While I think these (smarts, management and service) are the right operational fundamentals, I wonder how well they can be marketed against competitors. Imagine an unscrupulous salesperson at a local rival, could they claim the same things and convince most end users? Probably. If the end user did a lot of due diligence, they might be able to ascertain the truth but it strikes me as easy for a lower quality rival to muddy the waters here.
This is one reason I really like the demo truck example. Not only is it useful in educating a prospect, it makes a real impression and is not something that many integrators will have the resources or focus to deliver.
Definitely an interesting thought with the truck, something the end-user can put their eyes on and "prove." In our area we have a big problem with everyone saying that they are an "integrator;" from the high quality companies that have regional and national footprints, all the way down to the guy that works with his brother out of an astrovan every company is a self-proclaimed "systems integrator." So from that perspective, it does get hard to compete against the same pitch coming from every company-
Our techs are the best trained
Our customer service is the best
Our jobs are the best managed
For us it really just comes down to local references that can at least take a step towards proving the difference, rather then just a shouting match between two sales people saying the exact same thing
Absolutely right John - that is why we have the Demo Truck as that shows the customer that we are serious about CCTV. I don't want to give them a chance to even consider looking at other companies as we provide them with exactly what they want and close the sale. Our ratio for new business has gone from about 40%/50% to about 90% since using the Truck.
A good percentage of our work is also from referrals, so we must be doing something right! All my Tech are IT trained as welland we operate out of a lifestyle premises in the country so no fancy big offices - just good marketing and awesome service.
Talk is cheap. I never met an integrator who didn't think he did high quality work or who didn't think his panels/backboards/racks were "the best in the industry".
I became especially aware of this about five years ago when I was working with a client that was building about 15 distribution centers across the US. My services involved flying from city to city with the client's project manager and interviewing up to three security integrators in each city (30 to 40 total). Without exception, every integrator that we talked to said something along the lines of "if you are looking for the lowest price, we are not your company - but if you want the highest quality work, best service, etc., choose us."
(I thought about how refreshing it would be to hear "we do a mediocre job that will just barely meet your needs, but we are always the low bidder...:)
I could probably write a book on this subject, but here are a few things I look for when helping to pick an integrator for a larger project:
Lots of demonstrated experience with the particular combination of products being proposed. (the more the better)
At least three reference projects in the local area that we can actually visit and talk to the customer.
Number of team members that have experience with the products being proposed (for example, need more than just one guy who is their "Milestone" dude.)
Multi-level project team that provides checks and balances between team members (don't want the same guy as engineer, project manager, and lead technician).
At least one team member assigned to project that has computer/network certifications (MSCE, CCNP, etc.)
Dedicated service department (as opposed to pulling techs off of an installation to handle a service call.)
Itemized proposal that provides detailed list of parts and labor (no, not so we can "shop" for the equipment on line, but so that we can see that the proposer has throughly engineered the job and included all items)
Detailed project schedule with key project milestones indicated.
Senior company executive (Owner, Branch Manager, etc.) takes time to show up at selection interview.
Perfect compliance with the instructions shown in our RFP or specifications (if they don't follow our instructions now, how can we expect them to during project execution?)
Proposal written that specifically addresses our project needs - not a generic, boilerplate document.
Integrator doesn't badmouth client's existing system, his competitors, the products specified, or the security consultant :)
One thing that is tough for integrators is that experienced consultants are not the normal influencers / decision makers in their deals. A lot (or most) projects are negotiated directly with the owner and for those, they do not have the same expertise / experience to draw on or typically the time to do such detailed due diligence and design.
I agree that working on consultant-specified projects is different than working directly with the owner, but many of the same criteria still apply.
I would encourage integrators to ask potential customers questions such as the following: "What will be important to to you when selecting a company to install your new video surveillance system?" or "How can we distinguish ourselves from our competition in your eyes?". Surprisingly, most customers will answer these questions truthfully when asked and this can be a powerful tool if the integrator will only listen.
