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.
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.