Case Study: Data Doesn't Lead Your Business

Data doesn’t lead a business. The business is driven by a leader who uses data. I was reminded of that as I looked at the estimating system conference brochure in my inbox. Many printers have replaced annual pilgrimages to industry trade shows and conferences with trips to these estimating system conferences. Now there is nothing wrong with that; it’s just that deep-diving into data isn’t the Holy Grail that some want it to be. Consider the following illustrations based on real cases.


Web-to-Print Potential

Adding e-commerce to your website, which integrates into your estimating system, doesn’t create sales. It does allow you to promote it to customers who can use it, and that will increase sales.

I’m thinking of one printer whose customer, a large real estate firm with hundreds of salespeople, needed a site that differentiated between the agents (independent contractors who paid for their own purchases) and corporate employees (who purchased on account). By creating such a site, the printer solved a unique problem for the customer and created significant business.

Too bad the printer didn’t try to sell it to similarly situated prospects and lead the business into prosperity. Overall, adding capacity without selling what the system can do is waste.


Budget Management

Know your costs. How many times have we heard that? Okay, but studying costs and beating up workers doesn’t make costs go down. I have an idea: let’s print the time allowance for each production step on the job jacket. That way our workers will see it and they will try to meet the times. Pish posh! I’ve seen that tried numerous times. Workers are influenced by the expectations of their supervisor, not the time standard. “If I wanted gray ink, I would have given you gray ink. So do it over and give me solid black.” I’ve even seen it backfire. One printer had the times set much too loosely. Workers then slacked off so they would meet the standard. Data doesn’t lead workers; a supervisor does.

Budget hour rates are used to allocate estimated costs to a specific job in some shops. Note that the term “budget hour rate” begins with the word “budget.” A computerized management information system may help you collect the amount of time workers spend on a specific job, multiply it by the budget hour rate, and give you an estimate of wages and overhead that should be applied to the job. But if we can’t calculate the budget hour rate properly in the first place, the number is hosed. Additionally, if we don’t control our budget and we overspend (overhead and/or wages), then no amount of cyphering will lead our business. Only a person can lead.

Having a point of sale estimating system doesn’t necessarily make estimating faster. Downstream, it makes repeating jobs faster, but it usually doesn’t make estimating the original job faster. Sometimes it even slows down the process, for it usually requires us to collect more information on a job—which is a good thing. But it’s still possible to skip steps and put forth incorrect estimates. The system doesn’t know any better, but the owner does. No system can enforce discipline to collect the information. Only a leader can do that.

History Lessons

Having a history of customers’ purchases does some good, but it is more beneficial if a person uses it to drive current sales. As most printing jobs are repeated, it doesn’t take a genius to guess when the job will be ready to reprint. Most systems have some sort of expected repeat date built in but, in practice, I see it used infrequently.

If envelopes have been ordered every six months for the past year or so, it’s a good guess that they will need to be reprinted six months from now. Checking in with customers on expected reprints is often seen as very helpful and builds trust that you are a partner in the customer’s needs. Having this data does us no good unless we act on it. How? By the leader seeing that customers are contacted. It’s not rocket science.

Data doesn’t lead a business. The business is driven by a leader who uses data. As I said before, deep diving into data isn’t the Holy Grail that some want it to be. It takes a leader who follows through on the data collected to really reap the rewards. Remember that the next time you are sitting in a seminar learning about all the cool data that your system can provide.


Tom Crouser is chairman of CPrint International and principal of Crouser & Associates, Inc., 235 Dutch Road, Charleston, WV 25302, (, 304-965-7100. Reach Tom at 304-541-3714 or Connect on Facebook and LinkedIn and follow him at