Poor Dell

Yes, I just said that and with earnest sympathy: Poor Dell. They keep finding themselves taking point in big companies’ scouting missions into the guerrilla- customer-controlled Vietnamese internet jungle. The latest came this week when Consumerist posted 22 tips from a former Dell kiosk sales guy; Dell sent a take-down notice and Gawker Media sent back a go-to-hell notice.

Consumerist was surprised at Dell’s response since the post was actually fairly positive about Dell. After all, it was aimed at people who want to buy Dell products. Now, of course, the problem was that the ex-sales guy revealed a few secrets on how to get the best deals. Dell complained that this was confidential information. One need wonder whether there will be any confidential information anymore — and whether one should build a business model around it.

So I look at this another way: The same lesson that has come to Dell in customer service, marketing, and manufacturing — that the customer is in charge and now has a voice you must hear and are wise to heed — now comes to sales itself. I have no doubt that’s scarier still, for this is sales — this is where the margin is. If this anonymous ex-employee tells people how to get better deals — where else to look on the web site for better prices, what days to buy so you can get a better price the next day, when in the quarter to buy to get bargains that will drive quarterly reports — then how are they going to eek those extra bucks that are getting harder and harder to find in the just-in-time, just-good-enough, outsourced efficiencies that started biting them in the butt lately?

Well, I’d say they’d be smart to learn the same lessons they are learning in the rest of the company. Openness is the best policy:

If people are worried about a better price coming out the next day, then tell them they’ll automatically get a better price if there’s a sale within, say, a week. Then they don’t need a tip from a salesman to game a closed system and they won’t keep waiting to buy a machine, just in case the price goes down and they don’t know it. Now they know, because you’re open. I’ll just bet that will increase sales.

If people are worried that there’s a better price in some other ad or section of the site, give them a guarantee that every price they get is the lowest price available. Nothing’s hidden. You can buy with confidence, because the pricing is in the open.

If people are worried about getting outsourced customer service and that motivates them to pay more for business vs. home systems, then let them get onshore support; they might even pay for that.

You see, if you read between the lines of what the ex-sales guy wrote, you simply see his list of the worries he has heard that keep customers from buying Dell products. Hear those problems and solve them openly and you will sell more products and garner more trust and goodwill and customers. Openness is a strategy.

Now I see evidence that at least some parts of Dell are getting this. Note in the Consumerist post that a current Dell sales rep gave updated information and in each case, the new policy is better than the old one. Dell’s blog is instituting a policy of openness in customer service and product quality and it’s working insofar as Dell’s reputation, at least online is improving. Dell IdeaStorm is opening up product development to customers’ ideas and desires and that is working; it’s leading to new products with customer support — that is, support from the customers themselves — built in. Now I’d say they need to look at how to bring the same spirit of openness to sales.

Do have some sympathy with Dell, though. Every time they do something now, the hot spotlight is on them (and that’s partly my fault). If other companies are smart, they’re sitting back and watching, thinking ‘there but for the grace of a blogger go we,’ and learning the lessons Dell learns now in public. Openly.

Note again that I may be writing a magazine piece about this. In the comments in that post, I asked you to tell me whether your attitude toward Dell has changed. In addition to a few bad tales came these two wonderful one: In a post complaining about HP — not Dell — a Dell blog rep came in and answered the HP customer’s problem with a link to the right page on the HP site. And David Marshall just put up a comment explaining his radical change of heart.