TOO MUCH FAST TALKING (column) - professional PC selling

Written by David Tebbutt, MicroScope 10/82 item 02 - scanned

Why is it that the most intelligent, rational people lose all common sense when they decide to buy a microcomputer? It's as if the industry is casting some sort of spell on all who enter its realm. The most common question seems to be "what micro should I buy?". Imagine going on to a car showroom and asking a similar question. No doubt some micro shops reply with "how much were you planning to spend, guv?". Followed by "in that case sir you need a Wombat 850". Far-fetched? Not a bit of it. A well known entertainer was looking for a micro for well over a year and in the end he made his decision. Let's say he bought a Wombat 200. Then he went looking for his software. He found exactly what he wanted in one of my products. Sadly, there was no way that I would launch a software range for the Wombat 200, or any other Wombat for that matter. The poor man looked quite upset and I'm afraid I rubbed it in slightly by asking him why he'd bought the Wombat. He told me that he had become so confused by the whole business that in the end he just went for a machine which looked nice.

It seems that most outsiders and many in the trade are still hooked on the physical attributes of the computer rather than on what they can actually do. How many product launches have you been to which dwell ecstatically on the hardware characteristics and don't mention software at all? Or if they do, it is usually to say that Basic and their very own (superior, of course) Disk Operating System are supplied with the machine. The arrogant assumption is that software publishers and developers are just waiting to flood the market with products for this unknown (but very superior) Operating System. "But it's much better than CP/M," they claim. So what? The fact is that CP/M is a standard and it has become a standard not because it was the best operating system ever written but because it was probably the first. And being first in this business (and making a noise about it) is far more important than being best. That's why WordStar occupies pride of place in the word processor best sellers.

Another product called Spellbinder deserves to be there - it was one of the first, but the company didn't make enough noise. In fact they were so reticent that they allowed Exidy to rename it the Word Processor ROM PAC and Hewlett Packard to rename it Word-125. That's a pity but it's a graphic illustration of the rules of this game. As long as something is adequate and one of the first then it has the potential to beat all that follows. That is until something major happens, like the introduction of 16-bit machines. This gives everyone the chance to wipe the slate clean, certainly with regard to operating systems. Witness the Titanic struggle between MSDOS and CP/M-86.

What I'm saying is that since we in the trade are having a tough time keeping our eyes on the ball, what chance has the poor punter got? The answer is, of course, that a growing number of us are developing a sense of perspective and we are able to answer the naive "what computer should I buy?" with "what exactly do you want to do with it?". I'm amazed at the reactions to that question. They vary from "Er, I dunno" to "Hmm, that's a very good question". Which really amount to the same thing. Asking this question means that the punters will have to go away for a think but at least when they come back (and most of them will, providing you don't make them feel like fools) they will buy a suitable system from you and, no doubt you will pick up future computer business too.

Having asked the client what he or she wants to do with the computer, I wonder how many sales people are actually equipped to help'? Some salesmen take a great deal of trouble to learn about the hardware and software in detail. These are the professionals and they will do well in the long term. Others are stuck at the car-sales level where the important thing is to lock the punter into a purchase almost regardless of whether or not it is appropriate. They tend to gloss over the details of what the hardware and software can actually do, relying on words like 'powerful', 'fast', 'comprehensive', 'ergonomic' to see them through. Once again, users seem to lose all critical faculties when faced with such a salesman. So dazzled are they by the surroundings (wall to wall computers) and so baffled by the jargon (Bytes, WP, ROM, RAM BSTAM, DOS) that they just let it wash over them convinced that anyone working in such a place and knowing so many buzz-words must know what he's talking about. Salesmen like this will do very well in the short term, probably much better than their better qualified colleagues. But when it comes to repeat business, the life blood of any company, which salesman picks that up? If you're running a shop, take a look at your sales staff and seriously consider dividing responsibilities. Put the car-sales type on box-shifting. That is selling to people who know exactly what they want. And put the professional on to the less knowledgeable punters.

The fear has gone and it has been replaced with a great thirst for knowledge. The magazines are nigh-on incomprehensible to our thirsty punters so they come to us. I wouldn't mind betting that the thirst-quenchers are the people who pick up the business.