In an environment where margins are tight, competition is fierce, and customers want everything for nothing, being a reseller is tough. That's not to say that there aren't resellers making good money, but those that do have to work hard to make it, and those that don't fall by the wayside in short order. Being a computer reseller, or a dealer as they are commonly known, requires a delicate balancing act of supplying goods and services at prices that people want to pay, and then delivering those in line with the customers expectations. For individuals who make, perhaps, two or three transactions a year, shortcomings of the dealer may not be that apparent. For corporate customers who make the same number of transactions in a week, or even a day, issues are likely to be visible far more quickly. It is a situation that can be avoided, with only the minimal amount of groundwork.
The most common complaint leveled against dealers is that while they're happy to sell product, they are not so quick to support it. Corporate customers who fall foul of this should look closely at the kind of organization they are dealing with. Maurice MacGarvey who runs a successful dealership in Kelowna, BC, Canada gives his words of wisdom on the subject. "Ask the reseller how many sales staff they have, and how many service staff. It there are more sales people than service technicians, you know that company is more focused on sales than service. It's a crude rule of thumb, but one that proves to be right more often than not".
While such measurements are good as a starting point in your reseller selection process, there are numerous other points that deserve equal amounts of attention. Here are just a few that you should think about when selecting a reseller for your business.
- Have your technical staff talk to theirs. If you will be relying on the dealers technical support staff, having your technical staff verify the capabilities of theirs is a sensible step to take. It might be unreasonable to expect that the technical staff at the reseller have specialized knowledge of your own systems, but a broad knowledge base and an appreciation of the issues involved in a business computing environment is essential.
- Look carefully at the capabilities of the company. Small companies with only a few staff members may offer a more personal service, but what do you do when you need a service engineer on site not now, right now, or when you want to buy $200,000 worth of server equipment? That's not to say you should steer clear of small companies entirely, but make sure both parties understand what is expected of the relationship, and what the reseller can, and cannot, deliver.
- If you have standardized hardware or software platforms, look for manufacturer accreditations. Resellers that are in a manufacturer accreditation program often have access to technical support and product information channels that non-accredited dealers don't. Remember, though, accreditation programs should not be seen as endorsement by the manufacturer. Most programs can be joined free of charge or by the reseller buying a certain quantity of product. Some manufacturers offer tiered accreditation programs, the higher levels of which do place technical requirements on the reseller. Looking for one of these higher level dealers might be a good option.
- Maintain the relationship. Once you have chosen a reseller, maintain the relationship and encourage the reseller to do the same. Make sure that any issues that come up are flagged and dealt with. If you feel that the service level from the reseller is not meeting your expectations, let them know about it. It may be an isolated incident or even a misunderstanding. Likewise, make sure that your side of the relationship is maintained. Return cross-shipped goods promptly, pay invoices on time, and treat the reseller's staff with the respect.
- Be prepared to pay for what you get. If a company offers the levels of service and support described above, and they deliver, be prepared to pay higher prices for the goods and services you buy. In the final analysis, an extra buck here and there will probably pay you back tenfold. One hour of downtime saved by the actions, staff and stock of a top quality dealer is probably worth more than every extra dollar you will pay when buying equipment.
Building a strong relationship with a reseller is a time investment, but one that will pay dividends in the future. In times of need, a good reseller can be your best friend. Equally, a bad one can be your worst enemy. Take the time to find that right company and one of the most important pieces of the IT management jigsaw will be in place.