Member Discussion

How Can A Manufacturer, Selling Through The Channel, Help Influence End-Users?

A common challenge I hear from many manufacturers is their sales team's inability to reach end-users. Many jump to the conclusion that their people are not technical enough to discuss the applications in the field and are simply "calling on their reseller friends". Others don't think it’s their sales team's responsibility to call on end-users (that's why they have a channel), but they're stumped on how to influence the market and create a pull-through dynamic for the channel.

What have you seen work effectively? Was it a sales effort, marketing effort, or a combination?

...they're stumped on how to influence the market and create a pull-through dynamic for the channel.

Finding ways to reach end-users is relatively easy, finding a way that doesn't spook the middle-men is hard. Any increased attempt to 'reach' the customer is inevitably seen as a 'reach-around' by the integrator; and the spectre of disintermediation looms large in the distance...

Don't know how effective it has been, but here's a recent example...

"Finding ways to reach end-users is relatively easy"

Rukmini - can you cite some first-hand examples of this specific to the security industry?

I agree with Rukmini. Reaching the end user is pretty easy. However, after the initial meeting you should bring in an integrator/contractor partner with you and work hand in hand with the end user.

As long as you're driving sales for your good integrators/contractors, they will love you. The moment you take their leads and tell other partner/integrators, after they brought you in, or try to sell to the end user direct, is where the problems arise (Trust).

If you can reward your partners with (new) work on a regular basis, they will reward you back by pushing your product as Choice A in their work. (As long as you got a qaulity product)

Chris, can you elaborate on what ways it is difficult for manufacturers to reach end users? Surely manufacturers get lots of leads from scanning badges at trade shows, buying lists, etc. Presumably, the issue is not good leads? What is the issue that they most commonly cite in terms of reaching end users?

John - the primary reasons are urgency and scale. Most RSMs have monthly or quarterly numbers, and the fastest way to hit those numbers is by working with the integrators in the region. Second, one RSM can not scale to cover their region at the end user level.

Many companies require that their RSMs/MRs hit all levels - channel, A&E firms/consultants, and the end users. It looks reasonable in December when sales plans are being reviewed, but it doesn't happen. By February it's back to the milk run with the integrators because they've got a number to hit. This isn't a talent problem, it's a system problem.

Solution: a specialization of labor where different roles are hitting the different levels in the right way. Every manufacturer that has grown past the start-up stage can do this - you don't need a department of 15 A&E specialists or an inbound marketing staff like ADT. You just need a defined process and the ability to utilize the available tools and technology to execute.

With the process I see in most manufacturers' sales organizations today, a $5M business with a decent technology (doesn't have to be cold fusion) can triple in size within a few years just by creating a process that hits each level effectively: and that process is not "the RSM is supposed to do it all".

I think was Chris is asking is really more in the title "How do you influence the end user".

Sure, there are a million ways to get basic contact info for end users. If you don't know how to acquire a list of email addresses you're seriously lacking in even the most basic skills. I won't get into that because it's (hopefully) not a topic worth discussing in this context.

Once you have the basic list of "Name, Title, Email, Phone Number" you begin this effort of of trying to get some mindshare. This is sometimes called lead cultivation, lead qualification, etc. The fundamental problem here is that you rarely know what is really going to resonate with this person.

As far as decision-makers for the common security and access-control products, I've seen two main camps. You've got the guys that have been around for a while, and their knowledge of standard topics is pretty deep, but they're not very technical, and the elements of IP (networks, routers, port-forwarding, bandwidth and so on) tend to be a little elusive to them. The other side is the people that are bridging over from the IP world and are pretty good with all aspects of packet routing and switching, but really have no security knowledge between what they've picked up on the Internet and they often think they're smarter than you and/or can figure out the "basics" of cameras and access control and there really isn't much to it.

There are some other sub-genres, but these two groups seem to cover the primary people you deal with on a day-to-day basis (again, IME).

You can already start to see that different messages and topics are going to resonate differently with these two groups. And, from your "Name, rank and serial number" list you rarely know who is who just from a title. The first part of influencing them is getting them to opt-in to some kind of next level discussion. This is the "call to action" froms on websites and similar "give us your email in exchange for this whitepaper" tactic. You're sending out email blasts about new products, case studies, white papers, educational webinars (or more commonly marketing-stuff disguised as education) and you're trying to get a feel for which people are responding to each topic.

