Wirth Consulting Rates B2B/SMB Strategies of Digital-Imaging Vendors

At Wirth Consulting, we spend many long hours each day navigating the Web sites of various digital-imaging vendors in the B2B/SMB (business-to-business/small and mid-size business) market.  Sometimes we spend time researching a product, but find that it’s unclear whether the product is available from retail channels or can only be purchased exclusively from dealers (not B2B/SMB friendly).  At the end of the day we are left scratching our heads and wondering, “What was vendor XYZ thinking?”

Following is our take on the B2B/SMB strategies, Web sites and product lines from the various vendors.  Note that our “rated speed” for a vendor’s Web site is subjective and varies depending on network conditions.  We accessed each Web site from the same desktop PC that has wired Ethernet networking with an Internet connection measured at 4Mbps/2Mbps upload/download speeds.  Also, other name-brand vendors such as Sharp, Panasonic and Toshiba aren’t included in this review because they market their digital-imaging products exclusively through dealers or direct sales.

Brother International
Brother has been in the consumer market and technically in the SMB/B2B market forever.  No punches are pulled on their Web site—products are shown in list format for easy comparison shopping, and key specs and pricing are right there.   This makes it very easy for consumers to quickly find product information.  Brother also provides an online product-availability search from among online and brick-and-mortar retailers so that buyers can quickly make their purchase.  Alternately, they can select the “Enterprise Purchases” link for quantity pricing.  One small weakness is that there are many similar models to choose from, so it may be time-consuming for the end-user to determine the value-add from one model to another.  That’s why Wirth Consulting is here for you!

Brother B2B Strategy:   The Brother Web site is designed to really make it easy for small/mid-size businesses (and home users) to shop.  We’ve also noticed Brother’s excellent television ad campaigns that focus on their printers and MFPs.

Recommendation:  Brother should to do what they are doing and continue to amplify their presence and extensive history in the B2B/SMB marketplace.

Canon U.S.A.
Canon’s Web pages for its B2B printers and MFPs tend to look like a half-hearted attempt to sell B2B products, and appear primarily designed not to offend its dealers or direct-sales force.  It’s also a tragedy that there are no B2B color laser printers available from a company whose name is synonymous with digital-color imaging.  While products are in list form with pricing, spec pages from one model to the next have different layouts and appear to be written by different individuals.  Finally, the cost of consumables is comparatively off-the-charts.  Thankfully, pricing is conveniently available on the Web site, and products are available from an online store with a shopping cart.

Canon B2B Strategy:  Canon’s B2B strategy seems to acknowledge that they have a limited selection of B2B products, as they want to be careful that they don’t alienate their dealers, direct-sales force, or even perhaps more importantly, alienate their OEM distributors.

Biggest Disappointment:  That Canon, one of the world’s biggest technology innovators appears to be mired in doing business the old way.

Epson‘s high-quality ink-jet B2B/consumer products are distinctly separate from their dealer-only Professional Imaging wide-format and color-proofing ink-jet products.  Products are shown with specs and pricing in list form for easy comparison, and the site is equipped with an online store with shopping cart.

Epson B2B Strategy:  Easy online shopping for B2B purchasers.

Biggest Disappointment:  The product line doesn’t have enough devices with networking and duplexing—features that are usually required by small/mid-size businesses.

Hewlett-Packard has been the leader in B2B/SMB for years.  Otherwise, there are no punches pulled on the company’s Web site and pricing is readily available with printers and MFPs in list form.  There are many similar products, making it difficult to discern the value-add from one model to the next.  The “non-B2B/SMB models” that do exist are “hidden” away with a “Corporate Solutions” link so there is no confusion over distribution.   The HP Web site provides a convenient online store with a shopping cart.

HP B2B Strategy:  Provide very easy shopping for B2B and home-use customers on the HP Web site.  It’s clear that HP’s past experiments with alternate distribution channels are either not apparent or a thing of the past.

Recommendation:  We know that HP’s B2B product line stops short, as it has several higher-end MFPs that are reserved for VARs and direct sales.  Perhaps they should consider making some of these higher-end MFPs available for B2B/SMB, as we believe SMB users would be very interested in them.

Ricoh/IBM InfoPrint
InfoPrint Solutions was formed as a joint venture between IBM and Ricoh.  InfoPrint’s’ Web site is located at infoprintsolutionscompany.com  A link to the InfoPrint site is also provided on IBM’s Web site.  The InfoPrint home page prominently displays a link to “Products,” and readers can quickly find printers and MFPs, as well as detailed specs and features.  A link provides pricing.  Users can either purchase directly from InfoPrint via telephone or can request a quote from a dealer.   There is no online store.

InfoPrint B2B Strategy:  InfoPrint’s strategy seems to be, “We have a solid line of high-end toner-based B2B products, but we think that they are expensive for consumers.  Consequently, we market them half-heartedly and don’t make much of an effort to highlight their availability on our Web site.”

Biggest Disappointment:  That the storied entity that is IBM appears indecisive and seemingly keeps its B2B product line under wraps.

Konica Minolta
Konica Minolta’s outstanding magicolor printers and MFPs are poorly marketed.  Like other vendors with dealers and direct-sales sales, Konica Minolta markets their B2B products online as if they are afraid of offending their dealer/branch network (e.g.: you navigate to the B2B magicolor printers and MFPs from “Business Products” and then a “Printers” link).  Products are shown on the Web site in list form with minimal specs and no pricing.  Additionally, you have no idea which products are available B2B even after you click through the “Request a Quote” link on a product page–you must do online retail searches in order to identify which products are available B2B.   There is no online store on the corporate web site.  You must somehow know that there is a Konica Minolta online store here.

