Together or Not at All, Part 3: The Other Direct Problem

In two previous columns on the regular rAVe Blogsquad feed, I explored the issues surrounding both manufacturer communications and the increasing perceived problem of direct sales by manufacturers and suppliers to end users, essentially going around the establish dealer/integrator/retail distribution structure.

However, there is another side to this story, one that is often being treated as a ‘secret’ to be shared only with those who have a need to know. That little secret is the demand for direct support and sales of products by the small/medium HOW market space.

Way back in October of 2017, I authored an article, “The 500 Million Dollar Mistake,” in which I discussed the problem faced by the smaller congregations (generally defined as congregations with less than 400 members) in the HOW markets — being ignored by integrators and related supplier channels.

I strongly urged the integrator/design-build community to offer their services to this group, one that really wanted support. Sure, their budgets were smaller, and they often bought piecemeal, but there was and remains a strong need and demand in this group of HOW facilities for technology and related services.

What now appears to be obvious based on real-world discussions with smaller HOW facilities and feedback from other consultants is that the integrator community HAS NOT picked up on the opportunity to serve these users. There are exceptions, but in general what was true in October of 2017 is true 18+ months later — they are being ignored by the conventional technology supply channels.

This creates a significant amount of pressure on manufacturers and other suppliers to fulfill the technology buying needs of this group by alternative means — in this case by selling directly to them or through a pathway like the local manufacturer’s representative or multi-line distributor.

I can see the hand waving and hear the wailing now — ‘but you’re going around your dealers’ or something similar.

Well, yes. They are. But Mr. Dealer – the reality is inescapable. If you or one of your colleagues had supplied that customer in the first place, there would not be a demand for the product by alternate means now, would there?

If I’m the manufacturer in question, what would I do? Let the buyer with cash in hand go somewhere else or fulfill their need?

If you are any kind of businessperson the answer is pretty apparent.

OK. So here we are stuck on the horns of this same dilemma once again. The problem is NOT going to go away, unless and until the existing supply channels decide that all customers are worthy — and it does not appear likely that they will, since they haven’t to date.

The problem is really quite simple. If the existing methodology of getting the products demanded into the hands of those demanding them is failing then — some other method is going to step up and meet the demand.

If I was a manufacturer with this problem (and the number is going up hourly), then I would want to take control of the situation so I could ensure that my products are being properly supported, legitimately sold for a fair price and backed up by the necessary training, warranty and related support services. Further, I would want to ensure I knew EXACTLY how that was being done and by whom!

Thus, we have the development of a new robust and increasingly organized parallel sales structure taking place — one in which the conventional integrator/dealer is not part of the equation because they have made it clear beyond any reasonable doubt that that they don’t want to handle the customers in question.

As a consultant who works with smaller houses of worship all the time, I have and will continue to actively encourage them to seek out those manufacturers who will work with them in this new way — especially when they have repeatedly tried more conventional options and gotten nowhere.

I know many of my integrator friends who think this is at best a bad idea and at worst some form of treachery — I would respectfully and strongly disagree.

Let me repeat the point — if you, Mr. Dealer/Integrator, had met the needs of my client, then there would not be a reason for an alternate sales path to exist.

If you’re one of the regrettably few integrator/dealers who have decided to work with the smaller HOW clients, congratulations on a smart and hopefully rewarding decision.

For everyone one else —

Here’s the bottom line — there are two paths open for the supplier community.

Treat EVERY customer as a valid sale, regardless of dollar value or….
Let the parallel supply chain fulfill their needs because you have made it abundantly clear that you don’t want their business.

Ladies and gentlemen of the integrator/dealer community — PICK ONE!