FUD Storms and Disruptive Technologies

By | May 26, 2009

Maybe it’s just the uncertainty of the times we’re in or perhaps something more basic is going on, but it really is amazing to me how much FUD is in the air, especially since the economy did an about face on us in 2008. These FUD storms make it increasingly difficult to get accurate information across to prospects, customers, journalists, and analysts alike and for them to keep it all straight. This is especially true when explaining disruptive technologies like inkjet and the ability to incorporate MICR lines on an inkjet printer.

So what is FUD? It’s those seeds of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt sown by skeptics, technophobes and those whose competing products offer a less compelling mix of technology and benefits. In some cases the FUD comes from those who simply resist the fact that technology is an evolving process and what was considered impossible is now a practical reality. These FUDsters seemingly delight in explaining why something can’t be done or how the promises of a particular technology are all smoke and mirrors. In other cases the FUDsters may be the highly-pressured salesperson at the core of the fight for floor space in a customer’s operation. This type of FUDster needs to move product and in the timeless tradition of sales, is quick to plant any seeds of doubt can help sway a customer one way or another and take advantage of any uncertainty.

For instance, do you completely understand the differences between gsm, bond and offset paper weights? It’s amazing how many times these are used in ways that wind up leaving a customer unable to run the type and weight of paper needed for a given application. Or what happens when a sales rep is confused about watts and amps and makes statements that one system uses more electricity than another? Other times raw print speed may be used as a performance metric without regard to the actual productivity of one machine versus another. For these reasons and more, it’s important to get accurate information and to ask specific questions about any systems under consideration.

Of course, it’s not unreasonable for any salesperson to remind you of genuine shortcomings of a competitor’s machine. This is just part of the game. But the game changes if the FUD contains clearly inaccurate assertions that result in misconceptions. That can result in important decisions being based on erroneous information. This happens all the time with plenty of consumer products and it’s really no surprise that it happens in our industry. The real question is how does one respond to deliberate distortions? I am never quite sure how to deal with FUD, much less erroneous statements, but I can assure you that I will try to answer questions from our point of view with the utmost integrity and based upon the known facts, not ones made up on the fly to tell a customer what they want to hear.

For instance, the other day I was told that we cannot print MICR on our Océ JetStream line of very high speed inkjet printers. “It’s impossible!” I was told, even though it’s being done on a daily basis by some customers. Such preconceptions, aided by FUD, take work (and time) to overcome. Another person was convinced that inkjet printing comes off with water, which is not necessarily the case at all. To demonstrate, I poured a glass of water on the samples and the ink did not come off, but was told it wasn’t really water that I used! So I got some from a tap as the person watched and poured it on the samples. When the ink didn’t run the person insisted the words and pictures really weren’t inkjet –even though he had watched it being printed. The FUD he had been exposed to claimed inkjet would always run if it was wet, so it must be true, even though I could prove this “conventional wisdom” to be wrong. Other flavors of FUD include using print samples that were not printed on the machine under discussion, and TCO’s that don’t match the samples in terms of quality and coverage. Such practices are simply not right, and require prospective buyers to exercise a high level of due diligence regarding equipment investments.

I could give you more examples, but in the end a customer will do business with whomever they think is telling the truth and meets their business needs. My only advice is to write down the information you’re given and ask for specification sheets. Review all claims carefully and confirm everything in writing! No matter your choice of equipment, ask that all claims be put in writing and get an electronic version as well. Be sure to have the information put in your contract, especially cost per impression, and make sure it’s guaranteed! And if you find the claims won’t be included in a contract you’ll know a FUDster has been hard at work. Don’t let FUD get a head start!

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