At this year’s annual membership meeting in February, one key message stood out above the others: NSCA integrator members are looking for lasting relationships with manufacturers and distribution companies that sell exclusively through the channel.
That statement resonated with integrator members, and caused a bit of angst with others. Fortunately, the vast majority of NSCA manufacturer members – and all of our distributor members – follow that pathway to market.
The integration community is a tightknit group: Everyone knows everyone, including the few bad actors that tend to straddle the fence in their channel strategy.
Being “channel friendly” means that they move product through the integrator while supporting their sales efforts and using their marketing platforms to create demand and provide lead generation.
NSCA defends the channel, and wants to see manufacturers sell through it – not around it. We encourage lead generation, building brand awareness, sales support through regional sales reps, etc. We’ve seen many instances where manufacturers attempt to manage a direct sales team and a VAR/dealer channel for increased revenue opportunity.
The difficult part: We all think we can outsell each other. Manufacturers tell me that they don’t think integrators have sophisticated enough sales teams – only they know how to effectively sell products to the enterprise-level client.
On the other hand, integrators tell me that manufacturers are so focused on moving products that they often do more harm than good when they call directly on customers.
We all want to grow and sell more … so what’s the resolution?
We haven’t seen a successful, multi-tier channel management model that creates a win-win-win. Trying to manage this without conflict is exhausting for the reps, and it never ends well. We’ve seen this run in cycles, and it always comes back to this: The best strategy is finding top-tier integration firms to represent you in local regions. So the top-tier integration firms won’t lead with your product. Now what?
Many of our members now use NSCA’s vendor scorecard. This tool was developed a few years ago to serve as a resource for the industry to evaluate manufacturers and distributors, and develop a preferred vendor program. Over time, we’ve seen many customizations and expansions to the scorecards, with many added categories. The scorecard has also been used to narrow down line cards.
On the vendor scorecard, a manufacturer’s performance in terms of “channel-friendly” is typically described and ranked in the first column. “Channel ready” is described in the second column.
I’ve seen members use this tool to score vendors and, as a result, make some pretty big decisions. If you’d like your own copy of this tool, just send me a note – and we’ll send you one! –Chuck Wilson, NSCA Executive Director