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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.