Selling IT made easy: Give instant quotes to customers and sell all products online

A sure sign of the upturn in the IT business is the increase in the amount of people trying to sell me things.

A sure sign of the upturn in the IT business is the increase in the amount of people trying to sell me things.

Almost the first thing suppliers say is that they want to "understand my business", but when I talk to them, it becomes clear that most salespeople have no idea about how businesses make the decision to buy IT.

Part of the reason for the depth of the last downturn was that how we bought IT departed radically from how suppliers want to sell it.

The first and biggest hurdle is getting some sort of price. If sales managers or consultants are hired to pitch "bargains" to IT directors, they ought at least to know exactly what they are.

Every day, I see adverts from suppliers asking me to "contact us for best prices". That represents a naive view of the business process and of what I want to do with my time.

In the the 1990s, there was a waterfall process where the decision to buy was often made before managers knew what it would cost.

However, this was not true for everyone then, and it is true for no one now.

I am expected to be in the loop and say intelligent things about costs as the decision is made, and often the decision is made or broken on cost.

Many IT suppliers like to come in for a chat and come back with a quote a few days later.

Quite why they need to do this in 2004 is beyond me. No suppliers seem to have personal digital assistants running a simple pricing application.

Like many IT managers I am often working to a fixed budget and have to trade off wildly different items such as bandwidth and contractor time. Thus, I need to be able to adjust what I order until it fits.

This means adding or removing items from the specification incrementally. The time lag I have experienced getting quotes from some suppliers can make this impossible.

They may be flexible, but they are slow.

At one point I used to enjoy the haggle over price, but my time costs money as well. Now suppliers who use slow processes do not get the business.

After much prodding, Hewlett-Packard has allowed some of its products online, but other leading suppliers, who have said we should all be doing e-commerce, do not seem to practice what they preach.

This of course explains why Dell manages to shift so much kit.

Software suppliers' processes are not that much better. Although they really ought to be able to dispense with people altogether, it is the technical support, not the sales, which has depleted.

The worst case is licensing. Several smart people have told me that licensing is too complex for the web.

After the experience of Microsoft's recent licensing programmes, my response is that if your price scheme is too complex to be expressed online, you need a simpler scheme.

Complex schemes may protect revenue, but they are a serious barrier to the product being bought online.

The recipe for selling is really easy. Give sales people the ability to quote prices in real time and put all prices online

Dominic Connor is head of IT at King and Shaxson

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