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Six Things Software Vendors Need to Know About You

7 Dec, 2004 By: Darrell Amy imageSource

Six Things Software Vendors Need to Know About You

In the last issue of imageSource, we discussed the convergence of copier
dealers and software companies and what you need to know to competently choose a
software vendor. But what should a software vendor know about you, the dealer?

If you are just getting your feet wet in the "solutions revolution" you may
not even be aware of what vendors should know about your dealership before
agreeing to a partnership. What you do know is you are eyeing solutions sales
because you are seeking the value-added benefits of software to shore up sagging
profit margins and to improve your competitive advantage.

Don’t forget, however, software companies are attracted to your industry just
because of the sheer number of potential clients involved. So, you both have a
great need for each other.

Something to also keep in mind is, although dealers offer tremendous
potential as a new channel for software companies, the independent dealer
channel is fundamentally different than traditional software channels. Until
now, software companies have worked either directly with larger end users or
through Value Added Resellers (VARs). You have to let them know what your needs
are, which could require some initial "handholding" and patience on their part.

When teaming up with a software vendor you should let them know these six
things about the channel you work in:

We Have a Large Number of Customers

Our customer base offers a tremendous opportunity for software companies. 
Unlike a VAR that might have a dozen customers in a vertical market, we have
thousands of clients across multiple industries.

This means if software vendors understand how we do business, we have 
tremendous potential to sell a lot of software. So please vendors, take the time
to learn how unique our business is.

Most of Our Customers Are in the Mid-Market

The reality is that the bulk of our clients are in the mid-market. As
locally-owned businesses, we have built our customer base primarily around
customers that are the same size as us. That’s not to say that we don’t have a
few large customers, it’s just that most of our base is in the mid-market.

These customers are used to buying mid-range office equipment from us that
sells for under $20,000. In some cases, our sales are closer to the $10,000
range. Most of what we sell is leased for 36 or 60 months, which means our
customers are used to approving orders in the range of $200 to $500 a month.

As a result, software needs to be positioned to fit this client.  Enterprise
class software that starts at $25,000 and goes up as you add on a long list of
confusing options is going to be hard for us to sell. It’s not that there will
never be customers that we can sell to in this price range, it’s just that most
of our clients will find it an insurmountable challenge to part with $50,000. 

If you, the software vendor, can provide us packages that are easy for us to
add as options to an existing copier lease, we will be much more successful. For
example, we can sell a package that adds $199 to a monthly lease payment.  In
addition, the software needs to be simple to use so it doesn’t unnecessarily
lengthen our sales cycle. 

We Are Great Salespeople, Not Technical Wizards

Copier dealers have some of the best salespeople on the planet. However, most
of our salespeople are not software gurus. They are highly skilled at getting
through doors, developing relationships, uncovering problems, and closing the

And while we are at it, most of our customers are not technical wizards
either. They are just businesspeople trying to be successful. They don’t care
about the technical jargon. They just want to know how the software can make
their business run better. 

For us to be successful selling software, we need sales training, not
computer training. We don’t need to know every single detail of how the software
works, what type of database it sits on and how it interfaces with the operating
system.  These technical facts fly way over our heads and only reinforce our
doubts that we can sell something so advanced. Instead of all the technical
jargon, vendors need to help identify how their software can fit into our
client’s offices. 

Ray Belanger, president of Bay Copy in Rockland, Massachusetts agrees. "I
wish software companies would help us relate the benefits of the software to our
customer’s specific situation," he said. 

Software companies would greatly enhance their success with us if they would
train our salespeople on how the software addresses key business issues. This
allows our salespeople to keep doing what they do best: uncover opportunities
and close business. A software specialist can come in alongside the rep to make
sure the software works.

We Need Help with the Technical Side of the Sale

When it comes to the technical part of the sale, we may need some help.  Many
of us do not have a sales staff large enough to justify a technical sales
specialist—especially since we have not created a software revenue stream.

In most cases, if software vendors can help us with the first few
demonstrations, we can pick up the ball and run with it.  Demonstration support
is very helpful, just as long as when it is demonstrated, a vendor doesn’t get
too distracted in the technical side of the software. 

They must make it look easy to use and tie it to our client’s business
problems. If they get too technical with most of our potential buyers, it could
jeopardize the sale. In some cases, we may ask the vendor to talk with the
customer’s IT people while we work on the relationship with the decision maker.
This is really helpful to us in closing the sale.

Please Help Us with the Installation

Here is the heart of the matter: we have worked very hard for years to build
a customer base and we are concerned about jeopardizing our relationship with
these customers. There is nothing worse to us than losing a customer’s copier
business because we tried to install software that didn’t work. It has happened
to us before when we first started connecting digital copiers. In many cases,
the connectivity turned into a huge ordeal and it deeply strained our customer

Even though the opportunities to sell software are great, we cannot afford to
lose a customer over a bad software implementation. Help us by making the
implementation as smooth as possible. Let us know how to avoid pitfalls when
installing your software, which brings up another good point.  "Please let us
know the limitations of your software so the program will not be sold if those
limits are exceeded," pleaded Roy Kennedy, president of Automated Business
Products in Waterloo, Iowa. "We know your software is great. Just please tell us
what it can’t do so we don’t make promises we can’t keep."

Be There for Us After the Sale

We come from a service-intensive industry. "Our level of commitment to our
customers ensures our success in the marketplace," said Adam Guillen, president
of Johnnie’s Office Systems in Waco, Texas. "Office equipment dealers want the
same commitment from our vendors to assist us in customer retention and on-going
solutions success."

It is critical that we be able to respond to customer problems quickly. Our
clients measure our response in hours and minutes, not days and weeks. As a
result, we need vendors to be there for us. Some of our biggest frustrations
occur when a customer has a problem and we can’t get a vendor’s support person
on the phone. Please take customer service as seriously as we do.   

"The post sales support is when trouble can occur," Guillen said. "It is the
no worries attitude of support staff that makes my skin crawl. In our industry
quick service response is important. I understand that some issues can't be
fixed within eight hours, but I also know when customer issues are being pushed

As mentioned in the opening, our channel has tremendous potential to sell
software. If vendors can recognize our needs and walk us through the process,
the return on the time invested  could be enormous.

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