Great expectations

If there are two or more ways to do something, and one of those ways can result in a catastrophe, then someone will do it. That is Murphy's Law, and while it would be foolish-not to say extraordinarily depressing-to live one's life in thrall to such a belief, we have all on occasions experienced some empathy with the famous pessimist.

In business, Murphy's Law all too often looms up to threaten us. When it happens-when mistakes are made-it costs us not just money but goodwill too. The key to avoiding the influence of the Laws dead hand is to understand and manage peoples expectations. The more we get it right, the smoother our passage will be to the land of increasing profits.

As a value added trade distributor, there are two aspects of what our customers expect from us: one is the compound of price and service-which can include pre-sales advice, stock availability, accuracy of delivery, etc- and the other is the product itself; does it meet expectations?

Unhappy experience

Im the first to admit that we're not exempt from the odd snafu. Earlier this year we were obliged to take back a shipment of high-end terminals because the solution we supplied did not in practice meet the expectations of the end-user. Despite our best efforts at remedial work on the software, the user remained unsatisfied and our reseller cried "enough!" It was a pretty unhappy experience for us, for the reseller and for the end-user, and were all still licking our wounds.

Despite this testing episode, our relationship with the reseller remains as cordial as we could hope for. The lesson we must take from it is always to understand the customers expectations, especially when there is a time constraint attached to the deal. If it looks as though the objective cannot be met in the timescale, or with the tools to hand, to accept the challenge may ultimately prove to be costly.

Another very recent case of customer disappointment underlines this need for understanding expectations. A little while ago we provided a quotation for 2000 bar code scanners. The resellers response to our price was that it was far too high, so we suggested that they should check that the alternative supplier was including cables. We didnt win the order. The same reseller has now asked us for a quotation for 2000 cables, because the customer has 2000 unusable scanners. I would rather have won the complete order, but Ill take what I can get.

Mutual success

There are times when I feel that vendors could better handle our expectations of them. Relationships between vendors and their distributors are complex and sometimes vexing, an inevitability given that both parties rely so heavily on each other for mutual success in the channel.

I guess that our principal expectation of a vendor is its ability to supply products. Some vendors are very good at meeting this  somewhat fundamental need, others less so. A case in point: a long-standing solution provider, 100 per cent with one vendors terminal for several years, attended the launch of said vendors all new hardware platform with considerable enthusiasm. Over the following few months, patience began to wane. A year later, that reseller is contentedly hitched to an alternative vendors hardware and unlikely to look back. This is not an isolated case.

Secondly, we expect integrity, as do our resellers and their end-users in turn. Vendors who are ever tempted to pull the rug from under the feet of partners in the channel should first be very confident that they are capable of meeting their targets without the help of hundreds of specialist resellers.

No marketing strategy

Thirdly, together with our reseller partners, we expect leads. If a vendor isnt generating leads through its efforts to increase brand and product awareness, its probably not got its marketing strategy absolutely right. In some cases, of course, this is because there is no marketing strategy.

Vendors quite rightly have high expectations of their channel partners too, and it is the distributors job to ensure that resellers are aware of what is available. We have catalogues and news sheets to publish and distribute, websites to refresh, press ads to design and place, VAR events to organise, e-bulletins to prepare and broadcast, PR stories to propagate and telephones to man. The better we communicate with the channel, the greater our business will become and the more likely it will be that we achieve our targets for the vendors, hopefully exceeding their expectations.

In business, as in life, there will always be times when no amount of prescience can keep Murphys Law from sticking out a big foot for us to stumble over. Im telling my team that if they put maximum effort into understanding expectations, we might just be able to leap it in future.

Edward Murphy was an engineer based at Edwards Air Force Base in California. When doing research, in 1949, into the effects of sudden deceleration, he was frustrated by the incompetence of a technician and angrily uttered the words quoted. The popular maxim that anything that can go wrong will go wrong is Finagles Law, but thats another story. I am indebted to

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