Too often, the person doing the selling is so busy talking about how great that their company or product is that they fail to truly listen to what the customer is asking for.
What I am saying is that since you designed the system and do this regularly, you have a lot more knowledge coming into than the typical end user so when you ask those questions, it's easier for you to spot lies / nonsense, etc.
For instance, asking for references. Everyone has references - great integrators and terrible ones. It takes quite a lot of domain experience / knowledge to spot a fluff reference.
Lastly, specifically, you have experience with a lot of integrators so you know who has a track record of burning customers or having problems, something that most end users do not.
To that end, there are benefits of hiring a real consultant but as we have discussed elsewhere, there's challenges in doing so.
You are right, I do have an edge in the evaluation process, although some of the client representatives that I worked with over the years have been pretty shrewd and have actually taught me a thing or two about procurement.
I find references to be a pretty hard thing to fake, particularly if you get enough of them, and if you take the time to actually visit the site where the work took place. I find that once you start walking around the site with a person, he or she will usually become pretty candid about any problems that may exist.
Also, a problem integrator will usually be so full of himself that he actually believes that the reference projects he tries to fool you with were successful, even if they were not. l have frequently gotten negative feedback from references that the integrator thought would have only nice things to say about him
There are some clients that absolutely refuse to let you use them as references under any circumstances. (A large Seattle-based software company comes to mind.) There are also some projects that are so sensitive that acknowledging that any type of security or surveillance work was done for them would be inappropriate.
However, for every one of these, there are at least three clients who are happy to show off their security systems and glad to be used as references (some remind you of a new grandparent showing off pictures of their grandchild..)
An integrator who has done any amount of work at all should easily be able to come up with an adequete number of references. If they can't, it would be a red flag to me.
When dealing with well-matched competitors, I don't think that the ability to come up with references is a big differentiator, however the types of clients being used as reference can tell you a lot. If one proposer gives you the names of three Fortune 100 clients, and another can only come up with the names of a local mini-mart and daycare center, that should give you some insight.
What I find references especially useful for is in validating some of the claims made in the proposal. If a proposer brags about his great service and fast response times, asking a few of his existing clients to confirm this is extremely helpful.
With regards to the relationship between consultants and integrators, Michael stated this in his first response “My services involved flying from city to city with the client's project manager and interviewing up to three security integrators in each city (30 to 40 total).” I have found this to be especially true in my market for ALL jobs of significant value. In many cases, it’s the ‘circle of trust’ that ultimately lands you the job. If you are not in a circle of trust with your vendors and consultants, you may never even hear about these opportunities.
Michael Silva – how do you obtain your list of integrators to interview in areas that you are not familiar with? I’m assuming that you get them mostly from vendors?
I have at one time or another worked with most of the major integrators on the West Coast (Seattle, Portland, Bay Area, Los Angeles, etc.) so have a pretty good list of candidates here.
When doing projects in other areas, I usually do reach out to the manufacturers of the products I am specifying to identify their major dealers in the area. I also check the list of PSA and Security-Net members in a given area, as the integrators in these groups tend be some of the better ones in the industry. I also reach out to some of my fellow IAPSC members that may be located in or near the cities where my projects will be located.
When the same integrator starts showing up on multiple lists, I know that I probably have a pretty good candidate for further evaluation.
Micheal, interesting you mention you look for PSA members. I haven't looked into PSA much myself and I hear some comments discounting the value or relevance of the certification, but do you find that even if the certification may (just for example) not have much relevance, that PSA certified professional still seem to be at a higher profficiency level than others...?
Michael is more than able to respond here, but there is no 'PSA certified integrator' per se. PSA is a buying cooperative, an association of integrators akin to a 'trade guild'.
In order to become a member, your company has to pass muster and demonstrate you are a functional, lawful security integration business, but any education or certification that happens occurs after becoming a member and is from manufacturers, not PSA.
I think Mr. Silva uses PSA membership rolls to primarily screen out 'trunkslammers' and perhaps even large national integrators who might be poorly represented locally.
