I’ve had a few struggles with Dell lately, they’ve shifted my account to the same call centre that calls me up at night asking if I want insurance (okay, not quite, but nearly!). I closed my account and then received a phone call from our former account manager attempting to get me to talk to said Indian call centre, despite written assurances this wouldn’t happen and a confirmation of our account closure. I’ve asked for a written apology for said issues from their UK Commercial Channel Manager and received nothing. It’s a numpty run world here in the technology channel and some companies are stuffed full of them – but is there any hope…?

For Dell, at least at the moment probably not – however we’ve had some interesting conversations this week. Perhaps proving that one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing, but the person we spoke to was at least nice and listened. Maybe if a few good people club together, a positive change will happen.

However, that’s not what I wanted to talk about in this article. Last year, our account at big channel distributor Avnet was closed, without warning – I’d chucked them some large opportunities, they’d failed to respond. I needed them for a particular opportunity, spoke to them and found our account was closed. I of course couldn’t be bothered going through the opening process – I was told I needed to submit accounts, fill out forms etc. We solved the problem by going elsewhere.

However, I did reach out to Avnet via Twitter and got in touch with their UK Marketing people and Sales Director – where I was told that even for a cash with order account there are ‘costs’ involved with keeping my account open therefore they go through a cycle closing them, our account was closed during an ERP upgrade – however we ‘should’ have been notified – we were not. Infuriating as that is – what’s worse is when I asked their Sales Director to detail the costs, I didn’t get an answer. They said if I would commit to £100k per year then they’d reopen my account. Keep in mind here – I can’t even get a quote off the company without having an account! I was also clearly told that “we can’t hold you to the commitment”.

My bullshit-o-meter obviously shifted to the red and I really couldn’t lie – I am not going to commit that much to a supplier I don’t really know and hasn’t shown any interest in me or my company. After some toing and froing, we eventually got binned off. Being a small but perfectly formed company like Unleashed means a lot to our customers, but means very little to our suppliers.

I really think that the disconnection between the technology sold and those who sell it is causing a blight in the tech industry. It Really Grind’s my Gears! I always think when I hear jobsworth answers when my bullshit-o-meter is on red, what would the person in charge think?

So I wrote to him. You know what I also got a response – I ended up dealing with a chap called Terry Cain at Avnet, he runs a blog called Customers Matter and a twitter account @customersmatter. Very apt, and I couldn’t agree more.

Terry and I exchanged anecdotes, our views on the world of technology and rarely, I didn’t end up frustrated – we found we were singing off the same hymnsheet. Terry had started off working in the warehouse at Avnet building up his career and told me stories of selling to small companies with cash accounts – who went on to be huge. He’s built a relationship and trust with me – all through a few phone calls and listening. We also have some common ground on the very real, and very dangerous problem in IT these days, where those on frontline sales haven’t even touched what they’re selling.

Ultimately, you can never tell who’s going to stay small and who’s going to become the next big thing in IT so better to treat everyone well.

Ironically, whilst I’m still very annoyed by the UK management team at Avnet, I have no particular issue with the company – nor have I precluded ever dealing with them (after being binned, they soon sprang back into action after I’d opened up a dialog with the US!). Indeed, I had an opportunity to deal with Avnet in our moves from Dell to HP which I contacted Terry about. I will continue opening up opportunities for Avnet until we can find something we can agree to work on – and ultimately this is how Terry has turned around the situation.

Avnet have done something commendable – they’ve examined how and what they’ve done to annoy a customer and kept the dialog open – it’s very much like an exit interview with an employee. Whilst I wish companies such as Dell with their restructuring could do much the same – I think what Terry does at Avnet is both a rarity and a refreshing change in the channel.

I recently got told that Dell and HP simply don’t care about the £1m here and £1m there that they lose to each other, they win some and lose some, it ultimately doesn’t matter and losing a customer or reseller here and there, doesn’t really matter to them.  Unfortunately by not doing what Avent is doing, you can gain so much distance between you and your customers that you’re producing things and working in a fashion that don’t represent what your customers want.  I ultimately feel that we as a small company have a very tangible direct connection to our customers that larger companies leave behind as they grow – it is heartening to see efforts being made to address that.  Avnet don’t yet have all the answers, but recognizing there is a problem is generally the first part of developing a solution.

I very much hope that one day, Terry and I get to meet in person have a beer and share experiences – there is certainly an opportunity for us to learn from Avnet and Terry’s experience much in the same way they’ve learnt from our candour and honesty.

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