As odd as it sounds, I'm becoming flexible on Quality. Okay, not really quality itself. But the role quality plays in my business and the people I consult with.
My business has been less profitable at times because I insist on top quality. Top quality service costs more. Top quality products cost more. Top quality processes and procedures cost more.
. . . And I honestly believe that ALL of these cost less in the long run.
The day you spend $500 more for a server it costs more. Two years later when a hard drive does not fail, it costs less.
I have a bias for products that cost money versus products that are free. I want someone to call in the middle of the night when there's a problem. I want technology that just absolutely works all the time and I don't have to spend my time fixing it.
Over the last 18 months I have come to the stark realization that many consultants simply don't believe me when I tell them that our clients' servers don't break. We have almost no after-hours policy because we never have to go out in the middle of the night. Because stuff just works.
We sell brand name, business-class servers that are designed to last 3-4 years. We don't push them to 5-6 years. We maintain them.
But Things Are Changing
(Warning: religious war ahead. Note that I am studiously avoiding brand names here in order to focus on the bigger point.)
The other day I had lunch with friend and we were talking about cars. He was pushing me to buy an American made car. I have only owned Hondas and Toyotas (and old fun Volkswagens) for more than 20 years. But I rent a lot of cars when I travel. So I see what new American cars are like.
Then I made the statement that got us arguing about computers.
"I want a car that just works every day with no unscheduled maintenance. I want a warranty I don't use because nothing breaks. It's like computers. People who buy second-rate computers have no idea how good technology can be. They are happy to build in service calls and hardware fixes into their daily routines. They use their warranties all the time.
They don't know that a computer can work perfectly for 3-4 years with no unscheduled maintenance."
He came back with a very un-expected argument: I would love to sell the brand you sell, but I find that company very difficult to deal with.
- They are hard to engage in the first place
- Pre-Sales support is slow and difficult
- They ship fast, but only for preconfigured machines
- With my provider, I get a quote within an hour and they stick to it
- I don't care that it takes two weeks to get a new machine
- Your brand is higher quality but not worth the hassle
I could argue with him, but what would I say? My brand works for me. I do get good pre-sales support.
Or, more accurately, I get pre-sales support that makes me happy and fits my personality. I get quotes verified accurate within eight business hours. So that means the next day in some cases. But I'm okay with that.
For me, the long-term satisfaction of zero unscheduled maintenance is primary.
For him, the ease of configuration, quoting, and sales are primary.
We didn't discuss it, but I bet he knows his sales rep's name and always uses the same one. My guess is that their sales relationship is important to my friend. My Rep changes on a regular basis and I use two different suppliers so I always have two sources to call on. That sales relationship has very little value to me.
Our (Your) Clients are the Same Way
Some clients want absolute quality and are willing to pay for it. They have a sense that it's cheaper in the long run.
Other clients are willing to put up with lower quality for a variety of reasons. There is a chance that *their* server won't ever need support.
They might absolutely believe that computer are just a pain in the ass and that it doesn't get better.
Many people will trade a guaranteed savings today for a possible problem down the road.
My friend was making a decision that has impacts for his company and his clients. It was not based on some absolute sense of quality (my hot button), but on an overall relationship around that product, including sales and pre-sales support.
Isn't it interesting. Companies have personalities. Your company, my company, the manufacturers and distributors we deal with. And the clients we serve. Some personalities work well together, some do not.
Is you overall mix of products, quality, and service one that you built intentionally, or did it evolve by itself over time?
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