Sounds good so far, but there's another wrinkle. People can be in the "It Guy" or "Security Dude" camp, but neither of those folks tend to care about solutions for other industries. And very few of them at all seem to be able to extrapolate from a case study for a school and how that might be relevant at their hospital. So one of the things you'll do if you have the time and resources is try to group them by industry. You can frequently get this data directly if you're buying email lists, or you can figure it out from domain and company names if you've scanned 500 badges at ASIS or something. That figuring it out and categorizing is kind of a manual process and this is usually kicked to the lowest-ranking marketing person in the organization.

You figure out your key value-prop for your product, customize it for each major vertical you want to target, and then start sending out emails trying different angles. At the same time, you're putting some white-papers on your website, writing a ton of blog posts covering all these topics and appealing to different personality types, submitting content to trade magazines, speaking at major or minor trade-show events and so forth.

As much as I hate the "thought leader" tag, that's what you're trying to do. I think we saw a good example of that from th Vicon guy the other day in the Indigo/Arecont thread. Get end-users (or, people in general) to recongize your name, your company, and associate that with knowledge.

Many times the decision-maker at the actual end user is responsible for a lot of different things. A full decision usually incorporates selecting a product for both its IT merits and its Security merits, and few people are savvy on both. As a manufacturer you're trying to convey the feeling of "Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM" (for those of you old enough to remember/know that one).

You'll usually go through some process of email collection -> Lead conversion (the person expressed interest in being contacted about your product) -> Phone Conversation/Screen sharing demo -> Onsite presentation -> Onsite product evaluation (POC (Proof of Concept)) -> Purchase (hopefully!)

This is a double, or triple, edged sword though. If you're any kind of a real manufacturer in this industry, you're not going to sell direct to that end user that you worked so hard to win over. You need to pull an integrator into the mix at some point. Early enough on so that the integrator is involved in any of the sales pitch and/or system design stuff, but not too early. You have to assess the integrator if the customer has a long-standing relationship with them and make sure that integrator doesn't try to sway them in a another direction due to their own alliances, lack of knowledge on your product, or whatever. The ideal case is the customer has no captive integrator and you're in the position of being able to make a recommendation. If there is an integrator that they already use and want to work with, you need to convince them to support you. Doing that is a whole different topic.

If you're a main-line manufacturer in this industry and your sales people can't hang with a full discussion with the end user, you need to get new sales people. Depending on the size of your org and the scope of your product, you might have "sales" people and "biz dev" people, where the biz dev folks concentrate on particular verticals that have long sales cycles and require a higher-than-normal amount of domain expertise (eg: Energy sector, or even more specifically Nuclear Power).

We're dealing with integrated systems in the common market today, even if 75% of your sales are fairly templated using essentially all your own products (Avigilon, Pelco, Axis (in some cases)). A good manufacturer-level sales person understands their product, competitive offerings, and all the components neccessary to make their product part of a comprehensive solution. If you're a pure camera company, you need to know a fair bit about all the mainstream VMS's. If you're an end-to-end company, you need to know a fair bit about all the other components because there are going to be many cases where for whatever reason the end user doesn't want your end-to-end. They might have a legacy investment in something else, or they're going to migrate there later, or who knows what. But, I think the end-to-end sales people need to be MORE knowledgeable overall about the general market than a similar role at a single-product company (Camera, VMS, etc.)

Just like the sales person wants to deal with the "decision maker", the end user many times wants to deal with "the person who can answer my questions". Sales people need to be more technical, if you're calling your SE 10 times a day and/or about every lead, you're not qualified to sell your product. SE's are valuable resoources and are best utilized for getting into the details, doing POC's, etc. They're not there to answer any question that contains an acronym.

If you're at a total loss where to start, I'd suggest a bunch of basic SEO topics. (If you got this far, sorry of the wall of text, thanks for reading ;) ) So much of this revolves around the web today that website optimization, lead collection/conversion/tracking and so forth are critical to high success.

What about manufacturer RSMs speaking at local events?

For example, I recall a Hawaii security director meeting where a manufacturer RSM gave a presentation on the future of video surveillance. The company was not a big name nor did the RSM have great experience in surveillance. However, I found out that he has his products at sites of the organizer of the meeting and likely leveraged that relationship to get that opportunity.

