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Marketing the Intangible: Professional Services

20 Apr, 2009 By: BY Dennis Amorosano imageSource

Marketing the Intangible: Professional Services

As the office equipment industry has evolved, the migration of technology from standalone to connected has brought with it a completely new set of expectations and opportunities for customers and resellers alike.

While it is still very common to find office equipment resellers highly focused on selling hardware, more often these providers have expanded their portfolios to include software and a select number of services.  In the office equipment reseller community, services vary widely
by reseller and are largely based upon the expertise of reseller technical personnel, or are defined by businesses that these resellers may have acquired along the way.

Office equipment resellers generally offer services including print assessment, managed services, implementation services, workflow consultation and design and on-site support to name a few.  With myriad service choices available and a broad base of competition, one of the key
challenges facing resellers is how to effectively market their particular service offerings.

Unfortunately, there is no simple solution to the challenges associated with marketing non-tangible services. These services tend to be more challenging to define, garner less attention from reseller sales organizations and often times get lost in a reseller’s primary
messaging to customers.

What’s in a Name

To overcome these challenges, successful resellers have elected to build service offerings that closely compliment their core business and expertise.  In addition, the more successful resellers tend to wrap services into their delivery of traditional hardware.  By coupling
services in this manner, successful resellers have been capable of differentiating themselves and ensuring that their own internal sales organizations are actively speaking to customers about more than just hardware.

When analyzing services specifically, it is often difficult for customers to discern the difference between one service and another.  For example, what is “Managed Service” as compared to other “Professional Service” offerings such as consultation or implementation?  Is
Managed Service a Professional Service or something entirely different? One thing is for sure, the jury is still out on these questions, as the terminology differs across the industry.

When looking at today’s marketplace, many manufacturers and resellers have taken the steps to offer what they consider to be Managed Services.  However, in today’s market, Managed Services is not clearly defined and can often mean different things to different people.  While
generally speaking, Managed Services will incorporate activities inclusive of the management of all office equipment assets within a given customer or customer location. However, who owns these assets, who services these assets and how they are ultimately accounted for may vary
from one Managed Service offering to another.

Also, when looking at an overall services delivery portfolio, many manufacturers and resellers will incorporate Managed Services under an overall Professional Services umbrella while just as many will maintain Managed Services offerings as a separate and distinct service
deliverable.  The good news here is that structurally there is no right answer when it comes to a services portfolio structure, only that these offerings are well defined and incorporated into an overall sales message to the market and capable of being delivered.

Given some of the confusion surrounding services in general and their marketing, why would resellers want to build these delivery capabilities?  The answer to this question is quite simple: survival!

Differentiation is Key

Today’s office equipment marketplace is not your father’s marketplace of the past.  While ten-plus years ago, the document management market was characterized by a strong migration to new digital technology and healthy margins for both equipment sales and service, recent
years have seen significant changes.  Competitive pressures and continued product commoditization have certainly had an impact with the economics of today’s business looking significantly different than in years past.

To effectively combat these changes, successful resellers have continually sought new ways to drive differentiation, and often this has meant more aggressively pursuing the sale of software and services.  Why these areas?  To answer this question one need only look at the
traditional office equipment market and the changes that have occurred.

While it was once quite normal for office equipment resellers to sell and service hardware connected only to an electrical outlet, the majority of customers today are using office equipment technology for multiple purposes, with the most advanced integrating this technology
into specific business applications and workflows. To support these requirements, resellers need new skills, which will allow them to create new marketable services. Many progressive office equipment resellers have already begun to leverage these services & positively impact
their bottom line.

With the addition of a more comprehensive portfolio of products and services, today’s successful resellers are finding more opportunities within their existing customer base -- a differentiated position when approaching prospective customers and ultimately new streams of
revenue and profit.  In general, the successful office equipment reseller will also indicate that their comprehensive solution delivery capabilities lead to better margins and longer customer relationships.

A Menu of Services

When adding services to a new portfolio of offerings, many resellers have elected to integrate Managed Services in addition to services that might be more tightly coupled with software delivery & installation. This is particularly true given the close proximity of Managed
Services to a reseller’s core hardware business and expertise in implementing, servicing and managing hardware devices. As mentioned above however, one reseller’s Managed Service offering is not something that can be easily compared to another’s.  Given the nature of Managed
Services, this type of offering has tended to be more focused on mid to large sized customers, not necessarily the customer base for most office equipment resellers. Resellers should tread carefully with respect to Managed Services and build a menu of service offerings that is
right for them given their marketplace and target customer. The good news is, that most office equipment manufacturers are quickly accelerating their activities in regards to Professional Services overall. For resellers who have yet to take steps to migrate their business in this
direction, leveraging your respective manufacturer for resources, marketing muscle & for building experience, is a strong first step.

Dennis Amorosano is Senior Director of Solutions Business Development, Imaging Systems Group, Canon U.S.A., Inc. For more company info visit www.canon.com

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