Fitting Square Pegs into Square Holes

Have you ever heard the phrase “fitting like a square peg into a round hole”? It’s meant to convey an obvious mismatch between a person, thing, or idea and some situation. The person, thing, or idea-being a square peg-can obviously be seen to “not fit” into the round hole without shaving it down significantly to force it to fit, or by making the hole bigger. The thinking is that it’s better to recognize that there just isn’t a good natural fit, allowing you to move on to a better, more suitable situation rather than trying to force the issue.

In business, too, it can apply to a potential client or lead that doesn’t fit your classic mold of what a perfect fit may be. As a provider of catalog automation software with a robust Production Information Management system at its core, we too have developed a fairly good idea of what represents a “good fit” for us over our decade plus of existence in catalog publishing.

Perfectly Round Pegs, Perfectly Round Holes

Naturally, we see a majority of cases where people really struggle with the juggling act of managing their catalog data and images. Sometimes, they’re coming from a situation where there is no database whatsoever and they are managing the data entirely from previous catalog documents, PDF’s, and Excel spreadsheets! The images tend to be dumped into a quasi-repository consisting of various folders, and the images themselves are a hodge-podge of seemingly random names.

This sort of intensive manual upkeep is not only wasteful of precious human resources; it’s inherently very error prone. It’s easy to sell someone that falls into this category on the idea of a catalog-centric product database and built-in digital asset management. They already know they need an easy catalog building solution, because they’ve suffered through a few attempts at a catalog already and they realize how much duplicate work they are doing.

Not Quite-As-Round Pegs, But Still Pretty Round

The other major case we typically see are those that DO have some sort of backend ERP or ordering system. While their data is not quite as unmanageable as the first case, what we have seen is that ERP systems, while great for ordering, don’t naturally lend themselves very well for catalog and/or marketing purposes. This is simply because they were never designed for that purpose. While a good percentage of the product’s raw data fields are maintained in ERP faithfully, they aren’t necessarily kept in a manner conducive to creating human-readable output using catalog publishing.

For instance, product description fields or specification fields may not be kept in a print-ready format. You’ll see things like “GAL”, “gal”, “gallon” and all other potential permutations, because there is no enforcement or data validation taking place. Again, the ERP system wasn’t designed to present the data in a catalog-it was designed to facilitate ordering and inventory. As such, the marketing side is constantly fighting with trying to get the latest, accurate info while at the same time cleaning it up or enhancing it for the presentation side (web or print catalog). So, even though they have some type of database, the net effect is they are still maintaining multiple versions of the same data.

While this is still a better situation on paper than the first “no database” situation, it still represents a ton of manual, human effort which has to be repeated each and every catalog cycle. This also makes it easy to sell them on the idea that they still need a catalog-driven product database, albeit one which may be fed electronically from their ERP system, while applying our data shaping tools and catalog templates to present this data in a better format for catalogs-all without altering the backend system.
Easy Catalog Building

The Dreaded Square Peg Appears

This brings us to one of our “square peg” examples we recently saw. One potential lead had contacted us, and as they described their business problem, it didn’t fit neatly into either of these molds that we typically see. They do have a backend system, but the data is already in a format ready for print (for their particular needs). Images, in their particular case, are minimal to non-existent. So, right off the bat, there goes our two most common standbys we tend to bring up when convincing someone to adopt our solution for easy catalog building.

At this point, you can’t help but think “square peg in a round hole”, or “I’m not really sure why they need us”. As we continued on in our conversation, however, they were very clear about their business problem: they need to create thousands of mini-catalogs per year, and they just want to kick off that process with an export file initiated from their backend system to us. Since the simple textual data is already in a format conducive for print, they really just want this export file to get taken into our system, whereby an automated PDF is generated for them based on a catalog template we create for them.

Over the years, we’ve just grown so accustomed to customers loving our product database so much that the idea of not really using it and relying solely on their own data feed is kind of.shocking. After thinking it over some more, we determined that this was kind of a silly way to view their request. First of all, they admitted their data was very simple in nature, so there was really no big issue with data validation or data irregularities for us to “clean up”. This is where our internal red flags started to go up-this is usually the very thing people come to us for! It’s the easiest and most obvious thing to convince people they need.

However, they still came to us for a reason, and that reason was to give them an easy way to produce thousands of mini-catalogs as a PDF, on-demand, just by exporting a file as they needed it. This file would then be run through our catalog templates to give them a great-looking professional PDF. This PDF would then be e-mailed to thousands of their subscribers. Is this not the very definition of “easy catalog building”? How many companies can realistically do this? When we thought about it in this way, it was easier to look at the benefits to both of us by taking on this project. The customer didn’t have to change their way of thinking. We did.