Which leads to a fundamental tactic. If that manufacturer already has sites deployed in the territory, should not the RSM build off the friends and acquiantances of those users?

If one has deeper pockets one could consider rolling like Tamron does for their consumer side:

Well, Bosch Security has a demo truck, e.g.,

I don't think most sales managers will be excited to have an RSM ask them to buy a few hundred thousand dollar truck to reach end users...

Pelco has a truck, FLIR has at least 2.

They're a great way to demo product AFTER you've gotten to the stage of having someone engaged (eg: you've gone through the lead capture/nurture steps I outlined above).

But, they're not ice-cream trucks, you don't just drive down the street and expect people to come running, waving money at you.

But, they're not ice-cream trucks, you don't just drive down the street and expect people to come running, waving money at you.

That is pure Undisclosed genius A! Combination ice-cream truck/ip camera truck, with all the treats named for brand recognition, e.g. "Can I get a MegaPixel Crunch, and two POE sticks and a 5 inch Smoked Dome Saucer?"

Seriously though, are these mobile demo vehicles just available to integrators over a certain size, to close deals? How are they allocated?

In major cities the cost would be defrayed by the banner advertising benefit. It seems like a certain deal closer, unless of course the other guy has a Bigger truck, with ice-cream...


I think you can call on the manufacturer if the deal is large enough. They aren't going to drive their vehicle across the country for $20k of product. If a few hundred thousand dollars of their product is involved I imagine they will roll out the red carpet.

I know Pelco used to do this with the Pelco jet. They would fly out consultants to their factory. Crown Audio uses their travelling semi to show off to integrators and consultants in the area. Bag End Audio used to pull out a car that had a mammoth woofer in it. Axis has a roadshow Suburban I saw at ISC West this year. It honestly seems to be more common. I don't know how effective this is but if enough folks are doing it there must be some reason for it.

"Seriously though, are these mobile demo vehicles just available to integrators over a certain size, to close deals?"

In all cases I'm familiar with, the trucks are owned and operated exclusively by the manufacturer (or in rare cases, their rep firm). They don't rent or loan them to integrators for "private" use.

Usually there is a touring schedule, set in advance. Depending on various factors, emails and announcements will go out to end-users and integrators that the demo vehicle is going to be in Location X from Day1 to Day3, and there is a way to schedule time on/with it.

In same cases the manufacturer might be doing a demoonstration direct to an end user, in other cases an integrator might bring one or more customers interested in the product(s) on the vehicle for a set meeting time.

Great idea, and this should be an RSM responsibility. It also doesn't have to be a security event - business leaders attend chamber meetings, Rotary meetings, etc. They're always looking for speakers and our industry has become topical - people want to learn about video surveillance, security in the cloud, etc.

Generally reaching out to the engineering consultants that are involved on larger projects, if any, is a method which the integrator is less likely to be offended by. It's a very common practice. Also, tighter relationships with the integrators is effective so that you are called upon as a resource. However, bypassing your integrator(s) without notice is likely to be poorly received.

Austin - I agree. In fact, part of the presentation to the A&Es should be discussing the local integrators that are certified. The consultants want to know this. As Jeremiah stated above, let the integrators know what you're doing ahead of time and the good ones will love you for it.

I think cold fusion would be easier to resolve into a cost effective power source as it involves less people once working. Frankly I have seen a few who can do this well until they are recruited away to a different organization or management structure. Trust was mentioned and it cannot be understated when balancing between end users and their hierarchy, integrators with national implementations (multiple integrators and disciplines), purchasing methods or agreements and internet price checking. There are ways to break through the mix to the end user but the best is being invited through their trusted source and building the relationship. If you are cold calling a competitors end user and that competitor doesn't share your integrator it's easy to manage but harder to enter. The exact opposite is true. I watched one manufacturer that had a group of sales people decimate them and have several flee due to a management change. Creating is one challenge, keeping is another.

If you are cold calling a competitors end user and that competitor doesn't share your integrator it's easy to manage but harder to enter

But if you do share an integrator with your competitor, what would happen? The other competitor pressures the integrator to dump you?

Rukmini .... That places you in a difficult situation. I usually default to the integrator with a frank conversation which builds that trust instead of destroying it. Once broken it can't be fixed.

