The complexity and options available from computer firms can be overwhelming to small business owners...but it doesn't have to be
I have several clients who need new computers. But they stick with the ones they have because they dont want to deal with the complexity that the computer buying process has become. Indeed, the complexity of many products has become daunting.
Think about it...you have to:
- Select a brand
- Select a model
- Select options
- Select a source (retail, online, reseller, etc.)
- Select payment options (buy, lease, etc)
But just when you think you purchase has been completed, the seller introduces options. "Have you considered the benefits of extended warranties and accessories." he says.
Wow! Doesn't this scenario sound more like buying a car than a computer? It's hard to tell!
The real difference is in the risk. A car is far more expensive, and cant be returned unless it is a lemon. Full disclosure here...Im an authorized Lenovo partner and I do love their products.
But does Lenovo really need to offer eight product lines in their Thinkpad brand of laptops?
Count'em: T Series, X Series, Yoga, E Series, Helix, L Series, W Series and 11e.
Or eight other laptop lines: Y Series, Yoga Series, Z Series, Flex Series, U Series, S Series, N Seriesand G Series?
No doubt Dell and HP also have extended product lines that seem go on for ever as well...
Selecting the brand and product line is only the first step.
Next you have configure your product choice with specific options and packages.
This step requires a lot of product expertise that few consumers and business users understand. Manufacturers do provide sales assistance with online configuration wizards and someone to walk you through the options. You can also read buying guides and product literature if youre more technically inclined.
Finally, you have to decide where to buy the product.
Do you go online? Buy at retail from the few shops that still sell computers (Apple, Best Buy), or a reseller (firms like mine)?
Just like buying a car you can avoid the hassles of the purchase by springing for a buying service, then just go down to the dealer to sign the paperwork and pick up the car. Some of my clients request that same service from me.
I do add value by taking a complex decision process and simplifying it by asking several brief questions focused on the tasks and programs the buyer wants to use the computer for. Then I recommend at most the two best options, usually a value (less expensive) or mid-range (best value) computer. Armed with this information, I select an appropriate machine and price it up through my distributor to secure the best price.
These are the typical primary needs uncovered from my client discussions:
I probe to find out if the client travels a lot or they just want to use it around their home or office. Road warriors benefit from a lighter computer with long battery life. All around use might point to a mid-range less expensive laptop.
Large desktop replacement laptops are popular in tight office environments where a Desktop wouldnt fit, although today there are tiny PCs that look like cubes, so I no longer recommend large expensive laptops for tight spaces if portability isnt a consideration.
Portability also refers to weight and size considerations. Someone who flies a lot may prefer the lightest, thinnest laptop they can get away with, that can fit into a large purse or an attache case.
Will the computer be used for reading e-books? Watching movies on DVD or streamed through Netflix, YouTube, and other online sources? (This is becoming common.)
Gaming? These considerations help me determine size and performance and whether a hybrid laptop (one that can morph into a tablet) is most suitable. On occasion a client may buy a computer for someone who is into gaming. That requires an expensive, top of the line computer.
Will they be using programs that are performance sensitive such as huge Excel spreadsheet models?
More and more programs have been moved to the Web and run fine through a Web browser, so even value computers can handle these tasks.
Some programs like ACT v16, the popular contact management software, uses SQL Server databases and require a decent performing computer with as much memory and disk space as budget allows.
Its hard to go wrong today as even a $400 notebook has the specs to get most common tasks done adequately. But asking a few simple questions of my clients ensures I source the best laptop or desktop for their computing needs. It starts with how you will be using the computer, then determine what programs to use, finally selection of the hardware best suited for the software.
For my small business owner clients, it's all about understanding their needs, required performance and selection at the best price.
About the author
David Streit is an IT consultant and an entrepreneur, as principal of Stephill Associates, LLC. in Manalapan, New Jersey. Stephill provides IT infrastructure and technology advisory services for small business clients in New Jersey and New York City. Streit has worked with PCs and technology for more than 25 years. He and his wife, Claudia, have two daughters, Hillary and Stephanie.
Stephill Associates website.