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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 customer expectations.
For individuals who make, perhaps, two or three transactions a year, shortcomings of the dealer may not be 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. But problems can be avoided with only a 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 wary of inadequate support should look closely at organization they are dealing with.
Maurice MacGarvey, who runs a successful dealership in Kelowna, British Columbia, says, "Ask the reseller how many sales staff they have and how many service staff. If 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 a good starting point, numerous other points deserve equal amounts of attention when picking a reseller. Here are a few to think about:
- Talk to the reseller's technical staff. If you will be relying on the dealers' technical support staff, having your technical people verify their capabilities is a sensible step. While it might be unreasonable to expect that a reseller's technicians have specialized knowledge of your systems, broad knowledge and an appreciation of the issues involved in a business computing environment are essential.
- Examine the reseller's capabilities. Small companies with only a few staff may offer a more personal service, but what do you do when you need an engineer on site right away, or when you want to buy $200,000 of server equipment? That's not to say you should steer clear of small companies, 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 in a manufacturer accreditation program often have access to technical support and product information 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. 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. 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 quality dealer is probably worth more than every extra dollar spent on equipment.
Building a strong relationship with a reseller requres a time investment, but it will pay dividends. 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 the right company, and one of the most important pieces of the IT management jigsaw will be in place.