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Dell gives advice on online selling

The chief executive of Dell Computer tells the crowd at a Las Vegas trade show some of the tricks of the Internet trade.

LAS VEGAS--Scheduling a PC executive to speak at the Network+Interop show here may normally raise a few eyebrows, but not when it's Michael Dell, whose successful e-commerce Web site has revolutionized the desktop and server markets.

Dell, chief executive of Dell Computer, took subtle jabs at Compaq Computer and other competitors today as he gave convention attendees advice on selling products directly on the Web.

Ingredients to a good e-commerce strategy include diving head first into the Internet, avoiding channel conflict, and realigning the sales force, Dell said.

The sales staff shouldn't take the view that they won't have any work to do, he said. "People should focus on higher, value-added activities. Moving bits of data around and reports, those things can be done online. Your sales and support teams interacting with customers can add more value to an organization."

In his speech, Dell introduced new features to his company's Premier Page Service, which creates customized e-commerce sites for 14,000 corporate, government, and education customers.

Before, Premier Page business users had static models to choose from based on the configurations approved by their information systems departments. Now, the PC maker is allowing users to customize their purchases, said Chris Halligan, Dell's director of relations, online.

The new features also allow users to forward their configurations to the purchasing department, who in turn can view the order, approve the purchase and submit the order to the Dell.

IS departments can also track company purchases by location and month. Halligan said the company is now working with customers to integrate their back-end Enterprise Resource Planning software with their Premier Pages through the use of XML, a Web standard that makes it easier to exchange data.

"Our goal," said Dell in his speech, "is to make the online experience, whether commerce or support, be better than the physical experience."

During a question-and-answer period, Dell was asked about Compaq's recent management shakeup and financial woes.

"In the short term, we can probably gain market share at a faster rate," he said. "But long-term, it's too hard to predict because too many questions need to be answered, such as what Compaq will do with the channel," he said.

Dell said the market is changing but that his company will continue to focus on its strategy. "What's happening is the market is clearly consolidating?Dell has been famous with its focus. We're going to keep true to our belief of [selling to] customers on a direct basis."

Dell added that he believed his company will perform well when broadband access becomes more popular. Buyers in the future can type in their zip code in Dell's Web site and immediately be told what type of modem--DSL or cable--works for their neighborhood.

An audience member asked Dell what three things excite him most when he gets up in the morning. "Beating IBM, beating Compaq, and beating HP," said Dell as the crowd laughed.