Should Talented People Be Integrators Or Manufacturers?

This choice comes up frequently.

So what would you recommend? Is it better to work for an integrator or a manufacturer, presuming you are a sales or engineering type that typically would pick from those two options.


Please expand in the comments. I'll hold my own thoughts until later on in the thread.

A cynical view ....

Working for an INTEGRATOR:

- Able to participate in many and all training seminars/open house events and still stay "neutral" to any brands. You are invited because you ultimately can be a potential great customer for the hosts and they are happy to having you there.

- Able to choose and "integrate" different brands available in the market for the best solution for your end customer.

Working for a MANUFACTURER:

- Still can participate in any training seminar/open house events but somehow you still feel "sort of an infiltrated spy" in the crowd looking at what your "possible competitors" are doing. You are not planning to purchase from your hosts unless you want to do some sort of reverse-engineering in your lab with your own company's engineers. I am not so sure the hosts will be very happy to have you there knowing that you work for their competitors.

- Not able to choose other brands. Must advertise above all your product's advantages and not mention it's own disadvantages and ultimately offer your own branded solution.

As with everything in life the answer is not binary.

The best approach from my perspective is to work for a strong integrator first. This will open your eyes to the "real" world and the strengths and weaknesses of all the vendors. Then after 5 years or so join a leading manufacturer. Your past experience will give you the tools to be very succesful and you will know where you stand.

Workign for a manufacture is like being able to eat at only one restaurant. Yes you can change the meal slightly but your locked in.

Working for an integrator is like letting you chose a diffent place to eat every day of the week to what suits your needs the best.

I see the difference as being how much focus and specificity you want out of your job. The manufacturer job is likely to be highly specialized in a particular area of the industry and products. Whereas the integrator job will be much more broad in scope. I imagine the integrator job has more contact with end users. Even manufacturer jobs in sales tend to deal with more integrators themselves rather than end-user customers. Also, if location is important to you may have fewer options with manufacturers.

I have to agree with you on your point about dealing with more integrators. I'm a rep in the NJ/NY marketplace and while I do work with end users, I am more often working with integrators. I think that is the nature of the beast when you are manufacturer side because integrators really are your customers.

Good feedback, everyone!

A few other points:

  • Money - manufacturer employees tend to make significantly more than integrators 30% or 50% more is common, in my experience
  • Intellectual challenge - having worked on both sides, the overall intellectual challenge developing products is typically higher than in installing / integrating systems

Agree / disagree?

I think it is a tough call. The manufacturer typically has bigger budgets that allow you to pursue projects that are not practical on shoestring integrator budgets. I enjoyed exploring new innovative technologies that allow you to create a solution to a problem rather than trying to fit existing technology into a solution that may not be a good fit. If you enjoy travel, the manufacturer probably has more opportunities.

However, I lean to the integrator, as they are typically a smaller company that is less structured and bureaucratic. Both jobs can offer plenty of stress, just different drivers of stress. One distinct advantage of an integrator, is that they have local competition to flee to, if the stress becomes too much. Travel can be nice, but too much is a burden, and it plays hell on family life, particularly with children in the picture (I have the divorce to prove it). Most of all, l like not being a one trick pony that has to fit a manufacturer’s square product into a round problem, integrators generally have more flexibility to use the product that best fits the application.

There's a saying "When all you have is a hammer, all your problems look like nails."

If I'm truly a 'security talent', then I make my living solving problems, not trying to force a square peg into a round hole.


  • As a manufacturer, I'm not really doing my job unless I'm pushing my company's products.
  • As an integrator, I'm not really doing my job unless I'm installing someone's products (because I made the sale, good or bad).

Therefore, I think the right answer is: Become an independent consultant.

Or: be an integrator willing to sell based on solution effectiveness, not best margin. And be a manufacturer willing to admit 'we are not a good fit here' when they are not.

Therefore, I think the right answer is: Become an independent consultant.

If I am understanding you correctly, you are offering this as a solution to the archetypical dilemma of either being disloyal to one's company or to one's customer?

But I'm not sure that it is actually effective to that end. Because as an independent consultant, although you are now 'free to choose' whatever product/solution you desire for your customer, you as your own business, have become a product yourself. One that provides a service and charges fees? Yes/No? And though you may not feel like you are 'forcing any square pegs down any round holes', that's only because you're the peg now, and the peg likes to provide for his family.

[Warning: Strawman Ahead] I imagine you would nobly say, "Well, if I'm not qualified to do X, I simply won't do X until I am". And I believe you, but just being qualified is not the same as being best!