When I was a Rep, I used to put on small seminars in various towns/cities in my state. I had a card access line, a VMS line, and a camera line for these seminars. I used 2 of our (Rep Group) lines (Card Access and VMS) and had a camera manufacturer come in for the 3rd line (In this case Axis). All 3 speakers would be RSM's of the respected manufacturer. Each would get an hour to present. I supplied the lunch afterwards. I held these at hotel conference rooms and at integrators shops/classrooms throughout my state. I would invite end users, A&E's, and partner integrators. They were all successful and all the RSM's loved doing them. This was a great way for quality leads and great discussions over lunch.

Like somebody can be recruited away if you're good at getting in the door of an end user. I was hired away from the Rep Group by one of the integrators I fed quality leads to. Not only were they quality leads, they were qualified leads.

On another note... when I was a Rep, I was able to specify a VMS line and a Card Access line to a major City/County. How did I do this? I saw they had a graffiti problem that was costing a lot of money to clean up. I did some research and sent a couple city people an email stating I may have a solution to the graffiti problem that would save the city a large amount of cleanup money(More details in email). The next morning, I received a few phone calls from 2 Aldermen, a Chief of Police, and a SGT who wanted me to come in and talk to a few people. Anyway, I went in and spoke to them and they were impressed enough to keep talks going until the specification. At the end of the first meeting one guy asked if I could go out to the county jail the next morning because their Access Control was failing badly and they probably needed to use the emergency fund. I brought one of our best integrator partners with me and visited the County Jail and did a tour and listened to the problems. They were less than a day away from upgrading a failed ABC700 to an ABC8000 with an integrator they had used for years. Story short, we were able to specify our Card Access line and it replaced the existing card access system right away. 1 1/2 years later, the City/County implemented the VMS line and it was hard specified.

Bottom line -As a Rep, I made my bread and butter by driving sales the other way around. I would start the sale at the end user level and drive it through the channel backwards with Distribution being last. I found out integrators liked this.

Why did I do this?

  • I could not trust Distribution (Integrators do not either) to keep my qualified leads a secret amongst all partner integrators and even integrators that were not partners or certified (Not all Disty's did this).
  • I tried to bring in Distribution a few times and it never works. They want to bring in 5 plus people to the end user meeting and never bring any sales value or keep pushing to go to some lab a state away. I started to find value in Distributors like Scan Source who stuck to Distribution and not interfering in the sales process. (Note -Distribution is different in various territories even with the same Distributor. It is based off branches I believe)
  • I had a Distributor sales person tell me one time "Why are you talking to my customer?". My answer to that is we are all in the same industry, yet we do different jobs in that industry. We can all have the same customers. I'm sure they talk to plenty of my customers.
  • A Manufacturer keeps Certified Integrators limited. Even when it comes to partners, you still have a few partners who do not lead with you or never sell your product. By bringing in my valuable partners to qaulified leads, I would get rewarded back with projects I had nothing to do with.
  • If you do not have a top 2-3 brand recognition line or have a new territory, then I found this was the best way to go to market as Distribution and Contractors would not tend to lead with you, even though, when you visit, they say they like your product, you, your company and etc... Yet the quartely #'s did not pan out to well for you.
  • Even if you have a national integrator, that is a partner, but has never sold your product in your territory... flip a few of their customers and bring another integrator in. After a couple of projects, they will start to get the picture and sell your line, versus a line their own company owns. (This may not work in every territory, but it worked in mine) As a rep, I'm responsible to sell my manufacturers products and not responsible to a national partner integrator who sells another line that I do not get paid for. If they are not selling your line on a project, are they really a partner of yours on that project? If not, then it should be fair game. If they hold the manufacturer hostage, because they sell your product in another state, is that fair to the Rep Group to suck it up and not get paid? Lucky we had some good manufacturers who understood this and refused to be held hostage by a narional integrator trying to use leverage.

Another Note - I used to give qaulity leads to A&E's also. This really paid off also.

I know a few RSM's. The thing that holds them back is being tech support for many integrators. Take away being tech support, they would have time to help sell more.

So if they sold less product, they'd have time to sell more product?

A vast majority of integrators call their RSM for tech support, or even simple questions that are located in the user manual. If a manufactuer could get these tech questions and simple questions redirected away from the RSM, the RSM would have more time to be effective in other areas.