Generally, PSA integrators have a certain interest in, and commitment to, the security profession. Again not your 'Car alarms, CCTV, and printer cartridge hut' outfits.
With respect to project references, how do you view an integrator that provides large references from other geographical offices and regions? If the integrator has multiple offices and can prove themselves as a company, how do you weigh in on the local office that might be starting in a new office in a new region?
I give very little weight to projects performed by offices other than the one that is under consideration. Just because the XYZ company did a large successful job in Miami doesn't mean that their newly opened Seattle office will do a good job on my project.
In many ways, opening a new branch office is a lot like starting a new business. The new office has to establish its own track record. I would give some consideration to the backup support that could be provided by the parent organization, but certainly wouldn't depend on this to assure a project's success.
Many years back, I had a project where a well-known regional integrator from the Bay Area wanted to bid on a large project that I had in the Seattle area. They wanted to use this project as a toehold to establish a local presence in Seattle. They were successful in winning the project by offering to do it at a reduced cost, and by opening their new office directly across street from the project location.
The problem with differentiation is it does not work until...
1) The customer actually does due diligence (even then an integrator may be 90% bad and 10% good and they only provide references in that 10%)
2) You already have the customer and they see the difference
3) You have a surveillance truck that is really awesome
4) Everyone in your organization wears a beard. This is our prefer method. There's something about a nice beard that screams knowledge and dedication to your craft - whatever it may be. It's something the customer notices in the first meeting and every meeting thereafter.
NICE BEARD = BEST INTEGRATOR
It's an instictive association that cannot be overcome.
Thanks for sharing that. I think it highlights an important point (not so much the beard thing - though Ethan would agree) but about the customer taking notice.
A lot of good integrators hope (or need) end users to do extensive due diligencebut the challenge is that most people use shortcuts, signals to make decisions - what awards someone has? how slick is their marketing? how big is their office? I don't fault them for that because it's hard to do extensive due diligence. Integrators need to make it easy to signal / show why they are better.
First, i have to defend that Software Company, Did a lot of work for them. They know what they are doing like that little network company the has CCIE, CCNP, CCNA etc. The key is the first initial.
I have found usually only one integrator that is really good, in an area. I would ask for thier BISCI certs, the Cisco certs, thier Microsoft Certs etc. Usually the ops guy that drives you cray as a mfg is the guy that is really good. He usually has been burnt more times than the end user.
I ilke to run these great integrator by my IT guys and see which guys run from the fight.
I also know Michael. He knows a lot of integrators and the ones that truly know whats going on.... He knows the nerds.
The key to sucessful integration is the relationship of the integrator with the mfg. Who can they pull in if there is a problem. In this end of the business its not who you know but who knows you.
I usually have one mfg and one key integrator guy on my project team. That way you can anticipate problems.
Michael's new slogan will be "He truly knows whats going on... He knows the nerds. Does your security consultant?" :)
btw, I think that's a good, rarely talked about point: "The key to successful integration is the relationship of the integrator with the mfg. Who can they pull in if there is a problem." In big or cutting edge projects, certain things are often unsolvable without the cooperation of the manufacturers.
I'll get to work on revising my marketing materials immediately.....:)
I agree that it is very important for manufacturers to get directly involved in projects, particularly when there are problems. Many integrators try to keep the manufacturer out of the picture, fearing that the manufacturer will interfere with the relationship with "their" customer.
I have one project right now where an integrator has been struggling with problems for more than a year and has yet to get a manufacturer's engineer out to the site. (I'm about to go around the integrator and get this issue resolved with direct help from the manufacturer's involved.)
I pay close attention to how well specific manufacturers step up to the plate to solve problems. I have developed strong loyalty to manufacturers who go above and beyond the call of duty to make the customer happy. Conversely, I have a hard time working with manufacturers who seem to disappear after a project is sold and the customer begins to experience problems.
I'll pick stodgy and boring but reliable manufacturers over innovative, slick, but unaccountable manufacturers anytime.