This article features the relationship-based selling strategy of Computer
Discount Warehouse (CDW). Despite competing in a highly volatile
Industry against thousands of local rivals, CDW has managed to become a
High-tech heavyweight in the 20 years since founder Michael Krasny
Started the business at his kitchen table. The company now sells around $5
Billion worth of computer equipment and services a year. CDW is a
Middleman. It buys from the likes of Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, IBM,
Apple, and Sony, and sells primarily to corporations but also to schools and
Government agencies. Those customers could buy directly from a
Manufacturer themselves or shop around and find a better price. But CDW
Wins them over with selection, speed, and service. It offers more than
80,000 products, ships more than 90% of its orders the same day, and act
As the de facto information technology department for many of its
400,000-plus small-business clients. The sales philosophy at CDW grew
Out of Krasny’s belief that people do business with people they like. Plenty
Of sales organizations preach this truism. But CDW acts on it as few
Organizations do, particularly ones this big. in surveys, its customers
Consistently give CDW top marks and say they see it as a long-term
Partner. The number-one reason for such loyalty? The one-on-one
Relationships with account managers, customers say.
BUSINESS AT ITS BEST
The soft sell
SURE, THE FOLKS AT CDW WILL SELL YOU A COMPUTER. BUT FIRST THEY WANT
TO TALK ABOUT YOUR KIDS, YOUR PETS, AND YOUR FAVORITE TEAM.
IF YOU’RE ONE OF RON KELLY’S regular customers, you probably know that he’s 35 and
Has a wife named Michelle, a 9-year-old son named Andrew, and a German shepherd named
Bones. You know that he majored in journalism and poly sci at SIU (that’s Southern Illinois
University) and was supposed to attend Northwestern’s law school, but instead came to work
At CDW (that’s Computer Discount Warehouse). You know that he bleeds red and black for
The Chicago Blackhawks.
You also know that he knows as much, if not more, about you.
Kelly, an affable account manager, is a master at relationship-based selling, which is CDW’s
Specialty. It’s the non-sales sales call: two friends catching up before eventually turning to a
Little business. Customers love it. “He’s my sales rep, but he’s also my friend,” says Todd
Greenwald, director of operations for Heartland Computers, which sells barcode scanners.
“Most of the time we don’t even talk about price. I trust Ron.”
Despite competing in a highly volatile industry against thousands of local rivals, CDW has
Managed to become a high-tech heavyweight in the 20 years since founder Michael Krasny
Started the business at his kitchen table. The company, based in Vernon Hills, Illinois, outside
Chicago, now sells around $5 billion worth of computer equipment and services a year.
CDW is a middleman. It buys from the likes of HP, Microsoft, IBM, Apple, and Sony (pretty
Much everyone but Dell), and sells primarily to corporations but also to schools and
Government agencies. Those customers could buy directly from a manufacturer themselves
Or shop around and find a better price. But CDW wins them over with selection, speed, and
Service. It offers more than 80,000 products, ships more than 90% of its orders the same day,
And acts as the de facto IT department for many of its 400,000-plus small-business clients.
While sales have been growing steadily, this is a grueling business: IT prices continue to