What Electronic Security Integrators Really Want
In an increasingly competitive market electronic security distributors, wholesalers and manufacturers are having to go the extra mile for their integrator customers. But in which direction should they go?
FROM the point of view of suppliers the current market poses a difficult conundrum. Not only is there downward pressure on prices, the technical challenges of installing many products, particularly integrated solutions, are increasing. What this means is that suppliers are required to assist integrators sometimes to the point of virtual partnership on jobs.
There are a number of ways such support can play out. A distributor might have a technical engineering team that offers this support. Or a distributor might assist to a certain point then rely on support from a manufacturer. In other cases, the distributor might send out solutions fully commissioned so integrators are only required to hang product on the wall.
An example of this latter approach is the Pacific Communications' commissioning room, which is certainly the largest and best equipped commissioning facility I’ve seen in the local industry. But plenty of other distributors undertake the same process and on smaller jobs as well as larger ones.
It goes without saying that there are some highly capable integrators in Australia, many of which very technical. The level of assistance they need varies. But are there consistencies? What do integrators think are the most important things distributors and manufacturers who represent their own products (such as Bosch Security Systems) can do for integrators?
We spoke to a number of integrators recently to find out and the results were interesting. There’s variation in what individuals see as being most important but under the surface there is considerable consistency.
According to Michael Hingerty, national electronic security manager at Sargent Security, the things distributors could do better on behalf of integrators are better after sales support and better training.
“I’ve bought product from a supplier that might have been my second choice simply because that supplier gave superior service,” he says. “I’ve changed suppliers because of poor service – it’s a key thing.”
And what does Hingerty think distributors and wholesalers most often get wrong?
“Again I have to say it’s after sales support and training,” Hingerty says. “Those things are what inform my decision about who to buy from. Sure, price is always an issue but not the only issue. If a distributor gives good service they will get a lot of business from me.
“Some companies might give cut prices but try to get support from them and you’ll get none. You want a supplier to be prepared to be part of the process, to take ownership of what’s going on.”
“I’ve bought product from a supplier that might have been my second choice simply because that supplier gave superior service. I’ve changed suppliers because of poor service – it’s a key thing”
It’s a bit different for ECS Services’ Raj Masson who says his company is motivated by technology.
“We are looking for unique technology solutions,” Masson explains. “We want the best products. These solutions have to be reliable and well supported but technology and innovation – those are the main things I am looking for.”
This pursuit of high end technology means Masson is hungry for information and he says the quality of information available is not always consistent.
“I think there’s an issue with information – the difference in levels of information that come from distribution channels and from manufacturers,” he says. “Information at the distribution level is not the same as it is at the manufacturer level.”
Masson also has an interesting integration perspective on mistakes distributors make.
“The big mistake distributors make in my opinion, is the exclusiveness they try to impose when it comes to their products,” he says. “I think this reduces their market penetration – it’s the fact they want their products to be used exclusively rather than used together with the products of other manufacturers to make the best solution for a given application.”
Anthony Brown, Blake Systems (front right)
Over at Blake Systems Anthony Brown has more of a business mindset when thinking about the things distributors can offer integrators. For Brown, what’s most important is a mutually beneficial relationship that’s based on a mid to long-term strategic plan.
What are distributors and manufacturers getting wrong?
“The concern I have right now, is that manufacturers are starting to market directly to end users to influence their decisions and also to sow the seeds of a more direct relationship in the future,” Brown says. “As our products become more plug–and-play the requirement for security integrators dissipates.”
“It’s a matter of the right product finding the right partner. It’s fine a distributor having every product under the sun but if their team doesn’t know what that product does, how it works and can’t support it, then it’s a waste of time”
Duane Lankow, Zurcorp
Zurcorp's Duane Lankow also has an eye on business management issues. He says that while there are a heap of challenges faced by integrators, there are some salient things distributors get wrong from the perspective of his business.
