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Compaq begins another stage in direct sales scheme

The world's leading PC maker is encouraging large customers buy directly over the Web, through six distribution partners.

Compaq Computer today unveiled a plan to let large customers buy directly over the Web, through six distribution partners.

Taking another step toward selling directly to end users, Compaq assigned its Active Answers Web site a greater role, moving beyond helping customers and dealers plan and deploy purchases to delivering systems. The site was designed to provide buying guidelines and also hands-on help, such as how to make Novell NetWare or Oracle databases work right on Compaq hardware.

"We now not only offer information on how to plan, deploy, and operate, we now provide a very important loop over the Web site of completing the order," said Rick Frazier, vice president of Compaq?s Enterprise Solutions division.

The move comes at an unusual time, as Compaq expands beyond its traditional dealer base and takes its largest customers direct. The hands-off large customers policy has miffed some dealers and caused wider concern: Compaq plans to move from 15 to 25 percent direct in all areas before the end of the year, eventually reaching 40 percent.

Besides large customers, Compaq is also increasingly taking its consumer and small business customers direct. About 50 percent of ProSignia small business PCs and notebooks are sold direct to customers.

Compaq launched the ActiveAnswers Web site last summer with six solution areas, among them Windows NT.

Customers use ActiveAnswers to plan their purchases and then place an order for a number of prepackaged solutions from Compaq. After qualifying the order is workable for the customer?s needs, Compaq passes the order on to one of five distributors, who may also work with Compaq dealers to fulfill the solution. They are Gates/Arrow, Hall-Mark, KeyLink Systems, TotalTec, and Wyle Systems.

The ActiveAnswers program is different from the corporate extranets Compaq builds for its largest customers. These customized Intranets also let customers order products, but the transactions are mainly direct with Compaq.

Analysts see the new ActiveAnswers program as serving a broader role. "The bottom line is that Compaq has made this directive that they?re taking major accounts direct and they want 40 percent of their business to be direct," said Lindy Lesperance, analyst with Technology Business Research.

"Compaq is saying, 'Here's our message to you 'channel' partners: we're going to increasingly look to you to add value and turn business your way.'"