Integrators, Are You More Loyal To End-Users Or Manufacturers?

Although end-users write your check, aren't manufacturers the ones who fill in the amount?

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I added a poll. It's a fascinating question though I suspect I know where the answers we'll go. I'll refrain from commenting to start.

This is a thought provoking question, and if you take a few minutes to think about it, you might find it harder to answer than you origianlly thought. My first reaction was, "no brainer, end user", but after thinking about it for a few minutes, I realized that it's not an easy answer. We carry a line of access control that is very important to our business, and we are very loyal to the brand. It's the only one we sell, and without it we would be in big trouble. There are two or three manufacturers that we are very loyal too, and the rest are interchangeable in my opinion. In the end, I still answered End User, but it's not an easy answer.

Loyalty to the manufacturer(s). We will always complete a project that will meet or exceed the customers expectations. How we get there depends on the demands of the application and our ability to design the correct solution for it. But, just like the other 95% of our installations, we will source the hardware from one of our 3 or 4 LOYAL suppliers with whom we have built a professional working relationship over time. If the end user is an idiot, he will still receive the same proposal but in the long term it will be up to him to forge a loyal relationship with us if we give him the chance to depending on how much of an idiot he was in the first place! Arguably, if we were a large outfit our loyalty towards a single supplier might be much greater resulting in savings for the customer on overall cost of the project but again arguably, at the cost of receiving best solution, albeit a good solution I'm sure!

I would say end users 100% as you are looking to forge a good long term working relationship with your the end user , because as we all know its the true long term value of our customers that matter, ie ongoing maintenance contract , extra works, 24/7 monitoring , service callouts consumbles , etc

We try and stick with manufacturers that sell reliable high quality products that our customers will love, but each project will be driven by the customers needs and budget , sometimes the profit margin on new installations is driven low by competitors crazy pricing just to win the new client , but when you look at the true value of a gaining a new customer it pays long term in theory

I'm a little lost on this one.

  • How does the manufacturer fill in the amount?
  • If you take the customer out of the equation you don't have anything. Take out the manufacturer and you still can service the customer. Take out the integrator and you can still buy product. You can't remove the customer, they are the driving wheel.

Integrator B gets it.

If you take the customer out of the equation you don't have anything...

Yes, that is because they own the checkbook; no customer, no check, no nothing.

So why doesn't that all-important checkbook engender an absolute loyalty of those receiving that check? (Integrator B maybe an exception.)

Because the manufacturer's actions in the marketplace determines the amount of profit that an integrator will make on selling the manufacturer's product. That is the tension.

The manufacturer who creates a high-quality product that fills a need, provides ample marketing, and maintains a top notch tech support team, AND truly protects the channel, so that all roads lead to the integrator, will recieve the undying loyalty of its partners.

In a perfectly controlled channel, the difference between MSRP and dealer cost can all go to the integrator. But only if the manufacturer sets it up right and allows the integrator to resell. That is how the manufacturer writes the amount of the check.

This explains why see so many committed Avigilantes, but fewer fully Axis-aligned partners.

Finally, remember, without the manufacturer, you also have nothing, for there is no car to drive.

P.S. John, I am not making a statement about morality here, or about the way things should be. I am just trying to give a model that explains the wide variety of experiences that we all share.

A couple years ago, we had a large customer (Security Director) tell a group of us that the job of a good integrator/contractor was to "help keep them in a job because it only takes one big thing or a few small things for a Security Director to lose their job, so picking the right integrator/contractor was key." This intrigued me and made me think, a little harder, until I came to the same conclusion.

Our industry is like a wildlife habitat. One small change/problem in the environment can cause a chain reaction possibly leading to extinction/termination.

I have also witnessed many instances of Security Directors leaving or being terminated but the integrator/contractor is still employed by the customer.

Is the Security Director really the customer or is the customer the actual company as a whole? Maybe the Integrator/Contractor has a great relationship with the IT Director and/or Facilities Director. Maybe they do the companies low voltage work and have a great reputation with the other departments.

Relationships are complex and that is why it takes a lot of work to maintain relationships.

Is the Security Director really the customer or is the customer the actual company as a whole?

Good question! The knee-jerk response is of course, "whomever is paying you", i.e. the company, but I think a better answer is "whomever causes you to get paid", which could be the security director in certain cases. For instance, we all know (and sometimes benefit) from the unashamed cronyism that takes place between corporate department heads and independent contractors/consultants etc.

New vp/director takes position in mid/large size corporation. Needs to evaluate the current system under their command, who do they call? Their 'guy' from a previous life that they can trust. Eventually that 'guy' ends up getting the lion share of work... So in that case, most definitely, the new director is the customer.

