Are Major Manufacturers Focusing Less On Integrator Partnerships?

Maybe I have been naive for the past 15 years but it seems to me that my major manufacturing partners have become much less concerned with integrator satisfaction than ever before. I have had several issues in the past six months that have been poorly handled from a customer satisfaction standpoint. Issues that in the end left me questioning the partnership with the manufacturer. And these are major manufacturers with a long track record in the industry and we would be considered one of their largest partners with regard to annual sales.

Back in the old days, my regional sales manager for any particular line was the one guy I went to in order solve any issues. I would voice my complaint or concern and he would run with it and tackle the issue inside of his or her organization to the best of his ability. If he had to, he would go several levels deep and be a voice for us inside of his organization. This is the way my company runs with respect to how we treat our clients, we are empowered to make decisions on behalf of our accounts in order to maintain a very high client satisfaction rate and ensure a positive customer experience.

It seems that the decision making power has moved up the chain with my current partners and this is making the experience for us as an integrator very challenging as we have to be the final stop for any issues with our clients. Now it seems I have to fight the fight on behalf of my clients through many levels of my manufacturers such as engineering, inside sales, tech support and so on. Obviously that chews up valuable resources on our end. It also takes valuable sales time away from our sales team who should be out selling the manufacturers product instead of navigating the minutia of a large organization.

I began to wonder what has changed. Has it been the fact that the security market has become commoditized forcing manufacturers to run on skeleton crews and cut costs at the expense of the partners? Is it that organizations have become too big so that the customer experience is now diluted? Either way, I don’t like it. What say you?


That's a fascinating question.

Here's an integrator only poll:

Can you share who those manufacturers are? That would help make the conversation more concrete.

What a great letter!

Take Axis as an example: Every rep they have hired in our territory in the last 3-5 years has had a distribution or "I've sold alarm systems to small businesses" background in an attempt to push their Companion and other SMB focused products.

In the past they at least picked from other manufacturers or from integrator engineers/sales staff. People who understand the integrator market, and what it takes to survive as a regional integrator. Now they just want to make sure boxes stay stocked on shelves.

Back in the old days, my regional sales manager for any particular line was the one guy I went to in order solve any issues.

That's your problem.

The issue here is that what you describe doesn't scale. Sales guys always want to be the single point of contact for things, but this ends up causing huge headaches for everyone internally. The usual sales-guy approach to any problem or question from a customer is to immediately forward the issue to internal support, engineering, product management, and then maybe HR as well for good measure. You end up with 3 people all duplicating effort on the issue, nobody other than support opens a case or tracks any notes, and the whole thing becomes a fiasco.

For the sales guy, their quota rises year over year. So while your account might be good for 25% of his number, and he more or less has that made, he's still got to drum up some new business elsewhere. In reality this makes him/her a very shitty point of contact for things because their responsiveness is going to be spotty. He can't be out getting new business if he is dealing with the fact that you got shipped the wrong mounting bracket, or you can't get the 5MP camera to deliver more than 3fps and so on.

Your sales manager should instruct you about who to contact for any pre-sales support questions, how to open a ticket for any post-sales issues, how to get an RMA and so forth.

This also means you're not in the dark about how the rest of the organization works, and you know how to get the best answers from the appropriate channels.

A sales manager who is actually able to be your single point of contact is usually a guy who isn't working at full capcity. It's good to keep your sales guy in the loop on issues you do have, either as they occur, or when they're resolved. They can and will work to make sure general product quality isn't slipping. But at the end of the day, they usually can't do much else than cause a ruckus internally, and they're also acting as your proxy on the initial issue. That can lead to things getting a little bit lost in translation, or if your guy is one who is always coming with his hair on fire, it can cause the internal people who CAN solve your issue to deprioritize things just out of frustration with that guy.

It would be ironic if Undisclosed C is Undisclosed A's account manager :)

"So while your account might be good for 25% of his number, and he more or less has that made"

Ouch...

"A sales manager who is actually able to be your single point of contact is usually a guy who isn't working at full capacity."

This does raise an important philosophical / organizational question - What is the role of the manufacturer account manager?

And if a manufacturer shares Undisclosed C's position, is that truly the optimal overall position or will the Undisclosed A's turn elsewhere for better service?

"So while your account might be good for 25% of his number, and he more or less has that made"

Ouch...

