Vendors That Arent Focused on Service Are in Trouble.

When all else fails, kill off the competition by providing customers with better service.

When all else fails, kill off the competition by providing customers with better service. That seems to be the mantra among vendors and service providers alike these days in markets where their offerings are relatively indistinguishable from one another. And quite frankly, its not a bad strategy.

In many respects, the technology we all use in our daily lives isnt gee-whiz stuff anymore. While e-business does represent a new way of doing business, and integrating back-end systems to the Internet can be incredibly complex, the basic concept has been around for decades. We used to call it time-sharing. The difference is that now, all of this stuff works. And even better, it works together, which is really the biggest step forward.

The same is true within the partnering community. One of the most time-tested lessons in any industry is that even though some companies can do everything by themselves, its not the most cost-effective way of doing business. Its also extremely limiting, because the more partners you have the better your reach into existing and new markets. But while vendors have understood that concept for more than a decade, many integrators and consultants didnt apply that model to their own businesses.

The confluence of those developments is what makes it so important for vendors and service providers like telcos, CLECs and ASPs to simplify their business processes for the outside world. The bottom line is that in many cases, it doesnt matter if you recommend Brand X PC or Brand Y storage, just so long as the end user is comfortable with the choice. And on all but the most expensive products, it also doesnt matter whether one vendor is offering 1 percentage point more profit than another because the costs get ironed out in the overall solution.

What does matter is service, and vendors that arent focused on this point are in trouble. That service should include everything from sales leads to pre- and post-sales support, special-access numbers for top partners, and tiers of certification. Vendors also should pay serious attention to ease of doing business, a lesson that companies like IBM and Compaq learned the hard way.

That is simple mathematics. If youre paying a consultant $200 an hour, you dont want him spending his time on the phone with a vendors tech support or trying to order a commodity product. You want him doing what he is being paid to do.

There are some signs that vendors are getting the message. Companies like ViewSonic and Lexmark are investing heavily in partner relationship management software. At the same time, Quantum has just created a new VP of worldwide channel marketing position for its DLT tape division specifically to make the company easier to do business with.

In the service-provider space, Qwest Communications is investing heavily in pre- and post-sales support, while rival AT&T is investing heavily in educating its partners so they know how to go to market. And a slew of vendors are developing partner databases to help find complementary skill sets.

Its hard to say who actually started this whole movement. The saying that the customer is always right is older than dirt, and sometimes its totally wrong. But figuring out where the real value is in the food chain and making it easy to get the necessary ingredients for growth is relatively new in this industry. The concept is a killer.