Konica Minolta B2B Strategy:  Konica Minolta’s strategy seems to be, “We have a limited selection of quality B2B products, but we don’t want you to find about them for fear that it will upset our dealers and direct-sales force.”

Biggest Disappointment:  That Konica Minolta doesn’t devote more efforts to marketing its outstanding magicolor product line.

Lexmark International
The Lexmark Web site is comparatively slow but the speed is tolerable.  Products are shown with basic specs in categorical list form (e.g.: “Small Office Pro Series”).  Pricing is prominently displayed when you click through to the individual product page.  The only way to tell if the product is available B2B is if it has a “Buy It Now” button along with the “Find a Reseller” link found on each product page.  There is no online store.

Lexmark B2B Strategy:  Seems to wish to discreetly protect its dealers and direct-sales force.  We’ve also noticed the company’s television ad campaigns focused on their printers and MFPs.

Biggest Disappointment:  The high cost per page of the excellent, low-cost ink-jet products.

OKI Printing Solutions
Oki’s product line is limited to toner-based devices and that’s OK.  Printers and MFPs are shown in categorized list form with marginal specs, and you have to go off to each device’s page in order to access some of the critical specs and pricing.  In order to find out which models are available B2B, you must click through to the link on each product page.  Retail pricing is not available on the Web site for all models.  Nevertheless, the “Where to Buy” link thoughtfully provides links for “Dealer Search”,” “Find an Online Retailer” and “Buy Direct from Our Online Store.”

OKI B2B Strategy:  “We know that we may upset our dealers with our online store but our products are too good to hide from potential B2B customers.”

Biggest Disappointment:  That the storied and ambitious Okidata is not a bigger name in the office.

Ricoh’s B2B product line is very small when compared to the company’s dealer/direct-sales product line.  Products are shown in a list form with little or no product information—you must click through to the product page for usable data.  It is also is not apparent if a product is available B2B unless you leave the site and search for pricing online—the “Where to Buy” link on the product page takes you to a Ricoh Dealer search page and does not the list retail outlets where they may be available.

Ricoh B2B Strategy:  Ricoh has a huge, diverse product line, but appears more focused on its dealer, OEM and direct-sales distribution then on distributing products B2B.

Biggest Disappointment:  That Ricoh does not make more of an effort to market its excellent Gelsprinter line of color ink printers and MFPs via B2B.

Samsung’s product line is limited to strong toner-based devices.  The Samsung Web site tends to be slower, probably because of its extremely rich content, which can make comparing products more difficult.  Product comparisons are also difficult because they are not shown in a list form.  It is difficult to tell which products are for retail distribution and which are only available from Samsung dealers.  There are also too many similar models as a result of the retail/dealer network.  There’s a lot of words describing each model, but not enough clearly available specs (e.g.: which models have network connectivity).  There is no pricing on the Web site or on the online store.  Each model’s “product page” has a “Buy  Now” or “Find a Dealer” link that leads you to either a list of online retailers or a search for Samsung dealers.

Samsung B2B Strategy:  While Samsung has a very strong toner-based product line, it appears that the powers that be have decided to focus on selling products through its dealer network.

Biggest Disappointment:  That Samsung nearly forces us to purchase their excellent B2B products through the dealer channel.

Even though Xerox is a relative newcomer in the B2B/SMB arena, their top-notch marketing expertise is clearly apparent on their Web site.  B2B/SMB products are easily discernable from direct-sales products that are labeled “find sales partners–get a quote.”  Products with key specs are shown in list form for easy comparison and pricing for all products, and whether they’re available B2B or via direct sales is clearly shown.  The “Buy Online” link on each product page returns a list of online retailers.  There is no online store.

Xerox B2B Strategy:  Xerox’s strategy seems to be, “Something for everybody and we are up front about it.”  Refreshing!

Biggest Disappointment:  That the solid-ink Phaser products are practically priced out of the B2B market.  We found only one solid-ink color printer priced under $1,000, the Phaser 8650, which is priced at $699.  We can only imagine what Xerox could do with a strong B2B/SMB product like Ricoh’s line of Gelsprinter products.

Web Site Comparison Matrix and Vendor Ratings:

Vendor Breadth of B2B Product Line B2B Product Placement on Web Site Products Shown in List Form Pricing Shown on Web Site Has Online Store Speed of Web Site Web Site
Brother Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Up 4
Canon Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up 2
Epson Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up 4
HP Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up 5
InfoPrint Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Up 2
Konica Minolta Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Up ** Thumbs-Up 2
Lexmark Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Down ** Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up 3
Oki *** Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up ** Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Up 3
Ricoh Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Down 2
Samsung *** Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Down 2
Xerox Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Up Thumbs-Down Thumbs-Up 4

*On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being the best
**There is no link from Konica Minolta’s Web site to the Konica Minolta online store.
**Neutral, as there are no color ink-jet products available.
***Only some pricing is available on the company Web site.

The chart above shows that among B2B/SMB vendors, HP really makes it easiest for B2B/SMB customers to research, compare and purchase HP products.  HP is followed by Brother, Epson and Xerox as easiest to buy from.

Of course, at Wirth Consulting, we do the research and comparison work for you with What You Should Know and Head2Head Comparison Reports.  Be sure to visit the Wirth Consulting Web Site and check out our WYSK Reports and Head2head side-by-side Comparison Reports before you purchase a printer or MFP for your small/mid-size business.

Happy reading!
Terry Wirth