Signal to Noise

Once again my rAVe blogsquad colleague Anthony Coppedge took out his 40-ounce framing hammer and hit the nail right on the head in his recent post about email noise in brand marketing for the house of worship market-space.

Almost simultaneously with that post another group of articles appeared in several publications focused on dealing with “intellectual fatigue” amongst technology users and purchasers. Combining these two thoughts produces a disturbing scenario. It would seem as if all the high technology communications and information access our potential customers have is burning them out and creating a mindset fraught with overloaded and just plain frazzled customers.

It would seem that we are victims of our own email tsunami, so to speak.

What They Are Saying

If your company is like ours, and in fact like the majority of integrators and consultants in the AV/IT world, you probably don’t have all that much direct connection to or knowledge of what the manufacturers and suppliers you deal with are saying and sending out communications-wise to your customers or end users.

Those promotional efforts go on in a separate universe for all intents and purposes, one which we don’t get to see, but one which can and does have a direct impact on our businesses and how the products we offer, propose, specify and recommend are perceived by the people who have to eventually pay for them.

Whatever our ‘partners’ send out becomes a part of the flood of communications burying our customers and exacerbating what is for many an already overwhelming flood of information.

But we don’t know what they are getting or how much they are getting so it’s very difficult to be able to judge how saturated they might be on any specific topic or product.

The result of this invisible stream of communications could be a negative reaction from a customer regarding a particular product or technology. Further, it is one that comes as a surprise, because you didn’t know of or see the materials they received directly from the manufacturer or supplier. Suddenly you find yourself dealing with an objection or rejection that seems to come out of nowhere.

Making the Invisible Visible

What do we do about this hidden river of information and its impact on our customers and buyers? I would suggest that the first and most critical thing to do is find out what is being sent out, by whom, to whom and how often.

It would seem a reasonable request to make of a supplier — “Please add us to the email list or (whatever list) so we can see what you are sending out to our customers and work with you to maximize the results of your efforts to promote your products.” A pretty straightforward request — or so it would seem.

We thought so, until a manufacturer told us they wouldn’t add us to their end user contact list. As you might suspect the first question we had was: “Why?!” The answer was a stunner — they said in essence, “Our end user marketing materials are for end users, not for consultants.”

OK but… are they a secret? What’s in those materials that you don’t want us to see or know? There was a  long silence following that question, and although this happened many months ago, we still don’t have are real answer to the question, just a refusal to add us to the list.

Now, realistically, it didn’t prove all that difficult to get our hands on the stuff being sent out — just a few phone calls to good long-term customers and, magically, we got the various emails and direct mail blasts forwarded to us.

But it seems a little underhanded to have to go around the manufacturer to get those materials — and we are still wondering why they seem reluctant to allow access to this material. And by the way, did the manufacturer in question really think they could keep this stuff a secret? I wonder what thought process is taking place here — and you should too.

Together or Not at All

So, we’re at a crossroads here. Are we working with our manufacturer/supplier partners to get products promoted and sold or are do they have another agenda operating that we’re not a part of?

If I were in management at a manufacturer the last thing I would want my sales channel partners wondering was whether or not we were working together or… not?

It’s not a long or very big step from that thought to the idea that maybe they want to go direct and remove us from the process. After all, it has happened before and more than likely will happen in the future — the question is not if, but when and to whom.

A Suggestion

Since there appear to be two distinct schools of thought on this topic on the manufacturer side of the communication channel, let me offer a respectful suggestion.

Let’s cut that down to one channel — one in which everyone involved gets to see all the content. If as a manufacturer/supplier you want your integrator/consultant/specifier partners to help you sell your products, you need to be open and above board in keeping them informed about all your marketing and sales communications efforts. If you don’t keep them in the loop, they can’t work with you!

If you disagree with this concept, please let me know in the comments box, and please explain your rationale for your position. I am very curious to find out why it would be necessary to keep anything but a price list confidential. I look forward to your input.