Breathing Life Back into Desktop Sales

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Posted 2007-10-15 Email Print this article Print
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Opinion: The desktop PC is rapidly approaching commodity status; can system builders reverse the trend?

System builders have slowly watched their bottom lines dwindle as the big box retailers and direct sales models have chewed into their profits.

Today, the typical system builder has to compete with the likes of Dell to deliver a PC into both the home and business markets. What's more, large enterprises are buying in bulk directly from the manufactures, while small businesses are turning to the mail order or local retailer for their desktop PCs.

Does this situation spell death for the modern system builder? Probably not, but system builders are going to have to become a lot more creative and customer-conscious to win over sales from the competition. The trick here is to sell a customer what they want, not what they "think" they want.

Let me digress. If you take a look at the typical consumer PC (or even business level PC), the purchaser has very little choice in what software is pre-installed, ranging from operating systems to bundled bloat-ware. Let's be realistic here; the customer has been conditioned to believe that they need all those "free" applications and they think they must have the "latest" OS, and that conditioning is hard to overcome.

In fact, with every new PC purchase, customers will probably spend hours removing all of that bundled software and then spend time installing new applications. The real fun begins when they discover that the "latest and greatest" operating system is not all it's cracked up to be and they desire to go back to the previous operating system.

System builders will find those situations are the silver lining to the storm cloud. Simply put, use the market's experience to demonstrate that saving a few bucks now—will cost you later. How can system builders leverage that fact? It comes down to a few simple steps.

  • Educate your audience about the perils of bloat-ware.

  • Advocate freedom of choice: Build the PC for your specific customers' needs.

  • Support and Service: Remember you're here, not in an overseas call center.

  • Recycle: Offer a service to help customers dispose of old equipment.

  • Technology: New PCs can be smaller and "greener"; both are tangible aspects.

  • Service life: Use components that have a long business cycle.

    For the bloat-ware issue, it is simplest to just inform your customers of how much time they will waste trying to configure software they may not use, which can be a leading reason for them to consider purchasing a custom/white box PC.

    Freedom of choice goes hand in hand with offering a custom PC. Odds are customers may not want Windows Vista, so offer XP or Linux. The key here is to offer either a better way of doing things or familiarity with the customers' expectations. The trick is to use competitive arguments, such as: If you need to learn a new OS (Vista), why not give Linux a try. Or another argument: Microsoft Office has been redesigned, and you may be better off with a competitive product that works like the previous version of MS Office. Most users fear change; system builders can capitalize on that fear by offering familiar applications, but on improved hardware.

    Supporting customers should be a no-brainer, but most solution providers look at support as an unprofitable burden. Yet, the stories abound about how frustrated users have become by dealing with call centers, language barriers, inefficient techs and so on. Simply put, you should use support as a marketing tool and build the cost into your prices or offer premium support plans for a fee.

    Customers often wonder what to do with their old PCs; many just give them away, and some try to reuse the PCs for other tasks. In other cases, the old PCs just sit in a warehouse waiting for disposal. One of the most overlooked elements of this situation is that sensitive data may reside on those machines. Offer your customers a way to "clean" and donate or recycle a machine and you'll be many steps ahead of what any direct sales vendor can do.

    Solution providers should also consider the "extras" that are offered by today's latest components. For example, new processors, chip sets and power supplies are offering reduced power consumption, making PCs more "green" than ever.

    Selling energy savings along with performance is a sure way to spark interest in custom built PCs. Other technologies also add to the value of the unit, such as lights out management offered by Intel's vPro technology, which may help to build a management service opportunity for the system builder at a later date.

    One thing system builders really need to be aware of is product life cycles, especially when selling to business customers. The capability to offer additional PCs that sport the same feature set and compatibility 12 to 18 months down the road could be a real catalyst for building an ongoing sales relationship with a midsize business.

    Those businesses tend to buy PCs in small quantities, but want their last purchase to mirror their first in an upgrade cycle.

    Both AMD and Intel are offering "certified" programs to help system builders meet that longer shelf life and sales cycle. It would be smart to leverage those programs and build systems that customers may want to buy again and again.

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    Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at frank.ohlhorst@ziffdavisenterprise.com
     
     
     
     
     
























     
     
     
     
     
     

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