It’s strange how often I hear these words: “We love the products, but don’t trust the company.” We get a lot of questions from integrators about vendor selection and the companies that offer the top products and solutions in each system category. Far too many times, our members are calling because they want to make a change in product lines due to trust issues. Years ago, they would’ve been calling about issues with product quality. Today, it’s all about trust.
I think this is an unintended consequence created by ill-conceived channel strategy. In many cases, it’s a lack of situational awareness from new channel development managers who are just entering our industry. In other cases, it’s pressure from above to increase sales by opening up “alternative” distribution paths. I call these “swim lanes” that are intended to never be crossed. But our industry pool isn’t big enough to keep everyone in their lanes, unfortunately.
Has the recent frenzy of M&A activity caused this? Maybe. It often results in new people with different channel management ideas. (Some better for the integrator, some worse for the integrator.)
Has the constant realignment of rep firms caused this? Maybe. When trust is placed in the local rep, and then that person is replaced, it creates deep concern from the integrator’s perspective about whether the loyalty will remain intact.
Did the increase in products moving through distribution rather than direct impact this? I don’t think so. A few years ago, I may have thought it would, but the distributors we know best don’t struggle with this issue at all. (We keep a very close eye on it.)
Does inviting end-users to tradeshows – and vendors marketing directly to end-users – drive the concern of trust? Yep. More than anything, I think this is where the fear and uncertainty lie. But there’s some good news. Much of the trust erosion is based upon perception only. This happens to increase every year after tradeshows and events where end-users are present.
Is it caused by greed? Before saying yes or no, we should stop and ask whether the erosion of trust stems from one individual within the company or the company culture, ethics, values, and methods driven from the top down. There’s a big difference between trusting a bad salesperson and trusting an entire company. One sketchy person can give the impression that the whole company is like that, when that’s actually not true.
Here’s my advice: Use a vendor scorecard. I have one I can send you that is simple and easy to use. It’s a spreadsheet that weighs the importance of the vendor-partner relationship, where product and trust are all taken into account. The scoring system evaluates things like reputation, quality, channel strategy, support, warranty, customer service, and so on. Want a copy? Just send me an email. -Chuck Wilson, NSCA Executive Director