What I mean by that is that if someone is a "major account" that has been around for while, an decent sales guy has a pretty good idea of what kind of business that account will do over the course of the year. I don't mean "has that made" in the sense that you can just ignore the customer and expect the sales to come in. I mean that while the account may be large overall, and large for the sales guy, he still has to bring in additional revenue. That's just simple business, no sales person is going to be allowed to coast by for the year.

This does raise an important philosophical / organizational question - What is the role of the manufacturer account manager?

Usually larger accounts will have an account manager, and then a separate sales person. Or really, an account manager and multiple regional sales contacts. For large accounts like this, trying to run everything through your regional guy can make things even worse. There should be an overall account manager, who is aware of what is going on in all the regions (is there a negative trend overall, or are there more problems in a specific sub-region?). That regional guy has many other accounts, but a proper account manager might only have 2 or 3 other national accounts assigned to them. They're in a better position to handle any issues that come up.

If anything, you should know your overall account manager and bring issues to that person if you don't want to actually go direct to pre or post sales support.

Of course every manufacturer handles large accounts differently. If you're actually being told formally that your regional guy is "the guy" and he's not keeping up, then you should be talking to the higher-ups to make them aware that things aren't working.

Wow, I've just been told I am a failure at sales.

How so?

Dear Undisclosed,

I find fact and humor in this story line.

There are many truths spoken within.

You are correct about ever increasing quotas as well as the requirement for a Regional "Sales" Manager to expand the business. While there are Regional "Account" Managers at some companies whose duties are to maintain and manage, pass along information, update customers. Most times these roles are mixed and time management / relationship management becomes a requirement for survival.

In many discussions "trust" has been one of the single largest factors.

In addition what was broached is "Who really owns the customer" which isn't meant to be rude or demeaning, it's really who is the customer most dependent on in the food chain.

Now we look at the "value" an integrator / end user / specifying engineer sees in the field talent of a manufacturer and what the manufacturer sees as their "return on investment."

I said I was "told" as my teenagers would say because I am "that guy" who sees his role very simply. I am the voice of the customer and I have a responsibility to drive top and bottom line sales for my employer. You can do both with an enormous amount of time management, constant learning, involvement at all levels of the company you work for as well as the companies you service.

I said this with a smile on my face because I disclosed who I am and will admit my faults, of which there are several and I don't believe you are hiding, so that is not a challenge. I might have done the same if I were a little bit smarter!

Greg

Actually I believe it ultimately becomes the Manufacturers problem, not mine. I will continue to churn out sales with partners that know how to properly partner. If I cannot go to my RSM to get issues solved what good are they? I did not say I needed them to order my product, track my shipments, or take care of daily standard processes, that is why we have inside sales reps and procurement people on our staff. But when there is an issue and the issue is the result of the manufacturer and all normal avenues have been taken then he or she should be the champion inside of his own organization to get it resolved. If that means rattling the chains of the tech support manager, the product manager or the inside sales team then so be it.

What I don't need is a phone call like clockwork from the RSM saying "Hey, how are you? I looked at my calendar and I noticed that it is time for me to trounce through your office and display my new products with the hope you will latch on and sell them for me." I need someone to be strategic, to go out and pound the pavement, to meet the A&E's and get product specified. I need a RSM to be the voice of my organization inside of theirs. The more cycles they spend fixing issues, the more cycles I have to sell their product.

Oh, one more thing. Unlike my dating life in high school, there is a steady stream of wanna be partners pounding on my door. If you want to be a partner you have to have a purpose not just a hand out. The first rule of sales has always been "Take care of the client or someone else will." If I can dedicate the time to be a champion for my clients and continue to post record setting sales in my organization then my RSM partners should be able to as well.

Actually I believe it ultimately becomes the Manufacturers problem, not mine.

100% agree with you on that. And every manufacturer will ultimately handle it differently, but it seems that the *common* approach is to have some kind of "large accounts/national accounts" manager.

I'm not clear from your posts, so forgive me if I interpreted anything wrong. If you're using your RSM as your first point of contact on all issues, you're Doing It Wrong (IMO). If you're going through the proper channels and then using your RSM when things don't go as planned, then that would be the suggested practice, but there should also be someone over the RSM who handles your account as a whole.

If I can dedicate the time to be a champion for my clients and continue to post record setting sales in my organization then my RSM partners should be able to as well.

