Are Integrators Largely Deficient In Presenting Value And Differentiation For Any Manufacturer?

A manufacturer stated this in a response to the 'Solution' Manufacturers Threaten Integrators post. More from him:

the manufacturer realizes it needs to get closer to the project earlier in the process in an attempt to preclude these headaches. Then they realize touching the end user, the design and the solution with the integrator works really well and is increasing sales and decreasing headaches for everyone involved. Marry this to the simultaneous evolution of manufacturers solely providing more and more pieces of the puzzle and you have 2016 and beyond. With an integrator sales force that is largely deficient in presenting value and differentiation for any manufacturer, it seems consistent that manufacturers will continue to extend their reach to end users to support their integrators with their solution that works and makes both profitable. [emphasis added]

What do you think? Unfair? Hard truth?

I think it's the hard truth because most integrators have select verticals that they focus on. As a manufacturer sales person I think it is easier to have a broad perspective of what verticals your product performs well in since you're involved in many different projects. When I was an ExacQ rep there were occasions where an integrator would take me into their end user for a demo or presentation to a board of directors. The integrator would chime in here and there but for the most part I ran the presentation. It is hard for an integrator to have the same level of expertise. Think about how many different products integrators have to sell & install? They may only use a particular product on a handful of jobs all year.

Sure, there are some integrators who will lead and bleed with product X who are capable of presenting value and differentations. However, this is the exception to the rule in my experience.

The integrator would chime in here and there but for the most part I ran the presentation.

That's interesting. As an integrator, I had the opposite experience - the manufacturer rep or RSM better keep quiet and only answer direct questions, otherwise they'd promptly be uninvited for future demos. This may be a regional thing, because I think most of the competition handled it the same way.

I was the integrator's engineer. The questions came to/stopped with me. The integrator's salesperson put together the pitch, either them alone or we together decided what systems/solutions/products to pitch.

I can easily see how this would limit offerings. Knowledge diversity requires effort.

I strongly disagree. If I was a manufacturer worried about integrators lacking the ability to demonstrate value in my particular product I would consider not use the distribution model. Switching to direct sales seems like a better model for tight relationships. Having Joe Integrator be able to sell my product after paying for it via CC at an ADI or Tri-Ed counter special does not equal nurturing a broad perspective of product strengths.

An integrator is able to select from many products where a manufacturer direct rep is unable to "think outside their box" due to the very requirements their job entails. IMO a homogenous product is not always the correct answer. An Avigilon rep could not say "our VMS is great but go with an Axis camera because we do not have a smart codec". An integrator does have that advantage.

Like most generalizations, I think this is a bit unfair when you lump all integrators together. I'm in Dallas, TX and I saw a TV ad this past week for a pest control company saying that there were over 800 pest control companies in Dallas. There could easily be that many companies that call themselves integrators.

Trying to lump them all together is dangerous, when you've got companies that would jump up and down over a $10,000 residential alarm system job and others than can execute on a $10 Million dollar integrated networked security system. Yet they would both describe themselves as integrators.

Are there integrator sales people who don't know what they're selling? Absolutely.

Are there integrator sales people with 20+ years of experience, coming up from the technical side who could run circles around a manufacturer/distributor rep? Absolutely.


To answer the headline, YES.

There are too many "supermarkets" in this business. The only question that they seem to ask the customer is "what were you already prepared to buy? Maybe I can sign up with that line and cut the price."

Scot, in your experience, how are the manufacturers in presenting value?

Maybe the best way to look at it is that they can't change lines - so they have to defend one product set - and its philosophies - completely.

To acquire a new client - meaning that they are asking the client to stop buying a competing brand - they explain the unique aspects of their product, and how it will benefit the buyer. A lot of us were raised to think of this as F/A/B - the features, advantages and benefits model.

An integrator, on the other hand, often acquires a new client without challenging that client's assumptions. Honovich Inc wants Milestone? Sure I can get Milestone. That's what's great about buying from ABC Company, we have the best relationships with all the best vendors. When would you like to get started?

But if I'm only able to sell...FLIR Latitude for example? I have to go in and ask the questions to determine the customer's pain points, and then show how I can improve things. In this model, I'm learning more about how the buyer came to their assumptions, and offering a different take that will at the very least help them to validate their thoughts, but could change their mind and bring them over to my way of thinking. Maybe Milestone really is the best fit for them in the end, but I have a duty to take the due diligence as far as they will let me.

Actually doing the legwork like this helps the customer to ensure that they are buying the right thing, and often saves them more money than any discount they could get on the less-fitting product.

This is one of the two main reasons that we restrict our product set, the other being that our technicians can then actually attend factory training and master the products we work with.

The obvious answer is....that is all depends on the salesperson. We are a commercial integrator and my #1 goal is to build long lasting relationships with my customers. Relationships are built on trust. To build trust the customer must feel like you are looking out for their best interest at all times and you must be knowledgeable, reliable, and competent. Plus a little bit of personality goes a long way too. So, to close a new deal it does take someone who can effectively communicate value, differentiation, and disseminate a sense of integrity (you need to come off as being trustworthy). Having an outstanding reputation in the local market helps with this significantly. In addition one of the main abilities I look for in a potential "solutions engineer" candidate is someone who can take a complex set of ideas and communicate them effectively to a laymen.

With that said, I always found a team approach as being one of the more effective ways to close a deal, whether with a new or existing customer. The team being....

1. The customer's internal support staff (IT, security, facilities)

2. The integrator

3. The manufacturer

4. The consultant

Each brings its own value needed to plan and execute a project successfully.

The consultant is expected to have an unbiased broad sense of life safety and security technology knowledge, however, once we earn the customer's trust it often makes the consultant unneeded (unless required by policy).

As the integrator just like the consultant we are expected to possess a broad sense of life safety and security technology knowledge and best practices, in addition we typically possess the most up-to-date and practical real world experience, and are the boots on the ground to get the work done, thus assuming the most risk in delivering the project.

In my mind the manufacturer is expected to have the most in-depth knowledge of their product, and the customer's support staff is expected to have the most knowledge of their environment.

Therefore, I see the (4) roles as critical and when they work together as a cooperative team, most of the time you will have a successful project however like the consultant potentially not being needed if a customer has a trusted integrator that can design and execute a project, the integrator may not be needed if the customer's internal team can work directly with the manufacturer to design and implement a project.

However, not many manufacturers have all the resources to implement a turn key project for the customer, not all customers have the internal resources to work directly with the manufacturers to implement a turnkey project, and not all integrators have the high level of trust with their customers for them to not feel like they need a consultant.

I sort of embrace manufacturer's showing up with end users when I invite them to the table. I am fine with them running most of the demo and I think it helps the customer see a second level of support with regards to the system they are contemplating buying. I normally have an opportunity/meeting at least every two weeks where I bring in a manufacturer rep. It also helps build rapport with the manufacturers and reduce the likelihood you get another dealer opening in your region.