Show Floor on Wheels Dell Computer was in Las Vegas for Comdex, but not on the show floor. The company took a meeting room in the convention center for its PR people, which got the Dell name on the exhibitor list, but there wasn't much in the way of product on view. To see what was new with Dell, you needed an invitation to a special series of seminars on its new line of servers and disk storage products. The series was held at the Las Vegas Country Club, across the highway behind the convention center. Those who went through the seminar got a special treat: an in-depth demo of the new Dell Storage Area Network (SAN) inside an air-conditioned, carpeted, birchwood-paneled, leather-chaired 53-foot trailer. (The trailer was designed by Scott Kellogg, director of design for Exhibit Dynamics, Arlington, Texas. The inspiration, he says, was the interior of a fancy corporate jet.)
Parked at the end of the country club lot, the Dell on Wheels truck was impossible to miss with its huge flame graphics. Artfully built into the corporate-auditorium-styled interior were three racks of Dell's top-of-the-line enterprise systems.
Why did a company that made its reputation selling products exclusively over the Web decide to go to market with a hands-on demo? "We think it shortens the sales cycle considerably," says Cheryl Sekel, marketing communications manager for Dell's Americas server segment marketing group, based at Dell headquarters in Round Rock, Texas. "For most of our customers, this is the first time they've ever seen a SAN. They've just heard about it in the seminars, and now they can see what it would look like in their shop." She points out that Dell does indeed sell the SAN components over the Web, and that the Web remains Dell's most important marketing channel.
No Prospecting As cool as the exhibit hall on wheels was, an equally cool idea was Dell's decision to come to Comdex and not prospect for new customers. Everyone who went through Dell On Wheels was specifically invited to be there by a Dell sales rep. Attendees received mail invitations, then e-mail invitations. Attendance was confirmed when appointments were given. Present at the seminars and at the trailer were the customer's sales rep and Dell SAN technical experts. "That way, every visitor gets unique attention," says Sekel.
There are two Dell on Wheels tractor trailers in operation, one working the West and the other the East. Both departed from Dell's headquarters in mid-1999. The trailer in Las Vegas went directly into Western Canada and then worked its way back south. Have the Dell reps and tech experts been on the road all summer? "No!" laughs Sekel. "We don't travel with the truck, we travel by air and meet it."