Sunday, July 22, 2007

Dell's small-biz stumble

Dell became a huge success by selling no-surprises computers direct to consumers and business. I can’t argue with their success, but I’ve never been a fan of the way they sell to small business. They run ads that only computer geeks understand!

Look at the mess they sent out this month.

When I got this 4-page brochire in the mail a few weeks ago, I thought at first that maybe Dell was catching on to the special needs of the small business market. The cover says boldly: “We believe: Small business deserves computers designed just for small business.”
“And now they are.”

Good start, no? But then they mess it up by showing us two ugly, black computers that look not much different than any other computer on the market. Way down at the bottom, in small print that is white on light green, is the sell line: “Small business customers told us they wanted more from a computer – and more from a computer company. We listened. Dell VOSTRO is a new idea. It is a suite of systems and services designed just for small business... You get advice, software of your choosing… and services tailored to your business.”

So let’s see. Pictures of computers that have no apparent connection to the headline. And overwritten “sell” copy that’s in small, indistinct type that virtually shouts “Don’t read me!”

Most entrepreneurs would have thrown the thing away by now, but I persevered. Turning to the next page, though, didn’t help. It’s a two-page spread of identical ugly computers, with the usual technobable that passes for “features” at Dell: 15.4 WXGA Display with TrueLife (glossy), 2GB Shared Dual Channel DDR2SDRAM, and so on. They do mention a few benefits, such as finding WiFi hotspots without having to open your computer, or “no trialware,” but they are too weak to fulfill the promise of that headline on Page One.

The back page is better: it promises “support that's as dedicated as you are,” and tools from Dell’s “Small business 360 virtual community.” I would have liked to learn more about this last thing, which sounds pretty novel: “find resources and connect with your peers… to assist and enhance your performance potential.”

But no more details are available – not even a URL to visit to learn more about this community. Instead, Dell launches into 16 lines of fine print. Much of it seems stupid or unnecessary (“Remember to back up your data;” “GB means one billion bytes”).

Worst of all, the most important point is hopelessly buried: the fact that the prices quoted on this brochure are good only from July 10 to 19, 2007.

One of the key tenets of marketing is to give prospects a reason to take action right now. Dell tried to do that – but fails utterly, since its deadline is so underplayed that I’ll bet not one recipient in 100 realized that the advertised prices were only good for 10 days.

So let’s see: Good headline. Bad graphics. Underplayed sell copy. Weak benefits. No (apparent) reason to act. Plus, if you tried to order the products after the 19th, Dell tells you the price has gone up!

I bet they’re still wondering why the Canadian small business market is so unresponsive.


Jay Ehret said...

Excellent dissection of the sales piece. This is one case where the advertisement and the customer experience is the same.

Dell's commitment to the small business customer goes no farther than a headline. said...

your blog is one of the amazing that I ever read, on how Dell's small biz stumble, there are lots of people that want to have an own small business, but doesn't know where to start, lots of question., but by this everything is being answere.