Back in the 1980s, before computers and printers sat on every desk,
back when the internet had not been heard of, copiers were one of
the most expensive and technologically advanced devices in an office.
Companies did not understand these mysterious machines -- except
that they broke down and when they broke down they were expensive
Xerox owned the marketplace, but manufacturers like Canon, Mita,
Ricoh, Savin and Sharp began making huge inroads in capturing market
share. With few exceptions, companies changed suppliers every time
they bought new equipment. Most companies relied on their current
vendor to help them understand their needs and analyze the competing
vendor’s proposals. This created a great deal of confusion.
To make a final decision, it seemed like most companies would tape
the top three bids to the wall, put on a blindfold, throw a dart,
and hope to God they had made the right decision.
By the mid to late 1980s, copied documents were the communication
lifeblood of the company. Making good decisions and picking the
right deal became more and more important. Companies began trying
to develop long-term personal relationships with copier salespeople,
hoping that through these relationships they would get a better
deal and that the company’s needs would be met. And, as smart
business people, they would still shop around to make sure they
were not paying too much. It was a highly competitive marketplace.
Many times final decisions were still made by throwing a dart.
Rod Davis was a copier salesperson during the 1980s, and he did
a good job helping companies with the purchase of their copiers.
He put in his time out in the field and worked up through the ranks,
starting off as a service technician and then a salesperson, learning
every aspect of the business inside and out -- from sweeping the
sidewalks to paying the taxes. In 1986 Rod began to manage the small
dealership he was working for in Idaho. He and his company had a
good reputation, and they regularly won bids because of their pricing
and their reputation. Under Rod’s management, the dealership
grew over the years.
One day, in the final stages of a bidding process for a hospital
(who had been a long term customer and one of Rod’s biggest
clients), the decision maker within that company pulled Rod aside
and told him that he was going to do business with one of Rod’s
competitors. “They’re offering me a free year of service.”
he said. “I trust the salesperson and I’m going to sign
an agreement with them.”
Rod was disappointed that he hadn’t won the sale, but what
really made him lose heart was what the customer couldn’t
see. Rod appealed with the customer repeatedly to take another look
at the deal, to ask different questions, to see the bigger picture.
But the client wouldn’t listen. The other salesperson had
done his job and won the client’s confidence, and the client’s
focus could not be shifted.
Rod considered this client to be a smart guy, but Rod knew a couple
of things the client didn’t. He knew how much the manufacturer
charged the dealerships for the equipment. He knew how much it cost
the dealership to provide service. He knew how copier companies
made money. And he knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that in providing
a deal like this, the competitor would soon go out of business and
leave the client high and dry.
The conversation with the client led Rod to ask himself, “Who
would this customer have listened to? A friend? A colleague? An
outside expert?” What would the client need to know to see
the picture that Rod could see? Was it possible to educate a client
on the nuances of copier contracts and the implications that seemingly
innocuous terms had?
The hospital ended up signing the contract with Rod’s competitor,
and two years later, when that vendor went out of business, the
client came back to Rod for help in cleaning up the $495,000 mess
Over the next couple of years, Rod continued to think about the
idea of helping clients objectively analyze copier contracts, and
determined that an impartial third party, with no ties to the outcome
of the end contract, would be the only person a client could actually
trust. Since Rod was a vendor, he couldn’t provide that service.
Two years later, when the owner of the dealership Rod managed sold
it to a larger company, Rod knew exactly what he would do.
In 1992 Rod set off, armed with the knowledge of how equipment
manufacturers and vendors made money, and started a consulting practice
to help companies negotiate the pricing in bidding processes and
ask the right questions. In the first contract he helped negotiate,
he came to a frustrating realization. The next contract he consulted
on cemented this realization as fact. Vendors wrote bids and proposals
in such a way that they could not be directly compared. Rod knew
that vendors provided different types of offerings, but he had not
realized the seemingly disconnected techniques and approaches employed
by the various vendors. These vendors were using their bids to try
and control the analysis process, and every bid conveyed an approach
to analysis that told the customer this was the “right”
way to do it, and each vendor’s “right” way of
doing the analysis was casting them in the best light. Vendors were
afraid of being directly compared to their competition and tried
any maneuver which would prevent this direct comparison from happening.
Frustrated at the amount of time it took in the first two negotiations
to clearly identify the details required for an objective comparison
and the time it took to negotiate the “best price”,
Rod vowed to find a better way.
He started off by helping customers more clearly define their expectations,
standards and needs before they issued RFQs. He created templates
for vendor bids so the information could be more systematically
analyzed. He included contract terms that would provide the customer
protection against many of the frustrations they faced throughout
the life of their previous contracts. He tested different methods
for achieving a vendor’s “best price” the first
In the end, the system that he created changed the buying process.
You see, no longer did the client need to rely on a personal relationship
with a salesperson to get the best deal or to ensure their needs
would be met. For the first time, customers could gain control of
the copiers and their contracts. They could get the best pricing
the first time, and be completely protected with contracts that
were constructed in their favor. They didn’t have to rely
on vendors doing an analysis and recommending themselves to get
the best value for their company.
Although workplace technology has changed significantly over the
years and copiers have evolved into multi-functional-devices, these
devices are still a critical component in nearly every organization.
Now, however, administrators have hope. Rod Davis’ vision
has become the cornerstone of an entire organization that helps
companies do the one thing he wished so many years ago that the
hospital could have done – make informed decisions. Through
the implementation of technology and years of refining and redefining
his original services, he and his company are assisting companies
across the nation take back control and make informed decisions.
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