Looking to sell more A4, do this.
If you don’t think A4 technology deserves more respect than it does, you haven’t been paying attention. Sure, you can continue to sell your customers A3 devices with features they’ll never use, and you can probably do that with some customers for a long time. However, as more consumers become educated and notice the A3 device with all the bells and whistles sitting in the corner is doing just that—sitting in the corner—they may have an epiphany about A4.
The pandemic and the acceptance of a hybrid workstyle are two drivers raising the profile of A4 technology. “The past two years have been the perfect time for dealers and their reps to be selling A4,” observed Joe Contreras, commercial marketing executive, office solutions with Epson. “Epson has been the benefactor of the change of workstyles and hybrid work so the demand for A4 has been through the roof the past two years. We don’t see that subsiding for the foreseeable future.”
For dealers who want their sales reps to sell more A4, consider these strategies.
Contreras doesn’t view being aware as a new strategy, but it’s one a dealer shouldn’t overlook. “It’s the old MPS approach: When you’re in a customer’s office, be aware of the footprint, their desktop printers, scanners, whatever it may be. Be mindful of everything your customer is printing and make it your mission to capture all or as much of your customer’s print as possible. It might be easier to sell A4 now instead of A3 because the demand is so high.”
“It’s all about customer acquisition,” observed Contreras. “If I’m going into an account I don’t currently own, use A4 to be disruptive, especially now with hybrid work the new norm. The utilization of A3 devices has changed, so use that as an opportunity to uncover opportunities for A4 and educate that end-user.”
That might mean discussing how many people are currently working in the office now versus before the pandemic, how usage has declined, and whether the customer needs the full functionality of their current device(s) or if A4, which has most of the same functionality at a more affordable cost will suffice. “Use that as another alternative and opportunity to educate to get into that account,” emphasized Contreras. “It shows that you’re being creative and not coming in with the same thing the customer already has.”
If you already own the account, Contreras acknowledged that you don’t want to do that because you’re lowering your revenue opportunity. But it can also be a balance. Instead of 10 A3s, maybe they only need five and the sales rep can bump up the number of A4s that can be spread across the office. “That’s a great strategy for customer acquisition,” said Contreras. “Once that customer is acquired, then the dealer has a captive audience and can revisit the need for A3.”
Being strategic also means focusing on the consultative sale. Just because an A4 device may have fewer features or prints lower volumes than an A4, it doesn’t mean there’s no longer an opportunity for a consultative sale. For Clark Bugg, director of dealer channel sales for Lexmark, that means taking time to understand the customer’s print environment and placing the right device in the right place. That could be as simple as focusing on the device’s ability to connect to the cloud or how it fits into the customer’s MPS strategy.
Be Where the A4 End-Users Are
Virtually every dealer sells A4, so it’s far from the hot new thing. What it is, however, is a technology that is expanding its reach beyond the confines of a traditional office and into the home offices of hybrid workers. The challenge is identifying those organizations that are funding those A4 equipment purchases and not giving their employees carte blanche to buy an entry-level A4 online or at their local office superstore.
Getting Over the A3 Mindset
One of the biggest impediments to selling A4 is the A3 mindset. Higher price, bigger margins, why would anyone want to mess with that? “I want my dealer to go in with an A3 product first and foremost, but they’re not going to win every time with that,” acknowledged Robert Covington, product manager, Toshiba America Business Solutions (TABS). “They’re pitching A3 products maybe because that’s what the bid’s calling for, or that’s what the customer originally asked for. That’s a good opportunity to come in with our A4 product because it shares the same user interface and offers the same user experience as our A3 product but at a more competitive price point.”
Covington understands the reasons for pushing A3. “The margins on A4 products are less,” he said. “The feature set on them is reduced. The user experience is better if they go in with an A3 product. But if they’re going to go in with an A4 product, the A4 product that we manufacture shares the same UI [user interface] as our A3 products. If you’re going up against a competitor with an A3 product, you’re going to be at a more competitive price point. If it’s a multiunit placement, go in with some A4 products to fill the gaps. In a departmental environment, that works well.”
