Few things in my professional life have left me more perplexed than the way that things are sold. I should probably state now that I do not have an MBA, and, while I am certain that there are many prominent theories on why Product A is sold direct to the public while Product B is only sold through resellers and so on, I can’t say that it makes a lot of sense to me. While this may seem like an insiders-only discussion for those of us that sell hardware or software, the reality is that more of us buy than sell so it really does concern us all.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw an advertisement for a laser scanner. It drove me crazy not knowing how much it cost. To be perfectly honest, it kind of ticked me off! Since there were so few that you could not go online and find someone that owned one and ask them, you had to call the manufacturer. As a result, I did not find out its price for months. Why? Several reasons were in play. I did not want to have to give a company representative my info, as I did not want them calling me all the time. I know this sounds silly, but I had recently completed a job that required us to rent several large-format paper scanners, and those guys were calling me once a week and any time they had a used scanner to sell. I was also a bit intimidated. I took it as a case of, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it,” and I definitely had to ask!
Eventually, Joe LaFranca showed up in Dallas on a road show and I had a chance to see the scanner and ask some questions, including the all-important, “How much is it anyway?” However, that control over the spread of information had already delayed my purchase by several months. Surely that was not their intent. So, why not lay it all out there for the consumer?
Lately I’ve been researching camera systems for a client. Once again, I found myself in the same situation. Once I got past the content in the brochure and the identical content on the website, I needed more information: resolution examples, necessary bandwidth, cost, etc. One manufacturer only sells direct through their website and via telephone. The other sells direct but also has resellers. Here’s the funny thing: the company that does mostly direct website sales has been very difficult to deal with compared to the one that has resellers. I’m sure I could just order a camera system off the website and have it in less than a week, but getting someone to answer specific questions takes an act of Congress. The company with resellers, which does not offer the ability to check prices or order products online, has been much more responsive.
So, maybe there is a place for resellers. Most of us actually have more time in the field with the hardware and software than anyone from the manufacturer. I don’t mean that as a slight against manufacturers – they are simply too busy doing what they do to employ people testing in the field all of the time. That being said, what is the answer? Which way works the best?
Today, I think a hybrid model is best. If you want to call the manufacturer or order directly through them, you should be able to. However, resellers can be an invaluable resource to end users (and a bit more objective on occasion). Where the reseller network falls apart is where it hits borders – be they political, geographic or manufacturer created. Different manufacturers have different policies, but very few allow resellers to move product anywhere they want, to any client they may have. And it is worth noting that very few major companies have only one physical location. I am constantly amazed to find that a company will have hardware or software in one office, and another office has no idea about any of it. More than once I’ve been told that each office procures its own equipment, often through different resellers, as their offices are in differing sales territories.
The internet has made our world more global in communication than ever before. Every week I receive email inquiries about products from parties all over the world. It’s incredibly frustrating to know that I spent the time and money to get their attention only to have to direct them to someone else. Worst of all, I have no way of knowing if the person I direct them to is at all qualified to help my “client,” even though it looks like I’ve recommended them. The hardest part of a sales cycle is getting your foot in the door. Setting false doors in place cannot be in anyone’s best interest. I still don’t understand why we continue to do just that.