Back at the corporation from which the new director came from, the same 'guy' struggles to keep in the loop now that his customer has moved. Whether he can or not depends on the degree he was able to show value to other groups in the org.

Some 'guys' can follow a exec as he moves from job to job, and continue to do work for every one of them. Bread-crumbing all the way...

Finally, remember, without the manufacturer, you also have nothing, for there is no car to drive.

I don't think it works this way, if it did you would see the VW Thing and AMC Pacers in dealer showrooms.

...without the manufacturer, you also have nothing, for there is no car to drive.

is inexact, more precisely it would be

...without the manufacturer, you have to build your own car.

Did you build your own car?

If not, why would someone make one for you?

Because you (and others) will give them enough money to do it, if you don't they won't. In this industry, having non-payrolled integrators save them enough money to 'do it'.

You don't want the integrator 'nonsense'?

No problem. I'm sure, for the right money/sales volume, you can have a dedicated Axis tech team, on-site. But that's not an option for all.

Similar in a way to Manufacturer's Reps, Integrators are an accommodation to the marketplace, in an effort to scale the reach of a manufacturer without have thousands of boots on the ground. But I'm not sure what we really disagree about here, since I concur that the customer is in the driver's seat with respect to the manufacturer.

I'm just trying to understand from an integrators perspective, which side of the bus do they see themselves sitting on and why.

Interesting, for our company, we have set product lines and rarely go outside of it for a customer - that said, its a pretty broad product line (Allegion and Assa Abloy).

Thanks, Scott. Follow up questions.

Do your leads come thru your lines?

Do you not 'go outside' of your lines because:

  • Customers don't request it
  • Situation doesn't require it
  • of possibly undermining your trusted relationship with manufacturer

Have you walked away from jobs that you could do for no other reason than the brand spec'ed? (Assuming the product could do the job.)

Goog questions by the way.

Do we go outside of our lines? Occasionally, but typically we try to get them to accept the alternate. Its hard to get better equipment (quality wise) than what we support, so usually its a price based reason they are going with an alternate source hardware. If we can get them to accept the better equipment, we'll do that.

Do leads come through our manufacturers? Yes, on occasion, but not as often as you might think nor what we'd like.

In response to the question about vendor/manufacturer relationship - We arent worried about undermining a relationship with a manufacturer, we exceed their requested volume by a large number (probably helps because we dont sell all sorts of alternates). If a manufacturer gives us a lead, we wont install a competitors equipment out of respect for where the lead came from.

Have we walked away from jobs that we could do other than the brand specified - Yes. If a customer is so adamant to use poorly specified equipment solely based on cost and still expects the performance and warranty support we would offer for the better equipment, then that applications not the best fit. They would be better off finding someone who can promise them more and work through the later disadvantages of maintaining the problems that will come later from improper equipment.

I've been at other companies that try to support whatever equipment is needed to get the job - jacks of all trades become masters of none, in my experience.

...other companies that try to support whatever equipment is needed to get the job - jacks of all trades become masters of none, in my experience.

Sometimes too, when you're just getting started, you will support 'whatever'. That's often the real reason you end up being a master of random product X, IMHO.

A good reason to not go outside your lines is simple familiarity (or "expertise", to the customer ;)

If I have to spend an extra hour fiddling with unfamiliar gear in order to get everything set up, well, that doesn't look very good, does it? If a customer calls for phone support and I have to say, "I'll call you back when I'm in front of my bench machine or can pull up the manual", that doesn't look good on me either.

On the other hand, if I've got them on a system I've been installing and supporting for 10+ years and can walk them through pretty much any task like it's second nature to me, then I get to look godlike. If I have initial setup completed in 15 minutes because I have a workflow developed and know all the shortcut keys... that saves us both money and time.

its a pretty broad product line (Allegion and Assa Abloy).

This is like a Yankees fan sporting a Red Sox hat, while driving to his job at the Ford plant in his Chevy Pickup.

I had to go with the end user as well... after all, as others have said, they're the ones who sign the checks. First loyalty in business generally has to go to the source of income. If I don't keep the customer happy, they'll find another integrator. If I don't keep a manufacturer happy, well... they'll still be glad to take my money in exchange for their products. Or I'll find another who will provide the products. There are very few truly "unique" players in this business. Pretty simple equation.

Now that being said, let's not forget that loyalty is a two-way street. Manufacturers who are helpful, supportive, responsive... that earns a lot of return loyalty and a desire to keep using and selling their products. When after-sale support wanes (ie. if they're not being loyal to the integrators), and it gets more difficult for me to properly support my customer... then I'll start looking for other products that WILL allow me to do that. Or - and this is key - the customer will start demanding different products, because they're not stupid, and they know when the manufacturer is the source of the support issues (don't even get me started on this, I could write volumes).

