealership, consultant and training house had a managed print services program. Indeed, the big concerns tossed millions of marketing dollars at prospective MPS practices — remember the great Oki motorcycle giveaways and those Ricoh MPS roadshows? How about the Photizo conferences?

Times changed. More importantly, misaligned expectations, shortsighted hiring practices, and lack of ownership commitment killed many practices. The final blow came as OEM after OEM applied shell-game tactics, pitching themselves as services-led, but hamstringing dealers in the form of equipment quotas. How can ANY manufacturer promote a philosophy which endeavors to reduce the number of machines in the field?

So they didn’t. Instead, MPS corporate programs grew like weeds, defining optimized fleets as “machines carrying the same logo” and promising 30 percent savings

Relegated to “supplies and service” management, MPS slid to the background. Especially when the new “shiny object,” Managed Services, took center stage. But a funny thing happened on the way to the NOC — turns out, managing PCs and end users and selling to IT folks isn’t as easy as it was expected to be. Indeed, quoting, presenting and closing IT deals is downright difficult — more so than MPS. The selling is different, prospects act differently, and the infrastructure to support service agreements can be daunting. Once again, a great idea gets bogged down in the real world.

So we tried managed services, didn’t like the results, and now are looking at MPS from a different perspective.

“Maybe MPS isn’t so difficult, after all.”

It’s been 10 years since the current MPS niche launched and today we’ve got more software tools and infrastructure providers. The OEMs are in survival mode, trying to make their machines relevant and our customers are more informed — they understand cost cutting through eliminating print, not simply reducing.

Today, perhaps you are reconsidering the managed print services value proposition, and thinking about increasing your current number of MPS contracts. Maybe you’re thinking about getting into MPS for the first time (wow). Either way, here are some recommendations for the beginner or the seasoned professional committing or recommitting to managed print services:

Don’t promise cost reductions — offer convenience

Everybody who ever uttered the phrase “managed print services” has also exclaimed “we can save you 30 percent on your printing costs.” Don’t be like them. I understand cost can be an issue – we have each other to thank for driving prices down and removing any type of real value — but leave the money issue aside when talking about your managed print services. Sell the ease of use with your program and your unique value for the client. Selling your distinct value is the most difficult and can be determined by you and your happy customers — not the consultant, your sales manager and especially your competition. Ask your best MPS client why they chose you and mold their response into your unique value statement.

More than printers — they are IT assets

I’ve always believed MPS was a great onramp into the IT realm, and although both IT and imaging are on the downward side of the demand curve, there is still plenty of business to go around. One way for you to distinguish yourself when talking with IT professionals is to refer to printers as IT assets. IT assets are refreshed on a determined lifecycle, they have financial value and require management. Discussing this with the party responsible in this manner elevates the conversation and sets you apart from the heard of MPS peddlers. This also aligns toward the bigger question of how your client is managing their IT assets, help desk, print servers, cues and drivers — all services and options your MPS program should incorporate.

Make a great first impression and physically remove old devices

This is a great way to confirm your identity as a consultant and customer advocate. During your assessment, look for that one printer, the HPIII, old Epson 9-pin or whatever old device is sitting around, and tag that in your study to be replaced. The day your engagement starts, with fanfare and celebration, physically remove the device. Carry it out. Presenting a symbol of your commitment to reduce costs, no matter the means, is important.

“One more thing”

Managed print services, as I envisioned it back in 2006, never really came to fruition. It was supposed to be about reducing the number of output devices, opening conversations with IT directors and leading the way for copier dealers moving into managed services. It was my vision to include all IT assets under one managed services engagement — from help desk to toner fulfillment.

That didn’t happen. As a matter of fact, some components of the MPS movement raced to the lowest denominator, settling on selling toner and service on a per-image billing format. Which as you know, is nothing new, certainly not all that exciting and in no way, a foundation for building a solid relationship with the IT department.

When the missed opportunities became obvious, MPS died. That was back in 2011. Over the past three weeks, I’ve heard more than a handful of copier dealers express an interest in “recommitting to MPS.” Admittedly, I was taken aback and surprised. But the motivation makes sense — they tried managed IT services and were not ready, and after looking back at MPS, believe they can now better sell and provide managed print services.

In an ironic twist, now might be a good time to get back into MPS – the market is mature, infrastructure providers proven, tools abundant and prospect awareness high. I wouldn’t expect gross margins in the 40 percent range, but maybe this time, we could partner with our clients and help them get rid of printers and copiers while secure recurring revenue as print volumes drop over the next few years.

Time will tell.

Greg Walters is an entrepreneur and founder of the notorious destination site TheDeathOfTheCopier, where he comments on all things imaging, the rise of managed services and the advance of business technology. A prolific writer and frequent speaker, Greg shares his passionate, unique – and often provocative – view of technology and people, addressing the impact of digital on 21st century business. His 2014 book, Death Of The Copier, offers a controversial summary of the early days of Managed Print Services and the not-so-distant future of the hard copy industry. Reach out to Greg at greg@grwalters.com.

Greg Walters

Greg Walters

is an entrepreneur and founder of the notorious destination site TheDeathOfTheCopier, where he comments on all things imaging, the rise of managed services and the advance of business technology. A prolific writer and frequent speaker, Greg shares his passionate, unique – and often provocative – view of technology and people, addressing the impact of digital on 21st century business. His 2014 book, Death Of The Copier, offers a controversial summary of the early days of Managed Print Services and the not-so-distant future of the hard copy industry. Reach out to Greg at greg@grwalters.com.