I don't totally disagree with this, but the general sales goals, channels and philosophies of manufacturers and integrators are pretty different. In the end, we're all in the same industry, mostly focusing on the same end user with the same products, but structurally the companies are very different. For one, most integrators (even large ones) are privately held, whereas almost every manufacturer is investment-backed (public or private/VC). Sales expectations in terms of what defines "record setting" can be very different in both cases.

The key thing (again, just MHO) is to get a clear set of expectations from your RSM, or ideally account manager. Understand pricing discounts, who to contact for what, SLA's in terms of response times and so forth. Document that if it is not done already. If the SLA for a support ticket is a response within 24 hours, and you need response within 4 hours you'd take a different approach to dealing with that than if SLA is 4 hours and it's taking them 24 hours to get back to you.

"get a clear set of expectations from your RSM, or ideally account manager"

Can you clarify the distinction between the two? Often, these are used interchangeably.

For larger manufacturers they are usually people dedicated to "national accounts", or whatever you want to call them.

Let's say a national integrator has 20 offices in the US, dispersed in all the major metropolitan areas. The manufacturer (if we're talking about the majors here, and not someone doing $8MM/year in business) will also have a regional person in some or all of those regions. The RSM is the day-to-day guy for his/her local office for that integrator. They'll do the trainings, customer visits, BBQ lunch sponsorships and so on.

The account manager is responsible for that national account overall. They're looking at total sales, what's working in one region that coule be applied to another, larger strategic things (should they sponsor a national sales meeting? do some kind of co-marketing effort?), and meeting with the upper management of the integrator (how do we grow the business next year? Should we enhance our access control product, or come out with a new kind of camera?).

What roles should regional SE/FE's (from the manufacturer) and regional MRs be playing in this picture?

In a perfect world, the RSM should be using the SE as a resource to assist with any major technical issue that has been lingering. Not all technical issues but as that stop gap when tech support has not solved the issue in a timely manner and the client has taken the time to call the RSM.

What I see in the real world is that the SE's, if the manufacturer has any, are taxed to the limit as a glorified demo experts and BOM builders. Sure by title they are Pre-Sales engineers but I think the real value is ensuring the manufacturers product is meeting the expectations that the RSM sold to the integrator.

One of my manufacturer partners has yet to replace a couple SE's that left over two years ago. That makes the books look good for a short time.

"What I see in the real world is that the SE's, if the manufacturer has any, are taxed to the limit as a glorified demo experts and BOM builders."

The sad truth =(

I see a lot of friends who are SE by Job Description that instead of being a Pre-Sales/Technical Guy are just building BOMs and answering Proposals to help their Sales partner answer all e-mails...

You got the wrong partners. I am an RSM for Vicon, and I am charged with complete customer satisfaction no matter what it takes. Numerous issues have been solved with the complete support of my upper management, and 90% of the time we take care of the issue without their input.

you should notice , we all have the same issues, but the difference in manufacturers is how they handle the problems.

Integrators on IPVM do not necessarily fit this description.

I'm an end user that has struggled with Integrators (national vendors as well as small ones) over the years. Many are not trained thoroughly in the product being deployed and when things go sour they blame the manufacturer and try to steer me in the direction of their highest margin offering.

I've worked hard to get relationships directly with the manufacturers and cut out the nonsense the integrator brings to the table. Mind you I dont' want to buy the product and I don't want to install the product, thats why I have the integrator. However when it comes to support I want the manufacturer, after all who knows the product better than them?

Imagine you are a manufacturer, wouldn't you want a relationship with the end user so you can make sure the integrator doesn't throw you under the bus? When the end user has to make a change wouldn't you as a manufacturer prefer they know the product works and they need a new integrator?

However when it comes to support I want the manufacturer, after all who knows the product better than them?

Of course each manufacturer knows best how their product works.

But integrators know best how those products work together. Or should anyway, that's why they're integrators, not just installers.

If you are buying everything you need from a single manufacturer, e.g. cameras, VMSes, encoders, IR luminaries, lenses, switches, wifi, analytics, cloud services, PC's, access control, etc., then maybe you will do ok without an integrator.

But when you are dealing with complex heterogeneous systems, integrators will have more experience than manufacturers, as far as the overall functioning of the system. And manufacturers are not exactly saints when it comes to interoperability problems, and will often suggest their own line of x, as an easy way to fix whatever is not playing nice...

