A sustainable support model for a plethora of solutions

May 25, 2009

When you go to Canon’s “Integrated Solutions” section on the Canon USA web site you will see dozens and dozens of solutions, the same is true with Konic Minolta’s “Application Solutions” area on their web site. Now throw in what EFI has for “solutions and a number of other of software “solutions” vendors and your dealerships SEs may be supporting 100 different solutions.

I get calls all the time from Document Management (DMS) or other software vendors trying to get us to carry their products. So how can a dealership support such a large number of solutions without breaking the bank. These “Solutions Vendors” all want you to send your sales & support people to their school to learn how to sell their solutions products. Some times they even charge you for the privilege of attending their school. I tell them to please “hold your breath, and I will get right back to you to schedule my people to attend the class that you want to charge me for so we can resell your product” (NOT!). Or maybe they want to come in and address your sales force to pitch to them the benefits of selling their product (take a number and get in line with all the other vendors who want to present out sales force).

What do Solutions vendors need to know, and what do they need to do if they want us to lead with their solutions products?

1) You need to understand that our sales force has a hardware quota that they need to meet every month. If your product does not help them meet that hardware quota you will not get the time of day from them. If you can show how your solutions product can genuinely help out sales force sell more hardware, you have our attention. But you better be able to prove what you say. The best way is to show us how your solution product helped another dealer land a good deal. My sales force only cares about your product IF it can help them make their quota and put money in their pocket.

2) The gate keeper is the Solutions Support Engineers. If you think you are going to go around the SEs you are deluded. The SEs can and will shut you out of the sales force because it is the SEs or the Solution Sales Engineers that ultimately propose the right solution for a particular customer. The average sales person doesn’t know EFI from eCopy, it is not their job to know. They depend on their SEs to analyze, propose, install, and support the right solution. If the SE doesn’t support your solution very few sales people will go against that advice, and if they do so, they do it at their own peril. Ultimately if it ‘blows up” it comes back to that sales person. It is their responsibility, and they don’t want that. So the bottom line is don’t try to make an end run around the Solutions team.

3) What you can do to make your company more attractive for the SEs and the dealership to want to carry them? For starters don’t charge us to take your class. I will pay for our SEs travel & lodging but the class needs to be on you. After all you are asking us to sell your products that is benefit enough, you don’t need to charge me for your class. Secondly, you need to provide NFR software for us to load in as many showrooms as we have AT NO COST! eCopy does their NFR software right! Many other solutions vendors should take a queue from eCopy on this. Why should I pay you anything to put your software in my demo room? Do you want me to show your software? Do you want me and my sales force to talk about it? If the answer is yes, then you need to provide me with NFR software for each of my demo rooms at no cost to me. I am NOT Buying it, I am allowing you to show your solution products in all of my demo rooms at no cost to you. Since I am not charging you to show your products to my customers, I expect that you will not charge me either. I do understand that when there is hardware involved that you have to pay for, then that cost is passed on to us. It should be at a discount if we are going to keep it in our show room. If not then we will need to be able to resell it without restrictions if it is at full dealership cost.

What else can you do as a solutions vendor to make the dealership want to lead with your products? By the way, there is a BIG DIFFERENCE between a dealership carrying your product, and leading with your product. I hope you understand the difference.

4) You can provide initial Web-Ex training to our Sales & Solutions people. This will be initial training to certify us to sell your product. We will not be taking people out of the field for a week or even a few days to go to your class until we see that our customers want it. So start out by doing web training. Also offer ongoing pre-sale web ex support to our sales people for our customers to see your solutions products.

5) Next offer remote installation and remote support (as chargeable professional services) to support the dealerships initial installs and sales. Be reasonable on your pricing and realistic as to how much time will be required. We (The Dealership) know that our vendors are trying to run leaner and we are fine trying to help your best support people do less travel and more chargeable support. We will commit to having our SEs on site with your support people logging in remotely. This is the best of both worlds for both the solutions vendor and the dealership. We have your best support person available for this install and our best SEs are on site to work with them and our customers. I have done this a number of time and it works well. It’s economical and we can wrap the cost of your professional services into the cost of the deal. And because your support people don’t have to travel they could do multiple installs in a single day and still be home with their family at night. Everybody wins!

6) Finally, offer web based end user training classes that we can resell to our customers. These will be very helpful when we take on a new solutions product that we want to make available to our customers. We again will provide an on site SE at the customers site during the remote end user training class. We will not be paying for our SE to attend this class. They are there to support the end users and to learn how to better support your product. We are happy to also roll this into the deal so our customer will get the most out of this new solution.

So that is how you can get a new solution into a dealership. This support model is economical and sustainable for both the Solutions Vendor and the Dealership. Just how many solutions Vendors will adopt it is yet to be seen. I can tell you that it works! I have done it on a few solutions that were new to us and now we are selling & supporting them. Our sales force is talking about them and we are showing them regularly in our demo rooms. Do you want a piece of this? if so, I have just laid out a model that will work. The next move is up to you as a solutions vendor. What are you going to do?

That’s My $0.02
Vince McHugh


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