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Entering Solution Sales: A Practical Approach

22 Mar, 2006 By: David Sweetnam imageSource

Entering Solution Sales: A Practical Approach

While we may all hear wonderful
stories about how IKON, Danka and other dealer conglomerates have migrated into
total solution providers, those companies live in a different world from the
majority of office equipment dealers in terms of human, technical and financial

A local dealer with a small sales and service team supporting local small to
medium-size businesses cannot expect to make the transition overnight into an IT
workflow solution guru.

Moving to a solution sales model adds a whole new set of standards and costs. A
dealership needs…

• A sales force that must be educated on a plethora of new software solutions.

• A sales force that looks beyond a pitch focused on faster or cheaper.
Salespeople must have a much greater understanding of workflow and business

• A sales process that encompasses numerous decision makers spanning multiple
departments and a cycle that often runs into months.

• A service department that has to answer complex IT questions with a myriad of
potential technical culprits at the customer site.

• A more advanced showroom that demonstrates these workflow solutions in action.

• A new distribution/reseller agreement with multiple software vendors.

All these issues consume time, money and drain existing resources.

So, should you avoid solution sales? No. In my belief, surviving without at
least some software solutions on the shelf would create a difficult future for a

key is to take baby steps. Don’t try to be a master at every type of workflow
solution directly out of the gate. The likelihood is that you will end up with
sales and service staff who know too little to sell or support anything
properly. Instead, aim to become a master in one area and grow your solution
business offerings slowly, feeding off the demands of your customer base.

Getting Started

Businesses must maintain normal operations, even during transitions. Any IT
manager will tell you that their goal is to make changes to the infrastructure
with a minimum disruption to day-to-day activities.

Follow their lead. Decide upon a specific workflow solution, either document
management, security archiving, advanced workflow routing, etc. and focus on
that area.

Do not train everyone from sales and service at once. Start with one salesperson
and one service engineer. Get them trained to sell and support the system, thus
keeping training costs down and allowing the remaining team to focus on bringing
in today’s revenue.

However, ensure that your entire sales team understands how to recognize
customer needs in order to arrange another meeting where the solution team
(sales and technical support) can come along to pitch a solution.

By doing this, the sales team will get exposed to the solution sales pitch and
it will also allow your trained solution specialist to hone his or her skills
through regular sales calls.

Turnkey workflow solutions

A common issue among dealers trying their hand at solution sales is the
complexity of trying to integrate with existing or legacy systems. To reduce
this issue, try looking into turnkey solutions that take workflow from A through

One possible turnkey solution would be a scan to Web-based document management
application. The benefits of these programs—mainly cutting back on paper—can be
spelled out easily to business managers without getting too technical.

Although many companies realize that paper is not the best or most efficient
medium for sharing information, few have yet come to terms with the
alternative—an electronic document management system (EDMS).

EDMS can come in many shapes and forms from freeware, downloadable programs at
no cost, to programs such as FileNet (www.filenet.com) and Documentum (www.documentum.com),
which have high investment costs and complex implementation and support demands.

Web-based EDMS systems are also beneficial for small and medium-sized companies
to keep remote workers in the loop. These programs use the Web and a security
log-in process as the means of granting access to any authorized person in the
world with Internet access.

Web-based systems include the WebXtender browser utility for the Documentum
suite of applications and DocuLex WebSearch (www.doculex.com), which is now in
its third version. Some MFP manufacturers, including Ricoh and Xerox, have
brought out their own Web-based EDMS systems—DocumentMall (www.ricoh-usa.com)
and DocuShare (http://docushare.xerox.com/ds/) respectively.

Do I need to be a host provider?

DocuLex WebSearch, for example, is a server-based application that can be sold
in a variety of ways to customers. You can sell this solution to a customer who
has the core competency to install and maintain the system or you can offer to
host the system, which can bring in additional revenue and improve your chances
of reeling in more business.

But you do not need to host the service yourself. A quick Google search or look
through the local Yellow Pages and you will quickly find hosting companies. Of
course, the extent to which you use the third party will determine your own
profit margin on the deal.

You can have the entire service, including hardware, bandwidth and technical
support maintained by the hosting company, or pay for whatever increments you do
not want to undertake yourself.

Consider also that there is no short supply of young tech geniuses coming out of
college that would be a good staffing investment. They could manage the hosting
side of the new business model and assist with other IT aspects of technical

On the other hand, hosting for Ricoh’s DocumentMall, for example, is handled
completely by the OEM. The dealer simply sells the service in bandwidth and
service interval packets. There are many more offerings in this space. It’s a
good investment of time to look around.

To go alongside the EDMS, it would be wise to include at least one scan routing
system. These come in a multitude of formats ranging from cover sheet-based
systems such as DocuLex GobyCapture, NSi’s Refero² (www.nsius.com) and OmTool’s
AccuRoute (www.omtool.com) to systems for entering metadata on the fly using a
touch screen such as NSi’s AutoStore, Ricoh’s GlobalScan and eCopy (www.ecopy.com).

Some of these applications will provide direct integration into the Web-based
EDMS while others will route to a holding folder with the end user using a data
operator to carry out manual filing.

Your manufacturer will likely have a relationship with one or more of these
middleware applications. An investment in one or more of these applications is a
key to expanding your solutions offerings down the road.

The Initial Benefits

You may not receive the same discounts from software companies as you have
become accustomed to from your hardware supplier, but remember that by becoming
a solution provider you move away from being just another office equipment
provider. Instead, you become a technology partner who is more difficult to
replace without causing business disruption.

And while you won’t initially make a fortune on the software or scanning
workflow sale, an efficient EDMS always results in an increase in print volumes
as users find it easier to search for information in the central electronic
resource than bother trying to find the hard copy that might be lying around.

Although you may not have the resources of an IKON or Danka, entering the
solution sales business can be a reality as long as you don’t initially bite off
more than you can chew.

David Sweetnam is the vice president of research and content development
for BERTL, which publishes evaluation and analysis reports on copiers, printers,
MFPs, fax, color, and production devices. Visit www.BERTL.com or call

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