Laptops optimize

Deciding which laptop your IT consultancy should sell

Erik Eckel advises IT consultancies that are considering selling laptops to maintain relationships with several vendors.

Habits are defined as repeated behavior routines that tend to occur subconsciously. Many habits, such as referencing checklists, adopting best practices, and implementing written policies, serve technology consultants well. But other habits can get IT consultants into trouble.

One example to consider is laptop vendor and model selection. An increasing number of mobile clients are demanding higher performance, greater durability, and lower pricing in laptops. Clients also desire customization options, immediate delivery, and minimal hassle fulfilling warranty repairs. Technology consultants who standardize on a single laptop vendor or model -- which is a tempting proposition considering how difficult some reseller programs are to navigate and how frustrating learning new order and procurement processes proves --limit solutions and preclude the ability to fully service clients.

There's no correct answer to the question: Which laptop should your consultancy sell? Smart consultancies will ensure they maintain relationships with several vendors.

Why multiple vendors are necessary

Many consultancies pair with one vendor -- Dell, HP, or Lenovo -- and that's understandable. Dell offers custom-built solutions at competitive prices. Many hardcore road warriors prefer Lenovo ThinkPads, which are known for performance and reliability. HP also offers corporate systems boasting reliable performance.

All of these vendors have their place, but becoming an official reseller requires opening lines of credit, establishing new relationships, learning new portals, and mastering potentially unfamiliar product lines. All of this takes time. And sometimes errors occur, the portal doesn't work, logins won't activate, products won't display, or they're priced higher within the reseller portal than on the website from which anyone can buy product.

It's easy to form a relationship with just one provider and be done with it, but a consultancy that limits itself to reselling only Dells, for example, makes it harder to fulfill orders quickly. Your consultancy either chooses a "Ships Fast" model or takes its best crystal-ball shot and tries stocking a few models in advance that your staff believes a client might require on short notice. Even then, the consultancy might frustrate a customer who just doesn't like Dell, whether for valid reasons or not.

By maintaining a relationship with a second vendor, such as HP or Lenovo, a consultancy can obtain alternative systems quickly. When selecting a second laptop vendor, it's particularly important for the consultancy to pair one vendor that stocks ready-made systems in a warehouse with a second vendor that enables custom-building systems to meet clients' ever changing needs.

By developing a second relationship with a laptop vendor or distributor, it also enables the consultancy to significantly expand the laptop models it can provide clients. The consultancy will no longer by limited to the single manufacturer's product line. Now two are available, meaning one manufacturer's idea of a thin and light laptop can be supplemented by another's, or one vendor that hasn't yet begun deploying SSD drives in its 13" laptops can potentially be complemented by the second firm when a client requests such a build.

What not to sell

Consultancies should not sell consumer-grade systems to business clients. You know the kind -- the $399 Windows 7 Home specials that grace the sales circulars of most office store chains perform a real disservice. These ubiquitous advertisements lead ill-informed clients to believe a good laptop can be had for just a few hundred dollars, but that's not the case.

An OEM Windows 7 Professional license runs $150, with a business-class hard drive and sufficient RAM running another $150 or so. That doesn't leave much for investing in a display, keyboard, power supply, optical drive, motherboard, video card, network interface, wireless technology, and other components for under $400 or even $500.

Clients frequently forget Microsoft Office software isn't included with Windows. Microsoft Office Home and Business 2010 adds another $200, which confuses some clients who think they should be able to walk away for $400 or so.

Consultants must be patient, explain the differences, and avoid deploying consumer-grade laptops in businesses. Those laptops are not designed for use within corporate networks, and they don't possess the operating systems necessary for properly connecting to server-based networks. In addition, these systems are not likely to provide the same lifecycle or reliability of business-class machines.

Which laptops do you sell?