Is The Peg Too Square, Or Is Our Hole Too Round?

Naturally, when you encounter a “square peg” you are forced to ask yourself a few questions:

•  Does this opportunity genuinely not fit with what we’re trying to do?

•  How much extra work, on both of our parts, is required to make this a good fit?

•  Will the end result be worth it for them? If there is an inordinate amount of extra steps or work on       their end, do the benefits of catalog templates and automated catalog publishing outweigh it when it’s all said and done?

•  Will the end result truly enhance our product? In other words, will adding a square hole attract other square pegs, or are we just doing a one-off custom job?

Obviously, these are questions only we can truly answer in our individual circumstances. But, these are the basic questions you should be asking yourself. If altering what you fundamentally do to provide customer solutions will take an extreme amount of effort, and you really don’t see it providing benefits beyond just this single new case, then maybe you are better off letting them remain a “square peg”. If that is the case, then probably some other solution provider will be a better match and we all win. In our experience, however, we find that this is the case only rarely.

Many times, we subconsciously sabotage these opportunities because they aren’t easy and aren’t a repeat of what we’ve done 500 times already. Instead of viewing these as unique opportunities which can help us to widen out and grow so we may reach a wider audience, we tend to give in to our base instincts. You may have recognized some or all of these at some point or another:

•  Doubt. This is a self-doubt that comes with a new and unique opportunity. “Maybe we can’t do       this.” “We’ve never done this before, so how do we know it will work?”

•  Fear. This is fear of the unknown. “If we take this on, maybe it will go so badly that it will give us a bad name.” “This may spread us too thin and actually hurt our ability to keep providing the tried-and-true solutions for our other clientele.”

•  Laziness. Don’t underestimate this one. You can have a great work ethic but still have lazy tendencies. One of these tendencies is to never branch outside of the same little box you’ve painted yourself into. “I know our method works for others, so why would I even think about trying something different?” “Why should I go out of my way to try something new for just one customer, when I have to support dozens of others?”

•  Vanity. At first glance this might seem to be the silliest of the possibilities. But, really analyze yourself as you try to convince yourself the “square peg” doesn’t, can’t, and won’t fit for you. Are you sure that you aren’t really saying, “My solution has worked for dozens of other clients, so if it doesn’t work for this one, it’s because they are trying to do something wrong”? Or “Maybe they should just learn to be happy with what we propose to give them, because it’s still better than what they have.”

You might surprise yourself at how many times we’ve all thought like this or felt like this when a strange opportunity presented itself. On one hand, opportunity is exciting, but on the other, we secretly always want it on our terms! When we don’t, we just assume a better (read: easier) one will come on by. At any rate, we should never find ourselves thinking that the customer’s needs are “wrong” or somehow “invalid” just because they seem to be a minority case at first glance. That’s the kind of thinking that has taken down many of the world’s biggest companies and allowed small upstarts to pass them over, when it seemed unthinkable just a few short years before.
Catalog Template

Don’t Be Afraid To Add Some Square Holes

From our perspective, this Square Peg Scenario we just went into above is every bit as valid as the first two cases we’re used to seeing. It’s just that it’s only come up recently, but that doesn’t mean others aren’t in the same boat. One thing we have to remember is that when people come to solution providers, they don’t really know what they want as far as a method for solving their issues. They only really know what their issues are. They depend on us to give them the possible solutions. If they speak to multiple solution providers and hear variations of the same solution, it’s only natural for them to think that is the only valid solution.

Our system is more than a match to tackle their particular business need; we designed our easy catalog building solution in mind to create thousands upon thousands of on-demand catalogs. What at first seemed like it would be an oddball request turned out to be something that really pushes our tool in a good way, the more we learned about it. Again, the customer never changed their requirements or bent their expectations to meet what we were offering. We did the bending, because we determined that we were being too inflexible in the first place.

Square Pegs Aren’t Always The Problem

So, with this in mind, maybe we need to take another look at the idea of “fitting square pegs into round holes”. Perhaps, instead of adopting the mindset that there is a natural hurdle that exists between us, we ought to instead look to add some square holes to our collection of round holes. This way, we’re more prepared to handle an even wider array of business challenges, and not simply falling into the trap of looking for limitations or easy excuses as to why something doesn’t fit our classical model of catalog publishing.

By no means is this to say that every situation out there is a perfect match-or even a good match. Neither are we saying that every square peg needs to fit with your organization; of course, this can only ever be determined by you and your unique company character. What we are saying is to not be afraid to branch out, because on the occasions that we’ve done this, we’ve been rewarded many times over and enhanced our product in ways that we ourselves would never likely have done if left to our own devices.