Because if you were really an impartial advocate for the customer, you would have to pass on every single job that someone who had more experience consulting than you, which would be everyone for a long while. Moreover you would actively have to seek out more qualified people that could do your job, just like you actively seek out any and all product for your customer.

So if you are offering a true moral escape from the conundrum, No, I don't think that becoming the problem is the solution. But if that's not your intent, then I agree you could sleep better that way, for a while...

Why not End User? Or are we all considered to be "untalented idiots"?

Being an end user is just not as common an option, simply because only bigger end users can afford surveillance specialists, and often that's only 1 person for the company. There certainly are some end users with teams of surveillance specialists, but those are, by far, the exception.

And, yes, Carl, you are an exception :)

Why not End User?

or Why 'End User' even?

Or are we all considered to be "untalented idiots"

As you allude, there is a vague, but palpable, condescending connotation to the label 'End User'. This is because the term is outsider focused, and was used originally in IT to represent the lowest-common-denominator of cognitive capability regarding computer usage known. Which, of course, excludes all most IT people. ('Make it simple enough for end-users' was oft-heard). Then as a result of the rampant cross-breeding between IT and Surveillence types, it thrives today in this similar context.

Consider the fact that, people readily and naturally self-identify as Integrator, Dealer and Manufacturer, but End Users, unless prompted, would not choose such a term for themselves. IMO, it lies somewhere higher on the scale than 'unwashed masses', but below even the lowly 'consumer'.

Sometimes meaningful change just takes one courageous person with a clear voice to plainly speak the truth to all that would listen. Actually, never mind, that hardly ever works...

In any event Carl, your decidedly dry and wickedly wry wit has inspired me to suggest the slightly more egalitarian replacement label of "In-house Specialist". Better? Yes/No?

Carl, is essentially an integrator working for a single end user. At least that's how I think of him :)

Shucks, I think of Carl as the 'End-All, Be-All User', if there ever was one..

Shucks, guys. You're making me blush!

Talented people can be either. The really good integrators pay well and perform well. Same for manufacturers. The difference is that a poor integrator will pay less well than a poor manufacturer - but the risk of layoffs or worse is higher with the poor manufacturer.

From a selling perspective, it's all about matching the skill to the requirements of the day-to-day process. Talent is required for both, but matching the talent is imperative. (The only exception: virtually anyone can succeed as an RSM when a manufacturer is on a hot streak for a few years.)

A few points:

  • Although it seems like an easy transition, I've seen integration sales people struggle when moving to a manufacturer. They kept trying to solve the entire problem of the end-user, or they would constantly complain about the skill of their channel - they couldn't let go of the end-user and focus on developing their channel. In every instance I'm thinking of, the result was a few dedicated clients, but the majority of their region under performed.
  • Manufacturer sales people moving to the integration side find a simplicity in the process and will jump out to a quick start. However, if there is not an engineering / estimating resource to assist them, their quick start could hit a wall after a few months.
  • Many integrators have been considering carving out the "stud salesperson" to simply build relationships while having the technical person come in to handle the details. This works in some industries where there are limited but very large transactions. It won't work in the typical security integration company. There are too many transactions and the sales person needs to be able to bring content to their clients and prospects.

They're selling the same thing to the same customers, but the talent required is completely different.

Chris, those are great insights into the differences of the dynamics between integrator and manufacturer selling.

Let me ask you this, though. How many manufacturer sales people actively want to work for integrators? In my experience, manufacturer sales people overwhelmingly only consider going to work for an integrator as a last resort. Does yours differ?

Also, in my experience, everything else equal, manufacturer sales people make more money than integrator ones. Yours?

John - not many sales people from the manufacturing side move to the integrator side. Many reasons: more complex solutions to sell, usually not recruited by integrators, lower salary, less expense budget, etc. The ones I've seen make the jump (I'm thinking of only four examples off the top of my head) jumped out of the blocks like Usain Bolt, but hit a wall a few months down the road. Two of the four that I'm thinking of are still working for integrators and doing pretty well - one is pretty technically oriented and the other is and has always sold to the US government - totally different animal.

Regarding compensation, you're correct. The base salaries are higher on the manufacturer side, and my experience tells me that the overall earnings at target are closer to each other, but the manufacturer is still a little bit higher.

However, the best opportunity to consistently make an excellent income is selling for a successful integrator and owning a market. Manufacturers tend to take away territory from the really successful folks, but integrators usually won't mess with that end-user relationship.

Updating this post:

  • 54% of integrators recommend being integrators.
  • 62% of manufacturers recommend being manufacturers.

IPVM's integrator salary and manufacturer salary results show that manufacturers, make on average 35% more than their integrator equivalents, a sizeable difference.