Still Perfect for MPS
You can’t ignore the MPS component associated with A4 when fine-tuning one’s A4 strategy. It’s something that OEMs such as Lexmark want their dealers to focus on. “You don’t want to be the most expensive on the block, but winning new accounts, winning new business, and getting into higher risk MPS engagements where you have to meet the SLAs, they can’t go down, that’s a sweet spot for us,” said Bugg. Whether it’s mission-critical printing or everyday back-office printing, he contends there are plenty of opportunities for A4.
Future-Proofing the Business with A4
“We have always taken that approach of winning at A4, being your A4 provider of choice,” said Bugg. “Those are things that we’ve talked about for years. It’s getting more coverage right now, but for us, it’s not something new. Something that I like to talk about is continuing to put our partners where they’re future-proofing their business.”
Bugg is biased and that’s okay as he pointed out that Lexmark products are engineered to last longer than other products in the marketplace. “That’s a key differentiator for us,” he said. “If the devices are in the field longer, they can be redeployed in different areas. A4 opens an opportunity because it can be deployed in mission-critical areas across a lot of different industries.”
As Bugg noted, dealers are aware of the decline that is happening around the A3 devices, which is a good reason to consider future-proofing the business. For Bugg, that means having a cloud strategy and conducting service remotely through the cloud. “What A4 gives you is more opportunity with pages that you’re not capturing today that are still at the core of what customers still need to conduct their business.”
Connectivity to the cloud, a feature once found only on A3 MFPs is now available on more A4 devices. This means dealers can better serve national accounts without having to partner with another dealer for installation and service, according to Bugg. “The tools that we’re making available to our partners today, and their ability to drop ship, get it up on the network, and work in multiple different types of network environments, and doing a lot of that from the cloud, opens up more opportunity,” he said.
Bugg touts Lexmark’s cloud services platform, which facilitates remote service. “It’s one thing to just say, I’m going to sell an A4 device in the same way that an A3 device has always been sold,” said Bugg. “There’s always going to be an opportunity for that. We want that. But we also want to change the conversation in terms of the right device in the right place, and how those tie into this larger ecosystem with interconnected devices where that infrastructure and service are sitting together in the cloud, allowing you to do more remotely and redeploy resources in new ways or into other IT services. If we can eliminate some of those calls, that’s a key differentiator for managing the fleet.”
If you listen to the folks at Keypoint Intelligence with their new e-commerce platform, UVERCE, this is an excellent strategy for selling A4. After all, no matter how many A3-like features and apps are bundled into the device, when it comes right down to it, A4 is still a commodity. As a result, selling a customer one or two A4s shouldn’t require the same consultative approach necessary to sell most higher-end products.
At this point, e-commerce has not taken off in the dealer channel, even though Anthony Sci, president of Keypoint Intelligence has told The Cannata Report that the company is gaining traction with dealers with its e-commerce platform. At least one dealer, Donnellon McCarthy Enterprises in Cincinnati, Ohio, has an e-commerce option on its website for supplies, consumables, printers, and MFPs. Still, some in the industry offer valid arguments as to why e-commerce is not a good fit for the dealer channel. “You’re adding no value when you’re doing that,” said TABS’s Covington. “The service and the accountability that you bring to the table are what sets you apart. It’s what differentiates you from Amazon. It seems counterproductive to our business philosophy.” Ready or not, The Cannata Report believes e-commerce will eventually become a strategy for selling more A4 products.
Don’t Overlook the Support Provided by Your OEM
Your OEM wants you to sell as much as you want your sales reps to sell, so be aware of the tools and programs that can help you sell A4. “Dealers want the support, but they still want to be in the driver’s seat on selling,” said Bugg. “We arm them with the tools and the resources to be able to do that. At the end of the day, we want to be a part of them selling their brand. We bring the tools to the table to help them differentiate their capabilities.”
Examples of Lexmark’s tools include Partner Net, an online resource for training and customized marketing materials as well as Lexmark’s Industry Advantage Program. “The key differentiator on the program element is customized devices that are geared to the dealer network,” said Bugg. That, he said, along with Lexmark’s BSD program, have been key differentiators for the company. “It’s being able to have dealer-specific models that are focused on dealers winning and managing print and beyond. The first things that we get into are the tools to help them differentiate and the customized product line.”
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