The phrase "the cobbler's children have no shoes" makes me think about how many IT consultancies operate -- IT professionals are often so busy servicing clients that they cannot find time to upgrade the consultancy's own equipment. Consultants might suffer and wind up driving older fleet vehicles, operating outdated servers and workstations, and making do with sunset software.
It's not an ideal situation, especially since consultants need to position themselves at the industry forefront. While living along the bleeding edge can be tough (you're often among the first to discover application incompatibilities, driver issues, and hardware problems), clients begin deploying new technologies when they're released. What better way to be familiar with these new technologies and have proven real-world experience, than to use them within your own office?
Time isn't the only constraint when it comes to updates and upgrades, however; finances are another issue altogether. But who said you have to pay retail? Here are seven tips for getting the best price on equipment for your IT consultancy.
Ask for a deal
There's nothing wrong with contacting a vendor and trying to make a deal. In this tough economy, aggressive sales managers should be seeking opportunities to generate sales wherever realistic opportunities exist. While you can't expect to buy a new fleet van for 50 percent off sticker, you may be able to obtain better pricing just by asking. This is especially true if you're a long-time customer or are seeking to purchase multiple units of whatever it is your office requires.
Leverage other offers
If one vendor offers 40 percent discounts, but a competitor is only willing to provide your office with a 30 percent margin, let the stingier of the two know. I once refused to offer an antivirus application within my consultancy because the best margin the vendor was willing to provide was 30 percent. Numerous other vendors were providing my firm 40 points, so I simply refused to enter a partnership agreement with the manufacturer. After a season of hearing how my office was moving a competing product, the other vendor acquiesced and offered the better rate. If there's a product you'd wish to resell, but the sales agent isn't offering you comparable terms to competitors, let the agent know -- most manufacturers will come around.
Try to barter
Consider trading products and services with another company. Need new signage or a new advertising campaign? Graphics services have you at a loss? Maybe you need a new fleet vehicle? While trade-out may not cover the entire cost, you may find you're able to negotiate steep discounts if you're willing to provide IT consulting services to cover a portion of your payment.
Request demonstration copies
When it comes to acquiring new software platforms, networking hardware, or even point-of-sale equipment, contact the manufacturers' representatives and ask if you can receive a demonstration copy to show clients in their offices or to provide first-hand evaluations at your office. If manufacturers know your organization is regularly touching its target customer base, they may provide your office with complementary products to help increase their sell-through rates.
Make a commitment
If your office seriously intends to move large amounts of product for a vendor, let the vendor know. Contact the manufacturer, reseller, or distributor and promise to hit specific sales volumes. In exchange, request bigger discounts, better margins, or more favorable payment terms. The key here is to pull no punches; don't try to negotiate discounts if you can't hit corresponding sales volumes.
Partner with another business
Sometimes a service or product's cost may prove too great for a single office to bear. I've known IT consultancies to combine forces with businesses to obtain better pricing from managed service providers or to better distribute remote rescue subscription costs. By sharing the load, potentially unattainable goods and services can become a reality for even small offices if they're willing to combine forces with other entities.
Shop the outlets
My business partners have taught me the value of buying refurbished electronics. When buying from Dell, Apple, and other outlet sites, shoppers typically receive the same original factory warranty. There is an argument to be made that refurbished equipment actually possesses lower DOA rates, as these devices have already been tried by a human and, if defective, discovered and repaired. Regardless, outlet sites typically offer significant discounts versus newly manufactured goods. With (usually) identical factory warranties and no long lag times for order fulfillment, refurbished purchases offer opportunities to further reduce an IT consultancy's technology costs.Get weekly consulting tips in your inbox TechRepublic's IT Consultant newsletter, delivered each Monday, offers tips on how to attract customers, build your business, and increase your technical skills in order to get the job done. Automatically sign up today!
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 of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.