Reps Link Manufacturers to Integrators
One of the most misunderstood links in the chain from manufacturer to end user is the role of the manufacturer’s representative, or rep firm.
As reps are not used universally, some manufacturers may refer you to them while others will want to work with you directly. Some reps provide a wide array of services, while others only show up once a year with coffee and doughnuts. It is only natural to wonder just what a rep does and why.
The final step in the birth of a product (see “Birth of a Security Product” on page 52 of May issue) is delivering the product to an end user.
With smaller dealers, the manufacturer can sell through a distributor. The factory has representatives with many of these distributors that handle all aspects of its accounts, including order entry, problem resolution, training and support.
Some manufacturers use this model to sell to integrators as well, supporting them directly.
However, a majority of manufacturers rely on a rep firm to act between the factory and the integrator.
Advantages the Manufacturer Gets
“A rep firm is essentially an outsourced sales force for the factory,” explains Chris Greco, president of Haverhill, Mass., rep firm Intelligent Marketing. “We handle all of the human resource issues for the manufacturer. This makes costs predictable for a manufacturer — we’re paid a percentage of the equipment sale and we don’t get paid until the sale is made.”
There are other reasons for a manufacturer to use a rep firm outside of the staffing issues. One key issue is the synergy between products they sell. Since a rep firm works for more than one manufacturer, it’s able to present a portfolio of products to the integrators it works with — with one manufacturer it represents filling in the gaps of another.
What to Expect From a Rep
Don Coker, president of rep firm Seevid in Huntington Beach, Calif., says a rep firm should be the “strong right arm” for the dealer since it works with a variety of manufacturers.
“We’re often better prepared to troubleshoot integrated systems or installations with product lines from a number of different vendors,” Coker says. “We act as the first line of support for the integrators and end users in our territory. We tell people to call us first if they’re not sure where to turn.”
Greco adds top-tier rep firms provide other services as well. “We demonstrate products for integrators and end users, have in-house training facilities, and provide the administrative infrastructure to follow up on orders,” he says. “We can assist with processing returns if needed and we work hard to ensure that the relationship between the integrator and the factory runs smoothly.”
Support Is a 2-Way Street
In exchange for this enhanced support, a rep firm expects something in return.
“If we bring a project to an integrator, work with them to design a system and generally act as their support mechanism, we expect that, where appropriate, they will propose the products we recommend,” says Coker. While the end user is the ultimate decision maker, no rep firm wants to provide all of the legwork only to be used as a “check bid.”
Greco takes it one step further: “Rep firms are small businesses, and we work with other small- to medium-sized businesses — our integrators — to help them grow. We’re very selective of the integrators we work with, and we expect their loyalty in return.”
Working With IT Departments, Users
Rep firms are seeing firsthand the increasing role that IT departments play in the procurement of electronic security products.
“IT folks are used to dealing directly with manufacturers, and the leads are given directly to us,” says Coker. “These people are used to writing their own specifications and we find that in some cases, we’re acting as the consultant.”
End users who do not see all aspects of a rep firm need to be aware not all rep firms are created equal. There are some that have built their infrastructure and invested in their businesses in much the same way as integrators. Their staff is well trained, passionate about the technology they provide and take a genuine interest in designing the appropriate solutions.
On the other hand, the influx of low-cost manufacturers has led to a demand for rep firms in larger markets. While well intentioned, these companies may not have the skills or experience to provide guidance to end users.
When auditioning the product, remember that you’re also auditioning the rep firm. The better ones carefully select their product lines and stand behind them. They will more likely stand behind you as well.
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