Gateway 2000 creates point man for fed sales

When Gateway 2000 Inc. decided to enter the federal market in 1994, it secured a General Services Administration multiple-award schedule. When it upped its commitment to the market earlier this year, it hired Jim Connal.

Connal, managing director of federal sales for Gateway 2000, is a veteran of the federal contract wars. After five years as director of government sales for Borland International Inc., Connal moved to CompUSA as director of business development in the government market. He moved to Government Micro Resources Inc. as director of business development, government, four years later, and in February joined Gateway 2000.

Connal pursues government customers from his Dale City, Va., home office. Until he signed on, the company relied on its direct-marketing campaign and a regional sales manager who was responsible for commercial and federal sales in the mid-Atlantic region. Such an approach is often ineffective, according to Connal. "If you enter the federal marketplace at all, you have to take it very seriously."

The intended goal of having a dedicated federal person is "better service overall," he told FCW. "We want in-person interaction with the customer on a regular basis. This gives the company increased overall awareness and exposure to customers," Connal added.

Another benefit of having an experienced federal point person is the ability to cultivate relationships with integrators who might bid Gateway PCs on one of the many federal indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts. "We look at all opportunities; we are interested in all of them," Connal said.

The challenge for Connal will be to grow Gateway 2000's already impressive role in the federal market. For fiscal 1995, the firm finished the year as the top PC maker and the No. 2 vendor on the GSA schedule, according to IDC Government Market Services. In the first quarter of fiscal 1996, Dell Computer Corp. slipped past Gateway 2000 to grab the top slot among PC makers, but Gateway 2000 posted $29.7 million in federal sales, according to IDC GMS.

Technical support, according to Connal, is what is going to keep these customers happy, especially in the tight-knit federal IT community.

"People talk," Connal said. "The interaction between the agencies is amazing. People know people in other agencies. They are on advisory councils together." This means that a company's reputation can grow or collapse quickly based upon performance issues shared throughout agencies. The company has to answer questions about products, take orders, build the PC correctly, deliver it on time and answer technical-support questions quickly.

The key to making sure the buzz remains positive is customer service, according to Connal. "Customer service is at the core of what we try to do every day at Gateway," he said.

Gateway builds all its PCs to order, according to customer specifications. A new factory, scheduled to open in Hampton, Va., later this summer, should speed delivery time to federal customers. "Most federal customers will get one-day shipments," Connal said, compared with the current two-day service from its South Dakota headquarters.

Once the PC arrives, Gateway concentrates on providing quick, accurate answers to any questions customers may have, an area in which the company has invested heavily.

Connal's bottom line in plotting Gateway 2000's future in the federal market is to concentrate on executing the fundamentals of customer service. "If you do that well, everything else falls into place," he said.

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