From shopping experiences to L-Soft Direct
By Eric Thomas,
L-Soft Founder and CEO
One of the things I really enjoy in Sweden is the shopping experience, at least for us IT nerds who buy lots of computer products. In most cases, if I place an order before 10 a.m., I will receive the goods the same day at no extra charge. That's right; if my monitor fizzles and evil-looking smoke starts coming out of it as I turn it on in the morning, I can pick up my phone and buy a replacement monitor for delivery 4-6 hours later, for the standard
$15 shipping fee. This is not a premium service, or rather, this amazing level of service is standard over here, at least in Stockholm.
Except in summer.
In summer, my sales rep will take a one-month vacation. During that time, I cannot place any orders. None of the other reps will speak with me, because the guy who is on vacation "owns" the L-Soft account, so I just have to wait one month for him to return. I usually can speak with someone else if I insist, but getting a quote is like pulling teeth. The person helping me temporarily (and earning the other guy's commission) is reluctant to give me any price "since I don't know what price level Jack gave you." Amazingly, these types of problems are often solved by giving Jack a buzz and interrupting his family time in beautiful Spain. "His phone is off; he usually has it on 24x7 but maybe he is taking a swim?" The concept of customer service is simply suspended during the summer.
Except when I buy directly from the manufacturer.
When we need a for-resale server to build a customer appliance in the middle of summer, there is absolutely no problem. Whoever is at work today processes our order, and the hardware arrives the same day, even in summer. On top of that, it is cheaper than retail, and the discount is automatic – no time wasted haggling with every new order. I have often wished I could order directly from the manufacturer when I know exactly what I want, do not need a free consultation and product recommendation, an ongoing relationship, a friendly customer satisfaction follow-up call, or any of the other value-added services that most customers need and want. I just want to place an order, and still I have to pay for all these services I do not use. Why?
But I am throwing stones in a glass house. Up until now, you had to be a legitimate reseller to gain access to L-Soft's reseller pricing and resources. We had not spent any time evaluating the pros and cons; we had just done it this way because it is what most companies do. I decided to change all that and open a kind of "factory store," which we decided to call L-Soft Direct. Anyone calling L-Soft Direct will receive the exact same discount as a reseller buying the same yearly volume of products and services. The only restriction is that value-added services are not available. If you need a consultant to analyze your existing e-mail infrastructure and make a recommendation for free, that is not included in the price.
My biggest and perhaps only frustration when buying directly from the manufacturer is that, sometimes, the item descriptions are not clear. Before buying a pair of new servers, I want to know if they are 3GHz as listed in the heading, or 2.4GHz as listed in the descriptive text. Unfortunately, the people taking my reseller orders know absolutely nothing about the products they are selling. I am on my own and there is a substantial restocking fee if I make a mistake.
When I thought about it, I realized that there was no economical obstacle to staffing L-Soft Direct with full-fledged, experienced sales reps who can answer product and pricing questions as required – quite to the contrary. An L-Soft Direct sale is going to take 10 times less effort on their part than a regular sale, even if questions are asked, so staff cost is not an issue. From the sales rep's perspective, an easy sale is always appreciated, even at a reduced commission rate. What's more, L-Soft Direct sales can be used to reward good performance. In the long run, this approach will motivate the sales team and cause top performers to be the ones answering L-Soft Direct calls most of the time.
Another advantage is that this enables one-stop shopping. When L-Soft buys parts for a customer appliance, there is one little item that cannot be sourced from the manufacturer and needs to be ordered elsewhere. It is both frustrating and time-consuming. Because L-Soft Direct is staffed by experienced sales reps, it can offer one-stop shopping for complex items not available from the factory store, such as consulting engagements or custom-built appliances. You will not receive the factory store discount on these items, but you will be able to buy everything you need from one place.
When you deal with L-Soft Direct, nobody is going to "own" your account. Whoever processes your order is your sales rep for this particular order only. If you enjoyed your sales experience, you are welcome to ask for the same person again the next time you call the store, but that is entirely up to you. Oh, and you will not be part of a quota that needs to be met. Once the purchase is completed, there will be no follow-up calls until it is time to renew one year later.
In a way, this is more than just a factory store – it is a new way to run a sales operation for repeat customers who know what they need. I am excited to see how this will develop.