And by the same token, if a customer becomes too much of a pain in the ass with constant service calls for ridiculous things, constant demand to fix things under warranty even when they're not covered (no, equipment damaged by a lightning strike is not covered by warranty, and screaming at me about it won't change that)... well, their calls will more often be left to go to voicemail, and we'll get back to them after lunch. Maybe.

Thanks!

Curious, how protected/restricted are the lines that you sell?

We are authorized for one well-known "protected" brand but it's been a hard sell so far, in part because it's stupid expensive (almost twice what our usual line costs).

Our primary recorder line isn't really protected, at least not in that sense. Funny thing is, they're THE example of the terrible support mentioned above... the client in that case (the one who's not stupid and knows that the problems aren't our fault) would be more than willing to jump to the more expensive "protected" brand just to get away from that and being under the manufacturer's thumb, but it's missing a key feature that the client REALLY LOVES on the current product. Plus, they're already really comfortable using it on an enterprise scale. In short: love the product, hate the headache that support has become.

The "protected" line has the additional benefit (to the client) that we could build and field-service the systems ourselves, something we used to be able to do with the current systems but that's no longer supported by them - now systems have to be shipped back even for something so menial as license upgrades. Again, this makes them extremely inconvenient for the client... BUT, they like the platform and have a lot invested in it already.

As far as cameras, they're all brands that can be bought from a number of distributors (authorized or otherwise), as well as eBay, Amazon.com, etc.

Back to the original question: full loyalty in this case is to the client. Loyalty to the manufacturer exists only in the form of being intimately familiar with the product (moreso than most of their own tech support), which makes it easier and more efficient to work with. Given the hassle it's become, if the client wants to move to something else... we have no reason not to keep them happy.

...missing a key feature that the client REALLY LOVES on the current product.

Curious, is it some UI functionality? I've known people to be reluctant to move to a more functional and stable system, only because the scroll wheel can't map to the zoom function the same way!

Sometimes if the person writing the checks is a power user of the system themselves, it can be difficult.

As for the loyalty to the customer, that sounds well placed in your case.

Hypothetically speaking though, what if your protected brand gets its act together and you start doing a decent amount of high margin biz thru them. And then you start getting the people that find YOU because you're one of a few limited dealers of the product. As I'm sure you know this type of customer is informed, motivated and is 90% sold on the product already and knows roughly the price. Sometimes they are just placing the order on the first phone call.

Would that make a difference in your loyalty distribution?

Curious, is it some UI functionality? I've known people to be reluctant to move to a more functional and stable system, only because the scroll wheel can't map to the zoom function the same way!

Visual health monitoring, actually: at-a-glance grid showing status of all systems including retention days, cameras down, systems offline, etc. The "protected" brand has some highly configurable notification options, but nothing that lets you just look and see where any problems are, and with over two dozen sites to monitor, they find it quite indispensible.

As for the hypothetical, I'd file that under anything-is-possible. As far as this one client is concerned, they'd probably be willing to start switching over as the old systems are replaced, IF it provided this one feature, but again, that's due mainly to frustration with the current brand's lack of support. As always, OUR loyalty is ultimately to our client's needs. IF the current system's manufacturer got their act together, the whole question would be moot, as they're quite happy with that system.

I wish we could be more loyal to our manufacturers, but the bottom line is that we are customer directed. We will not turn down business even if the customer's solution dictates a different manufacturer than what we currently use. In fact, we will become authorized dealers of a certain manufacturer just to meet the needs of a specific customer (or even potential customer). Sometimes that philosophy has created a long-standing relationship with a certain manufacturer that we never would have considered were it not for the original customer. It is frustrating from a sales/design engineering point of view, but it does certainly broaden my scope of knowledge.

Bob, I could not agree with this post more!

Sometimes that philosophy has created a long-standing relationship with a certain manufacturer that we never would have considered...

Do these lines ever really become part of your product line, or are you phasing them out from the moment you take them on?

I'd think it would depend on the product - you could have a "We never looked at this brand before, but holy crap, it's a really nice product!" moment, or it could be a "Wow, this is dreadful, the next time someone wants it we GOTTA talk them out of it" situation.

I will say I've had more of the latter than the former... usually if a customer is insistent on a specific product, it's because it's something they already have.

It makes it difficult to be the "expert" on a particular brand as we end up offering so many, but we do tend to keep them on as part of our product offering. We still lead with the manufacturer(s) that sell the best and that we know best, but always have several alternatives. We get our hands slapped from time to time for not meeting minimum sales requirements, but I don't think we've ever been dropped as a reseller (though we never get the "Gold" or "Platinum" discount levels unless we "project bid"). There are definitely some manufacturers that I refuse to spec to our sales guys based on experience with these products (though most meet spec according to the data sheet, you still really do get what you pay for).