Dell used to be a fast company

Something is wrong at Dell from a business execution perspective. Is Dell entering a death spiral of its own making?

What has happened to Dell? Earlier this week, I learned that Dell is now #3 behind HP and Acer. Yikes! Unsolicited conversations provided additional insight into Dell’s execution problems.

  • My brother tells me he became an Apple convert after trying to buy a new system through Dell Financial Services using a Dell credit card. He wanted to buy a new system that would have exceeded the credit limit on his Dell credit card. He offered to pay off current balance with a different credit card which Dell said would be fine. While the charge posted immediately on his credit card, it took Dell over a week to reflect the transaction. By the time DFS acknowledged credit was available, the “deal” was gone—the net would be about $600 additional cost. Nothing could be done about that “deal” as DFS is separate from Dell. While they may be separate legal entities, in the mind of the customer, DFS is an extension of Dell—it’s all one company.


  • My best friend, a value-added reseller here in Silicon Valley with a relationship with Dell, tells me that when Dell deployed a new enterprise application, his reseller status was somehow dropped from the new system. When he asked for an explanation, they sent a letter where the reason for being dropped was completely blank. He’s been trying to buy servers and several hundred net books for a school here in Silicon Valley and he can’t get Dell to work with him after he solidified a relationship many months ago. Dell’s response to him is largely that it will take 5-7 days to answer questions and assist him. I said, “Why isn’t that 5-7 hours? Doesn’t Dell realize that end users have a choice?”


  • In mid-Feb, the same VAR ordered a red Dell 4300 laptop for a customer. He received word that the delivery date had been pushed out. Mouse and neoprene sleeve for Dell 4300 were received in one week. Dell asked to push out order yet again. They provided 24 hours to get customer confirmation. When it took more than 24 hours, Dell cancelled the order. It is going to take more than 2 months for customer to get the red Dell 4300 laptop.


  • The lease-purchase on one of my Dell computers ends in a few months. A woman from Dell called to say that I needed to make arrangements to purchase the unit at the end of the lease and, if I didn’t do it 3 months before the end of the lease, my lease would automatically be renewed in 3-month intervals until I made the necessary arrangements. So, I called. The man who answered my call had no idea why I would have been called; the $1 purchase is already factored into my lease and, as it turns out, I don’t need to do anything.

There are, of course, many, many stories about people frustrated with Dell technical services, call centers in India, etc. Perhaps this is why Dell is now #3 and in danger of falling further.

I happen to be a pretty devout Dell customer. The last 2 laptops I ordered were delivered in less time than Dell committed. It made me wonder if they were quoting longer lead times just so they could “exceed my expectations.” I’ve been quite happy with my Dell products.

Dell needs to become the fast company and execution engine that it once was. The 2010 Dell is looking a bit like a plow horse, not the race horse that I’ve know it to be. I hope Dell hasn’t entered a death spiral that I wrote about recently.



For over 30 years, Dave Gardner has helped companies discover that the royal road to the ultimate customer relationship is letting customers order “a la carte.”  He assists clients with strategies for “The a la carte customerTM,” and in dramatic improvements in efficiencies and profits. Dave, a management consultant and speaker residing in Silicon Valley, can be reached at +1 888 488-4976 or through his website at

About the author

Dave Gardner is a management consultant, speaker, blogger and author based in Silicon Valley. He's been in the front row for the birth and evolution of Silicon Valley, the innovation capital of the world.