Dealing with Manufacturers Complaints

Author: John Honovich, Published on Jul 27, 2011

We get a lot of manufacturer complaints. Every week. Seemingly someone is always upset, angry, disappointed, shocked, etc. Just like we have the right to criticize, manufacturers certainly have the right to complain. Some manufacturers provide very strong feedback while others simply whine. In this note, we break down the differences and look at how the rise of the social web is changing the industry's power structure.

Manufacturer Carrots and Sticks

Historically, manufacturers have been the heart of the industry. Their money and products fuel and shape what gets said and who sells what to whom.

Ask yourself: How many times have you read a trade magazine or market analyst criticize a manufacturer? It is extremely rare. Bigfoot sightings are far more common. This is no coincidence. The mags and analysts depend almost entirely on large purchases from a small number of manufacturers. 

Integrators, too, face risks in criticizing manufacturers, especially products that have limited distribution. Manufacturers can restrict product availability, favor rival dealers, offer lower price discounts, etc.

For manufacturers, this is a good world because marketing messages can be tightly controlled. For users, not so much because problems are easily hidden.

Independence from Manufacturers

Financial independence from manufacturers is an absolute necessity. In the beginning of the site, I spoke privately with the industry 'big shots' and it was crystal clear to me that manufacturers controlled the process with their $10,000 consulting engagements, report purchases, webinar sponsorships, advertising campaigns, etc. You take that money and they can and will use it as leverage to (1) stop you from saying anything negative and (2) push you to promote their agenda. At some level, I do not blame manufacturers for this. After all, they are the ones paying the whole bill, not anyone else.

By contrast, our business model is designed to stop manufacturer influence. We have thousands of members and not one of them represents more than a fraction of 1 percent of our revenue. Whether anyone pays or does not pay a few hundred dollars for yearly membership because of the coverage we provide is irrelevant to us. Manufacturers can complain but they are financially powerless to influence us.

Good and Bad Feedback

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While we have no interest in making manufacturers happy, we do care deeply about the technical accuracy of our reporting and analysis. As such, we welcome all feedback on the details themselves and look forward to quality input - whether from manufacturer, integrator, end user, consultant or others.

To conclude, here are recommendations on the least and most effective forms of feedback.

Bad Feedback:

  • Your emotional state: Whether you are happy, sad, angry or frustrated is irrelevant to our reporting. Manufacturers might use this as a stick to prod trade magazines on future ad purchases but we just do not care.
  • Your customers: Manufacturers like to respond by saying 'our customers love us' or we just deployed at Customer A, B or C. All manufacturers, whether good or bad, have customers. As such, it makes no difference.
  • People you talk to: Strangely, manufacturers will say things like , "I spoke with B at Organization X and he loves our product." Again, all manufacturers talk to people who say they love their product. This will not change our position.
  • Citing your marketing slogan: We often get feedback that says, "But, you don't understand, we are the choice of a new generation" or whatever the company's marketing slogan is. 
  • That we are out of touch with industry trends: Ironically, we get this frequently from people who have been in the surveillance industry for less than a year. Disagree with us in a more productive manner.

The consistent thread in all bad feedback is that it is emotive and subjective. 

By contrast, good feedback is technical and factual:

  • Your Revenue: Revenue is a much better sign than individual customers because it represents an aggregate of many customers. We know what your main competitor's revenue is, so if yours is higher it is a good sign. On the other hand, many manufacturers hide this because they know they are lagging.
  • Number of Customers in a Market Segment: If you have a mass of customers in one segment (say education), share that numbers (e.g., we have 50+ US colleges). This is a much better trend line than individual customer wins.
  • Facts on Your Products and Pricing: If our analysis includes incorrect facts or omits relevant ones, tell us. Often, manufacturer feedback ignores this points and leads us to conclude that our analysis is correct but that the manufacturer simply wants to whine about us not being more flattering. By contrast, a number of manufacturers provide excellent factual feedback. Not only will we update reporting immediately but these manufacturers gain our respect and trust as people who understand their products and can communicate effectively.
  • Roadmap and Upcoming Enhancements: Often, manufacturers are well aware of the concerns we state as their customers have raised them as well. Many times enhancements are already on the roadmap for release within 6 months to a year. Share this with us, even if it is off the record. It gives us visibility and confidence that you are working on improvements.

The Rise of the Social Web

As the web allows more people to provide feedback and input on products and services, manufacturers will continue to lose control over their marketing message. Whether it is an IPVM test, anonymous forum discussions or user complaints on twitter, this trend of independent feedback will increase. In the long run, manufacturers will serve themselves best by thoughtfully listening and providing real feedback on issues raised.

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