As I was reading an article in this week’s eWeek magazine about Dell and Gateway’s new line of notebook computers I realized how much computer hardware has become a commodity. The computers sold today are very similar and there are few huge differences between them.
There are subtle differences in – but you have to look hard for them. Some vendors add extra security features, have keyboards that are laid out better, have better screens, more USB ports, and etc. However, you won’t find one PC or notebook from Dell, Gateway, IBM, Toshiba or HP that is glaringly different than any other. The same for desktop PCs. Overall, they are basically the same and you’ll be happy with whatever you purchase from a top tier vendor.
The real power of using technology to boost your business is in two areas: 1) how you use the technology and 2) the software that powers the hardware.
I’ll focus on the “how” in another article but today I am focusing on the software.
Compare two consumer electronics retailers, both with the same marketing/advertising budget, number of stores and etc. The one difference, based on true stories by the way, is the software that powers them. While one retailer guesses which products are selling well (creating inventory shortfalls or surpluses) the other retailer, using real time inventory analysis software knows precisely what their inventory status is – no inventory shortfalls and no surpluses.
While the one retailer has no clue which combination of sales and rebates is working best and is most profitable, the other retailer uses software to crunch detailed statistics which provide data to create intelligent information about which set of sales/rebate combinations are best and at which time. If Mr. Jones is buying $50,000 worth of clothing and Mr. James is buying $30,000 worth of clothing – does that mean that Mr. Jones is the best customer. Not necessarily. Mr. James might be purchasing higher-margin products and could marketed to buy more – only software can harness that information for you.
Norm Brodsky, serial entrepreneur, Inc Magazine columnist and ultimate “old-school” business man knows the importance of software. It’s one thing hearing about technology from me, a technology evangelist (part geek and part human), it’s quite another thing when a business man with a string of successful businesses to his credit is ALSO evangelizing the importance of software. Every Monday, Norm receives a set of reports about how his business is running. With this report he can see key metrics, that are important to the success of his business and ensure everything is running smoothly. NetSuite offers a dashboard, Norm uses paper reports. It doesn’t matter HOW you read the information (paper or computer screen) but it’s important that you have the software to GET the right data. Norm’s record storage business is a leader in using proven technology solutions to grow and beat the competition.
Going back to our retailers: Both retailers have web sites, but only one retailer’s web site is connected to the real time inventory and sales management system of its physical stores, thus enabling customers to have a seamless buying experience – whether they are online or offline. When you go to Staples and they can’t find a product in their store – do they send you to Office Depot? No. The sales clerk will go to one of their in-store, Internet connected computers and help you buy it online.
I could go on, but the software that powers a businesses is what differentiates those businesses that can leverage technology as a tool to GROW their businesses from those who can’t.
What about your business? When was the last time that you thought about how you could use technology to improve your entire business? When did you last retain a business savvy technology consultant to advise you on proven software solutions that will boost sales and margins and increase the customer return rate?
As you look for software solutions consider the following:
1. As much as possible avoid buying custom developed software. It’s better to buy, “off the shelf” software and have it tweaked and customized for you.
2. Make sure your software is integrated. It’s a waste of resources and less efficient to have four different customer database. If you have three different software systems or databases, consider moving the information into ONE system or at least ensure data can be shared between the systems. Your sales staff may know that customer Barbara Stevenson is a valued customer, but the customer support team may not. When Ms. Stevenson calls customer support, she should get “bend over backwards” support. Your support team won’t know it if their database is not connected in some way to the sales team database.
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