The Story of Michael Dell

BellSouth yesterday began marketing the upcoming roll-out of its ADSL high-speed Internet access service that will become available in selected markets at the end of August. "[The service] promises to be big. It's very big to us. It's absolutely critical to our future success that we be the business and consumer choice for data services providers" says Donna Lachance, vp marketing for BellSouth.net Services.

Eventually, the company hopes to roll out to 30 markets and make the service available to all 75 million of its customers, Lachance says. Beyond an information area on its web site and a name-capturing mechanism, marketing plans have not yet been solidified but will include traditional media campaigns as service availability gains momentum, she says.

The company is targeting two different customer types: advanced Internet users and what Lachance calls, "the wannabes." The second group means people who have wanted to go online but haven't because of the inconvenience and/or speed deficiencies of a dial-up connection. The ADSL service eliminates those barriers for customers, Lachance says.

Of course, BellSouth isn't the only company offering high-speed Internet services. The @Home Network and Time Warner Communications' The Road Runner Group both have a few years under their belt. And because they offer similar convenience and speed benefits, they are targeting the same types of customers. Almost a fifth of Road Runner subscribers, for example, had never had an online service before, says Bob Benya, svp of marketing at The Road Runner Group.

Of the cable industry's lead in broadband services, she says: "They've mostly created pent up demand for high-speed access and we're pretty confident that BellSouth has an established, strong reputation as a high quality Internet access provider." So far, so good. In a late afternoon interview, the name count for those who have signed up to get the service once available was in the hundreds and expected to reach the thousands by the end of the day, according to Lachance.

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Lachance suggests her share of new online users will be higher since BellSouth's customers cover a wider group in terms of income and geography. "We are not a telephone company, we are a communications company," she says. Making the Internet a more organic part of the company remains one of Dell's top goals-even beyond achieving lofty online sales milestones.

For now, its short-term goal is to be in 7 markets by October.And, of course, BellSouth views the emerging services market as big because it is its future. The company has a corporate campaign running to position it as a progressive, technology service provider as it expands the type of company it wants to be.

Then there's the question of the future of the personal computer itself. One intriguing technology scenario holds that PCs will begin to fade as the favored device of both consumers and businesses, and that network-connected "information appliances" will begin to supercede all-in-one PCs that are notoriously unreliable and expensive to maintain.

Michael Dell laughs off that notion. PCs, he says, will continue to be the machines of choice. What if he's wrong? Network computing champion and Oracle CEO Larry Ellison comes to the rescue: Michael Dell has created the most efficient distribution model, Ellison says. If low-cost appliances are what people want, "he'll distribute those, too."

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Eckert says Dell Computer is moving to link all of its suppliers electronically in a seamless electronic system where, for example, quality feedback from Dell customers will be transmitted automatically to the supplier's computers.

As with its vast online support offerings, the aim of such a system isn't necessarily to directly influence online sales, but the better it works the more loyal Dell's customers will be. You can at least try to persuade a happy customer to order online, but you simply lose an unhappy one.

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What People Say

  • MBARE DLEMID

    Today, with stock holdings that dwarf the wealth of any Texas oilman in history, Michael Dell is pushing his staff as hard toward a full-scale online existence as he can.

  • SINGEM MIDDLE

    He's convinced that the move is the key to sustaining growth and profitability in the company's future. And, to be sure, he won't be satisfied if and when half of all orders take place online.

  • MID ERASSING

    "Once you get to 50 percent, you don't have a party and say we're done," he observed after the October meeting to a gathering of cooing reporters.

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