In announcing changes to its North American operations this summer, Panasonic revealed its plans to become a business-to-business solutions organization. The intention is to implement a vertical market, more partner-centric approach. Greg Peratt, director of sales, video solutions integration at Panasonic, joins the conversation to explain the restructuring in detail.
How has the relationship with installing security contractors changed compared to the former business model?
We have kept our business model the same as far as how we go to market through our distribution partners and then to our resellers and integrators. We still go to market the same exact way. We do not take any purchase orders direct. We always work through our resellers to provide product to our end-user customers. What has changed is that we have added salespeople in key verticals such as government, health care, hospitality, enterprise, food service, education; 14 people to date who are calling directly on end users to generate demand for our reseller partners.
We felt it was valuable for us to have first-hand knowledge of what the customer requirements are for multiple reasons. No. 1 is to be in touch with the customers so we can process their feedback. We’ve already started this process. We’ve had over 20 visits to end users in these different verticals and we continue to do this to get their feedback on our products. This is not something we had done in the past. We are asking for direct feedback from our customers on product enhancements or changes that would make our products more valuable to them in their marketplace. We are taking that back and re-engineering and redesigning some of our products to meet those specific requirements. We’re still working with our integrators to fulfill the customer product needs, but we are just being more proactive, reaching out to our customers.
So this is a concerted effort to maximize voice of the customer?
Yes, 100%. When I started with Panasonic, I helped engineer multiple products and it was all from the voice of the customer. One of the reasons I believe I was put into this position was to lead the charge on the voice of the customer. A couple of the products, one being the Arbitrator, which is an in-car video solution, was a product that I’d like to say I invented but I didn’t invent it. We just listened to our customers. We are getting a little off security, but I was on the Toughbook [ruggedized mobile computer] side listening to customers say they want to integrate video into the Toughbook and have it marry up to one system. I took that idea, went to management, went to our factory, and had the Arbitrator product built. It’s a very successful product now. It’s truly the voice of the customer.
Now we’re taking that same philosophy and driving that forward in the vertical markets within the security industry. For example, some of our federal customers’ requirements differ from customers’ requirements in health care; and our health-care customer may have very specific needs or requirements that are different from some of the other verticals. There are certain aspects that go across all verticals, but there are certain vertical aspects specific to each customer that we really want to hear what their needs are not only today but also in the future.
Did the previous business model lack voice of the customer for the most part?
The old Panasonic did a great job, but we were working primarily with our distribution partners and our integrators and dealers. We weren’t working with the end customer. To really get into larger solution sales, we’re now looking at those verticals and [finding out] how we can provide integrated business technologies, even build new product if necessary, to better serve those verticals and, as a result, grow our overall business and market share.
Under the new solutions-oriented structure, are you now asking your dealers and integrators to sell differently in any way to end users?
If you sell security and that’s all you want to sell, we would never ask another thing of you. However, a lot of our dealers and integrators have come to us expressing how they want to provide customers with wider and deeper offerings. We’re now going to give you that ability. If you’re on a project and it requires projectors and flat-panel displays and digital signage, as a reseller now you have the ability from one manufacturer to sell all those items or quote those items to the customer with a single support line. Through one organization, Panasonic, you can reduce the number of vendors you have to deal with, and really depend on one provider for multiple integrated business technologies.
That’s what we offer. If you want to expand your business now, you have that opportunity to be able to sell more to your customer than you have in the past, and expand and grow your business.
And there is new infrastructure to support that multi-layered solutions approach?
What we’ve done is taken our whole support organization and put it under one umbrella. We still have specialists for security, but now there’s one support 800 number you can dial to reach the right person that supports a particular product category. Now you’re not dialing multiple people, multiple vendors. For example, look at the fast-food industry … think of a restaurant that now has digital signage that also marries up to the point-of-sale [POS] system which marries with their security system; it’s a full-fledged solution. If you’re a reseller working with several large customers integrating all this, and digital signage is not working with the security system, there’s one support number to call. You can now call us and we will take ownership of the issue.
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