"But when you are dealing with complex heterogeneous systems, integrators will have more experience than manufacturers, as far as the overall functioning of the system."

Disagree.

Here's a practical example: There's a problem integrating an Arecont camera with Exacq's VMS. The VMS manufacturer is far more likely to be able to solve it than the integrator.

Why?

  • VMS manufacturer knows how to read the logs, including codes and error messages that will appear cryptic to most integrators.
  • VMS manufacturer has seen many similar issues so has other examples to draw on to interpret error codes or failure conditions.
  • VMS manufacturer is aware of publicly undocumented issues that only they know by internal discussion.
  • VMS manufacturer can easily get assistance from internal technical staff at camera manufacturers who they interact with regularly, compared to most integrators who do not even know who those people are.

There's a problem integrating an Arecont camera with Exacq's VMS. The VMS manufacturer is far more likely to be able to solve it than the integrator.

Are you so sure about that?

First thing to remember, for many reasons, integrators tend to have a relatively stable set of configurations that they work with. So the integrator here would have done 20 systems already with Exacq and Arecont cameras. He knows what works. He knows what the help says vs the reality. He's not just blindly searching for keywords and e-mailing barely relevant tech tips. His intuition here is not perfect, but if you give him good online access to the resources of the manufacturer he is more likely to solve the problem than front-line tech support. How do you think the manufacturer's learn about half their interoperability problems?

Can the entire resources of Arecont and Exacq pooled together do a better job than an integrator that gets cold called to fix a system he's not familiar with?

YES.

But you don't get Bill Gates on the phone, do you? And to use Arecont as an example doesn't help your case, either.

"How do you think the manufacturer's learn about half their interoperability problems?"

Manufacturers get a vast array of reports across all types of integrations and conditions. A single integrator is only exposed to a small subset of those issues.

Don't philosophize here. I stand by my point based on real world integration experience and based on our own testing and troubleshooting of 100+ camera models and 12+ VMSes.

Ok. Point taken.

From your real-world experience then I take it that you would agree that for most end-users the best scenario would be the manufacturer senior support engineer working with the experienced integrator who designed and installed the overall system? Yes/No?

The bigger point is that integrators have a valid helpful role in support, and are a key part in the solution. If they bring only 'nonsense' to the table then I suggest that one look for a better caliber integrator.

No philosophy here, just two actual examples from last week.

1. Integrator determines root cause of Axis' 6 month-old focus problem

In the Axis FIXED cameras (m3004, etc), there is a hidden focus ring. You have to take off the rubber front and there is a small notched ring that will spin. This can get twisted also if you turn the outer ring to turn the camera's axis, thereby knocking it out when installing...

3 Axis representatives did not know this; regional contact, local contact and 1st line of support. In fact they were RMA'ing the cameras before we discovered it.

2. After a year of fruitless tech support with Sony/Exacq, Integrator isolates problem and provides workaround.

But when you are dealing with complex heterogeneous systems, integrators will have more experience than manufacturers, as far as the overall functioning of the system.

I find this comment interesting. Obviously there are a lot of different kinds of integrators and manufacturers out there. But from my experience, I am constantly asked, by integrators large and small, how to hook my products up to any other random thing.

It seems that the average integrator expects you to know how to interface your products to every known thing on the planet. I can understand these questions for some things, but I get guys asking for simple wiring diagrams (basic audio outs to line-in's on amp) all the time. Or asking how to wire the digital output of a camera to some random input card on an HVAC control unit nobody has ever heard of, but their customer has it from an AC system installed in 1972.

Anything beyond hooking a camera to a VMS I see integrators asking for "our officially supported connection diagram for X to Y" as if they want to make sure they're not left to take any blame for, you know, actually integrating something.

And manufacturers are not exactly saints when it comes to interoperability problems,

Probably true. This would also depend on how all the parts came to play together. If you, the integrator, picked these various components without checking (or better, testing) interoperability in advance, then it is not totally the manufacturers fault if Device A doesn't directly integrate to Device B. Many manufacturers do offer accessort products that are known and tested components so that they can support more of the overall install. Many times these components are not the cheapest on the market (for good reason), but they are supported and tech support can provide guidance on making them work together as expected.