When it comes down to it, what are a reseller's assets? In past columns I've talked about how people and skilled staff are one of the major assets of any reseller. But clearly the biggest assets for any reseller are its customers.
If you don't have customers, you don't have a business. Or you might, but not for very long.
Let me suggest that the primary difference between a successful reseller and a not-so-successful reseller is that its primary assets, its customers, are fiercely loyal. The service being provided by such a reseller is so good that it prompts the customer to return whenever they need to upgrade or buy more hardware, software or services. A really good reseller "owns" the customer.
Last week's front page featured a story about a US company that was giving away PCs. Its business model is to give away the computer so that it can "own" the information about the customer's computer usage and advertising space on the customer's screen.
If I was giving away a PC I'd consider that to be good enough service to own more than just the usage information and advertising space. I'd want to own that customer lock, stock and barrel. I'd want their Internet business, and I'd want to think I've got a head start on all future upgrades and hardware and software sales.
The trick would be to convert that head start to sales.
There was another story in last week's issue reporting on a trend which I think can help resellers do just that.
We reported that Intel was set to launch a program that would help resellers support and maintain their customers' systems remotely. You'll note too, that if you sell a Compaq PC, it already comes bundled with remote control software, for that very reason.
The immediate benefit is obvious. Instead of having to send someone out to service a PC or piece of networking equipment, the reseller takes control of the box remotely and can implement a fix without the cost of a site visit or the inconvenience to the customer of forcing them to return the box to you.
Now that's service and can only help customer loyalty.
But it also encourages the customer to start dealing with you electronically. From there it's a natural progression that when they want to upgrade or buy new technology they do that electronically too.
Of course, if you've sold the initial PC, or even given it away, you can configure the PC so that it is all very easy to do. How about bundling one of those now-very-cheap digital video cameras so that they can talk and see customer service people as well?
What you've done is made it very easy for your customer to get all their computer needs solved by you, electronically. You "own" the customer.
Of course, to do this, one needs some type of electronic commerce infrastructure in place. I hope that the 40 per cent of resellers who, according to this week's front page report, don't believe they need electronic-commerce capabilities, have a good hard rethink. Don't think about how you do business today, think about how you're going to do it five years down the track. And then be prepared.