Inkjet technologies have made major strides in recent years, including higher speeds, broader color gamut, improved resolution, and more diverse media options. For mailers, recognizing the benefits of this technology could not come at a more crucial time: the midst of a pandemic and an election year, two events that demand secured and accurate information sharing.

Leveraging these technological advancements alongside powerful workflow automation software for fast, easy, reliable variable data printing is a winning combination. When beginning, growing, or even updating your inkjet presence, the right partner is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle.

An inkjet partner who understands – and is equipped to respond to – your needs can make all the difference in not just a successful implementation, but a flourishing, sustainable inkjet practice. How do you find the right inkjet partner? Start with these questions.

Can you integrate with my existing technologies and workflows?
Sometimes, a holistic, end-to-end solution built from the ground up is necessary. But a lot of the time, a print operation will have existing solutions and processes that a new inkjet implementation will have to touch. Quickly, seamlessly, and effectively integrating inkjet depends on the flexibility of the technologies involved and the expertise of the implementation partner. An inkjet veteran will know which connections to look – and prepare for – so you can start generating ROI quickly with processes that require less of an adjustment for operators.

Some potential partners who design their own technologies – such as printheads and inks – may be especially open to discussing with you ways to tailor current or future offerings to address specific needs in your environment.

What can you help me do that I’m not doing today? What partnerships do you have to broaden that even further?
Inkjet printing has many benefits, but different partners have different strengths. Inkjet has advanced to the point that high-speed, premium color, and solid finishing options are practically table stakes. Look for above-and-beyond features that tie directly into what your business is trying to do. Do you plan to print retail circulars, weighty individualized catalogs, or other applications that leverage nonstandard substrates? Be sure to ask about media flexibility. Do you take on a lot of high-quality, fast-turn work? Ask about drying times and ink coverage.

But a truly great inkjet partner won’t need you to ask those specific questions. When you ask them, “What can you help me to do that I’m not doing today?” they should be ready with answers based on your business goals and their partnerships and portfolio. Those partnerships and compatibilities – from makeready software to finishing equipment and everything in between – can truly take an inkjet implementation to the next level.

How have you helped similar businesses achieve similar goals?
The only thing better than a proven track record of success is a highly relevant proven track record of success. Ask your potential partner how they’ve helped businesses like yours achieve goals like yours, and what kind of results they’ve experienced. Relevant case studies and customer references or testimonials are the best possible proof that an inkjet partner knows how to help your business grow.

What’s the best way to get in touch with you?
This one’s admittedly a little sneaky and indirect. You’re trying to gauge how responsive of a partner you’re dealing with. You want to feel confident going forward that your inkjet partner has not only the expertise but the attentiveness to help keep you running smoothly – and keep uncovering new ways to grow together. The answer to this question will help you determine if you’re forming an alliance with a partner or signing a business deal with a company.

How will we work together after the sale?
The previous question’s more direct cousin, here you’re trying to find out what value-adds your potential partner brings to the table beyond their technology portfolio. Will they work with you to track your progress and develop suggestions for continual process improvement? Will they schedule regular check-ins to make sure your success continues after the sale? You want a partner who checks in much more frequently than the end of a sales cycle, so the collaboration that leads to your initial inkjet success can continue to bear fruit. That level of collaboration can also provide the confidence and expert backing to continue to push boundaries and uncover new ways inkjet can help you serve your end-customers and expand your offerings into new businesses.

The next time you’re considering inkjet, think of these questions. You don’t have to use them verbatim, but they each represent important aspects of a sustainably successful partnership. Having the right technologies is just the first step. Look for a partner who makes your success their priority and has the expertise, insight, and resources to deliver.

Tim Bolton is Senior Technology Portfolio Manager, Production Print, Ricoh USA, Inc.