It is a weird balance that really is not balanced. As tech support and getting questions answered in a timely manner is one of the main parts of keeping an integrator happy, yet it takes up an RSM's day.

Do you disagree?

I understand that ticky-tack 'RTFM' issues are a pain, but it seems that would get worse the more customers an RSM sells product.

As an integrator, I never expected an RSM to be front-line tech support. However, I can understand the problem if that's the way many RSMs spend time. I suppose the manufacturer's expectations of RSM responsibilities are a big factor.

Do RSM's really sell product as their main job? Or do they exist to maintain relationships with Distribution and Partner Integrators and Contractors? And if they have Rep Groups, they have a responsability to manage the sales pipline report and be able to talk about their overall pipleine (region) to their company and manage Reps Groups expectations, and be there to support the Rep Group in a few requested end user or integrator meetings.

Marketing and Sales. Both should work together and have an integrated marketing communications plan in place, but both are different beasts with different jobs.

In sales conversations, I see people tangling the two together into one beast. Unless you're a small business, then I believe this is a no-no.

As a Rep, I made my bread and butter by driving sales the other way around. I would start the sale at the end user level and drive it through the channel backwards with Distribution being last.

Dyslexic distribution at its finest! When you can single-handedly disintermediate two levels in the sales chain, you are obviously leaving a lot of money on the table, and destined for greater things.

But one difficulty must have been the high number of end-user dead ends, no? Because when an Integrator has an oppurtunity, he has a vast array of products to choose fron, to tailor the solution to the customer. In other words, if there is a need, he's gonna sell them something. But as a Rep. usually you have just a handful of lines to specify, so wouldn't you have to pass on a lot of promising leads because there was nothing from your linecard likely to be in the deal? Normally isn't a Rep. is relying on the Integrator to identify possible deals early in the cycle, and not waste his time churning thru all the ones that are half-baked?

IMHO, that's why backdriving the channel takes a lot of energy; I like your analogy, its like making your own bread and butter. :)

p.s. a lot of good info there in those posts...

"Dyslexic distribution at its finest! When you can single-handedly disintermediate two levels in the sales chain, you are obviously leaving a lot of money on the table, and destined for greater things."

How is that dyslexic? It's not like distributors generate many leads on their own. I'm not sure what you were trying to say there.

The process described makes a lot of sense, and is very common. Most reps try to have a linecard that has 1 of each major componet (Camera, VMS, Access Control, Nurse Call, Intercom) so that for a given user with a desire to spend money on *something*, they have a "something" to recommend. Integrators more less do the same thing, just usually with 2-3 options in some of the categories. It's not like a guy looks at an opportunity and scours the marketplace for all available options, they're going to recommend one of the 1 or 2 or 3 products they sell and are familiar with. So for example if a job is a "perfect" fit for a FLIR camera, but they do a lot of business with Axis, and their competitor carriers FLIR, that integrator will push the Axis thermal camera even if it's not the "perfect" fit for the job. That's life.

An integrator has a vast array of products at a macro level, but at any given time they are specializing in a very small subset of all available options. It's too effort-intensive otherwise.

This is off topic. Please stop. Both of you.

As an end user, I was continually disappointed and annoyed by the service provided by those who were doing the advising, selling, and installing of my cctv equipment. The focus was on the 'sale', not what was best suited for my various businesses. In realising how common this problem was, I researched, I learnt, and I then set up a new business - a consultancy that helps others like me.

I am very careful these days as to when and where I choose to utter the term "end user". I was at a trade show recently, and although I set up my new business several years ago and now consider myself both an end user and someone within the industry, I must still have á particular "end user" scent. I felt like a victim out of "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" as one stall holder looked at me oddly and almost screamed "you're not an end user - ARE you???" I felt as though every head had turned around and I was about to be 'invaded'.

I for one welcome manufactures engaging in dialogue with end users. Not because I hope it will cut out the middle men in the supply chain, but because it may actually help prevent some of the common problems we often read and hear about regarding the expectations of the client.

We will always need qualified integrators, but THEIR interpretation of what the end user actually wants and the flow on of that in THEIR opinion being the one manufacturers hear, is not, in my opinion, the best way to achieve the optimum outcome for all stakeholders.

I'd certainly want my security consultant to have a particular end user scent.

Nobody trusts a security consultant with a particular manufacturer or integrator scent.