Why Sell Just Storage?
CompuCom Systems, Inc. earned $1.8 billion last year selling storage, networking, security, wireless, and more. Here's how they do it.
Several years ago, CompuCom Systems, Inc. (Dallas) faced the same problem many VARs have had to overcome: they were passing up sales opportunities. "There were times when we would be installing a storage system for a client in New Jersey, for example, and realize there were two or three other services, like wireless networking, that we could be offering the client," says David Hall, SVP and CTO of CompuCom. "Unfortunately, our engineer who knew the most about wireless was stationed in Dallas, so we passed up the opportunity. The bottom line is we did not have the infrastructure in place to exploit the technical know-how of our staff." With more and more customers asking for technologies that were not directly related to storage, but were part of the complete solution, CompuCom had to make a change.
To take advantage of the opportunities it was missing, CompuCom had to do four things. First, it had to spread its expertise across the country, so that every technology the company offered was available in each metropolitan area it served. Second, CompuCom had to establish a single method of delivery for each technology, so solutions would be delivered the same way in Miami as in Seattle. The next step would be the creation of an audit process to monitor implementations and service levels. And, finally, the company needed to set up a system to ensure that every possible sales opportunity was identified and acted upon.
Add Security, Wireless, Networking ...
CompuCom turned to its customers to determine which technologies should be added to its portfolio. "We provide service offering briefings to customers at our headquarters in Dallas and our integration center in Paulsboro, NJ," says Hall. "At those briefings we started asking customers what technologies they wanted CompuCom to become proficient in." Based on the feedback received, CompuCom selected seven areas on which to focus: storage, security, wireless, network management, asset management, Microsoft solutions, and help desk. CompuCom then set up a practice around each identified area.
Setting up the seven practices was the biggest challenge for CompuCom. The company selected seven of its best business- and technology-savvy folks - one to head up each of the seven identified practices. CompuCom selected the employee who had the most knowledge and experience in each area. "In storage, for example, we took someone who had a strong understanding of the technology and running a business," says Hall. "We followed that same process for each discipline. We asked the selected individuals to develop a set of best practices for delivering technology solutions to our clients." The best practices were identified and written by the head of each practice, working with a team of five to six engineers proficient in each technology. The entire process took about six months to complete.
Services And Solutions Center On Best Practices
Once the best practices were identified for each technology, CompuCom developed a quality management system called Addvent. Addvent is a framework that promotes a consistent quality of service across all practices and regions. An integral component of the framework is the assessment guides. If an engineer performs a storage or security assessment for a client, the guides ensure the assessment is performed to the standards set by CompuCom. The assessment can be customized depending on the customer's environment and requirements, but there are never any major deviations from the established standards.
For example, if a CompuCom employee is deploying a storage solution, that individual may have to provide the customer with a storage assessment, implement the solution, and provide ongoing services. The Addvent framework instructs the engineer every step of the way, ensuring best practices are employed. "If the engineer is performing an assessment, there is a binder containing all of the steps that must be performed during a storage assessment, along with any documentation that may be required," says Hall. "When they perform an implementation, there is a complete methodology laid out on how to perform the install."
Because CompuCom uses a common methodology for every engagement, the size of the deployment is never an issue. "I can deploy one laptop or storage network with the same processes I use to deploy 1,000," says Hall. "If a customer needs a LAN customized to their specific business, we can do that as well." In 2000, CompuCom was asked to assist the U.S. Census Bureau with its LAN requirements. CompuCom was able to ship 520 operational LANs in 4 months. Each network consisted of a server, 15 workstations, a router, a switch, and 5 printers. To meet the time requirements, CompuCom assembled, configured, and integrated six to eight LANs per day.
Although Addvent lays out every step to be performed, there is no guarantee that every engineer will conform to the framework. To ensure all steps are being followed, CompuCom also developed an audit process. Auditors arrive unannounced to review procedures and determine whether engineers are in compliance with the identified standards.
A Nationwide Business Model
CompuCom has divided the United States into four geographic regions. Each practice is national and currently has five to six consultants. Therefore, there are typically one or two individuals per practice assigned to a particular region. CompuCom has identified 70 large metropolitan areas on which to focus and has sales associates and engineers working in each of those areas. If a sales associate in Seattle identifies a security opportunity, the security practice expert assigned to the Seattle area will engage the customer and help make the sale. That person may also perform initial implementation work. Eventually, the installation is handed off to local engineers.
To hold down costs, CompuCom opted not to open an office in each of the 70 selected metropolitan areas. Instead, sales associates and engineers are mobile employees, working from their homes via laptops, PDAs (personal digital assistants), and cell phones. Practice personnel monitor local sales and engineering teams during the sales cycle and implementation phase, but are not involved in every sale. Involvement by practice personnel allows CompuCom to spread its technology expertise throughout the company. As local teams become more proficient in executing CompuCom's methodology, they require less assistance.
Identify New Customers And New Opportunities
Although CompuCom spends a lot of time looking for new customers, the company also looks for additional opportunities with existing customers. "We never just sell a customer a storage solution," says Hall. "A customer might tell a VAR they are looking for a storage solution, but there is a fundamental need driving the purchase which the VAR needs to identify. If the customer is implementing a new application, for example, there are additional questions we ask. What will the application mean to their infrastructure? What will it mean to other devices accessing the storage? Will it affect their security system? Do they have an asset management tracking system in place? Eventually we get to a point where we can involve our other specialties."
CompuCom also completes a monthly stoplight report for its 100 largest clients. The account manager goes through a questionnaire that looks at SLAs (service level agreements) with the customer and assigns a grade in each area. This helps CompuCom focus on areas needing improvement and gives them the opportunity to look into areas which are not being graded.
"The client may not be using our help desk services or security practice, so those areas would have no grade," says Hall. "To us, that means opportunity. If we have been working with a client for the past year and received all satisfactory grades, we feel we have earned the right to ask them for business in other areas. We use the report not only as an opportunity to improve our service, but as a way to increase sales."
To say CompuCom has accomplished its goal of becoming a complete solutions provider is an understatement. CompuCom's total revenue in 1997 was $1.9 billion. In two years that figure ballooned to just under $3 billion. Even in the midst of our current recession, the company is on track to surpass
$1.5 billion in sales in 2002. Not bad for a company that a few years ago was focused on selling hardware.