“Better lines of credit would be a help – often we fund the installation and have paid for the product prior to the client paying us,” Lankow explains.
“And we’d also appreciate the stability of fixed pricing. As the Australian dollar has fallen against the USD, all the distributors immediately increase pricing 10-12 per cent – even if the dollar recovers again.”
According to Lankow, after sales support is a big one, too.
“Distributors tend to wipe their hands after the box has left the warehouse,” he says.
Rick Pfitzner, Access Datacom
For Access Datacom’s Rick Pfitzner there are 2 things distributors need to offer integrators that are most important, in his experience.
“Those important things are product range and expertise on that product range,” he says. “It’s a matter of the right product finding the right partner. It’s fine a distributor having every product under the sun but if their team doesn’t know what that product does, how it works and can’t support it, then it’s a waste of time.
“And in terms of mistakes I think some distributors grab at products as they become available without researching the technology just because they are the latest things. When integrators approach them, sales people will say ‘look, we have the best thing since sliced bread’ but mid-install the integrator finds the distributor can’t support the product properly.”
Danny Power (L) with Roy Chandler, both of Xacom
Danny Power at Xacom has similar thoughts when it comes to the importance of well supported technology but he uses different words to express it.
“For me it’s about trust – that’s the most important thing – integrators need to be able to trust distributors,” he says. “If, as an integrator, you’re going somewhere with a technology that you have not been before – is it going to work?
“And you need to be able to believe in the person that’s telling you that a technology will work. If you are straying outside of what your team is familiar with, then you need a distributor that really knows what it’s doing with a technology, has applied the technology before and can be relied on to do it again.”
For Power, the most common mistake distributors make is trying to sell cheap.
“There’s a market out there for every man and his van but as a serious integrator, if you want a quality product that’s well supported now and into the future, then you know you have to pay for it.”
At this point, Xacom’s Roy Chandler chimes in.
“I think distributors should also try to find products that have qualities that are unique,” he says. “There are too many me-too products – they get lost in the market place. We certainly look for products that offer us something extra.”
Greg Fulton, Elbex Access and Security
Meanwhile, Greg Fulton of Elbex Access & Security, also thinks product is vital but he takes a position of considerable nuance reflecting the balancing act most integrators must daily undertake.
“I think product is the first thing distributors need to get right – if they have the right product and that product is being specified that’s important to us as integrators,” he explains.
“Pricing is also important, and so are service, delivery and support. What we have found is that we have gone through a few different suppliers for different things over time. We are quite technical so we do our own analysis of products but you do hope that distributors will not offer you products later analysis shows do not meet claimed capabilities.”
Money is an issue for Fulton, as it is for most integrators.
“Price is always important – all other things being equal it’s a deciding factor,” he says. “But we also highly value being able to ring somebody and to find they have strong, current knowledge. We have had experiences in other areas of technology where the person on the other end of the phone is basically an operator.
“They have no understanding of the technology or product so when any technical issue comes up they have to go back to the manufacturer and you end up with communication issues – inefficiencies, delays. Perhaps it sounds unreasonable but I think it’s important that there be a good knowledge of product – not a complete knowledge but a good knowledge.
“You don’t expect sales people to be experts and if you ask them a very technical question you expect them to go back to tech support but if you are asking rudimentary stuff, you expect a basic knowledge.”
And what does Fulton think distributors often get wrong?
“I think things distributors get wrong include taking on products they can’t support – the good ones don’t do this but others do it,” he says.
“Service is the other thing distributors fail on. And yes, like Michael, we have moved from one supplier to another to follow quality of service.”
It’s an interesting spread of expectations but perhaps what’s most interesting is that there is a very strong human element running through the things integrators want most from electronic security distributors. Words like trust, service, support, expertise are never far away.
Listening to the boys discuss the most vital needs of their businesses it seems to me that while price is an issue, excellent product and unique technology, well supported; lifts itself above concerns over budget, offering integrators that special something that helps their solutions stand out from the crowd.