Which laptops does your office resell, and why have you chosen to distribute those models? Join the discussion below to share your thoughts and learn how other consultancies think.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

10 comments
ITonStandby
ITonStandby

As a solo IT consultant for micro businesses, I'm not ready or willing to take on the load of becoming a product vendor. I do, however, help clients make purchase decisions based on their needs, then charge a reasonable fee to integrate the unit(s) into their environment. That leaves me free to act more as an I.T. staffer than a vendor. So far, the Dell Vostro with an Intel i5 is the best deal that I've found for notebooks.

minstrelmike
minstrelmike

I know all the cost-benefit stuff on having standard systems but it's mostly unexamined assumptions. If you are providing laptop support, it seems at first glance that having one brand and configuration will be the easiest to support, but after three years,you realize that no matter what your specs are, laptops bought 18 months after the initial purchase are different from those now being bought today and from those purchased initially 18 mos earlier. And the users calling on the phone cannot tell you the difference. OTOH (I found this out when we had contracting officers who changed every year), if the first year you give out Dells, then next year you do Lenovo, then do Acer or whatever, the users can usually read you off the brand name. And the support person, given the brand name, only has to know it's one of two or three configurations at most.

JG Consulting
JG Consulting

I've had to explain the difference between consumer computers and corporate for many years and it is tough to get across. A couple of points that I would add: Adding a consumer computer to a domain can invalidate the warranties offered by retailers like best buy unless you had upgraded to their 'business use' warranty. Due to the rapid release schedules for consumer models when you call a major vendor like Dell for support the experience is entirely different for corporate and consumer. Consumer support techs are supporting dozens of models and may never have seen your flavour of the month. Corporate support techs will have several models to support but they are all based on just a couple of architectures. In any case, powerful laptops are becoming a niche product and they'll all be disposable consumer devices soon enough IMHO.

splait1
splait1

I've been reselling Dell business PCs for years. I really like their products, and I find their tech support to be excellent. As a result, I haven't shopped HP or Lenovo for many years. I recently ordered a Precision Mobile Workstation M4600 (supports two internal drives). It has been on order for over a week now and hasn't shipped. Dell provides no information on the production status of their products, so I just have to wait. While I'm glad that my client's current laptop is still running, the delay is irritating the client. While this client has special needs (which is why I chose this particular laptop), this is a standard model that Dell sells. I will be looking long and hard at HP and Lenovo as backups to Dell. If Dell had a better way to determine delivery time before and after the sale, I wouldn't have to do this.

codemonkey1
codemonkey1

I have stopped selling hardware as such quite a few years ago -- not worth my hassle -- I advise my clients to buy at Tiger Direct or other online sources and I will do the part that makes the stuff play nice together -- end of story.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

They both used to be good, but after getting burned on both, I swore off of them. These days I like ASUS. Thinkpads also have a good rep.

chdchan
chdchan

Laptops/Notebooks used heavily or frequently suffer great wear and tear. So better build and servicing are must.

tbmay
tbmay

I lost count how many times my customers decided I was wrong and went out and bought $400 machines...both desktop and laptops. Then said, "We've bought the computers, we just need you to connect them to the network." You clearly have a very good customer base Erik. BTW....I closed my business. I still do freelance work and have had some good months from it, but I won't be getting wrapped up in this kind of frustration any more. Honestly....most small businesses really don't need a directory service. You have to get beyond my definition of "small" before worrying with things like group policy becomes practical...let alone necessary. They do need a file server and virtualization platform though. So I would, and still will, hook them up to the Samba servers I installed, mapping drives on login with a .bat, etc. and install the virt clients, even when they went out and bought the cheapo specials. But they pay my rates to do that, and if it breaks the next day, it's their problem.

Daniel Breslauer
Daniel Breslauer

"In addition, these systems are likely to provide the same lifecycle or reliability of business-class machines." I think you meant "aren't". I had the same experience at my previous employer. It was decided high-up to get cheap consumer-end laptops. Of course we would install our own software on them (Win7 Enterprise, Office 2007/2010 etc) - but the build quality simply wasn't enough. With a workforce largely consisting of mobile workers including lawyers and copy-editors, many laptops quickly had loose hinges, missing keys, and defective mice. We also had some enterprise equipment, I was lucky enough to be able to buy one from the company when I left - an HP EliteBook 6930p. We also had the HP 6730b (not labeled, but I believe it's considered part of the ProBook series) which was decent as well but rather plasticky.

Erik Eckel
Erik Eckel

You are correct. I'll see if I can't get that corrected. Thanks for the catch!