There are strategies to sustain growth

Friday, October 1, 2004

Integrators have a lot riding on their shoulders these days. In the eyes of their end users, they hold the key to product performance and customer satisfaction. For the manufacturers who produce the products they sell, they represent profitability and expanded market share. But what about their own growth? Amid the complexities of today’s marketplace, there are a few key strategies that can help nurture continued expansion.

Choose your vendors carefully. Just as integrators aim to grow their businesses, they should work with suppliers who support and sustain that growth. Every vendor an integrator carries can add additional bottom line costs in inventory, training and technical support. By choosing a select few vendors, you can improve your profit margins. Think about the vendors you work with and consider the following questions.

Are they financially stable, with a good channel reputation and a strong brand presence with end users?

Do they have a broad product line to cover both entry-level and high-end customers, with products that are well-engineered and unique, and that provide adequate profit margins?

Do they offer leads, product and sales training, marketing materials and market development funds?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions, you know you have a vendor who can help you grow.

Once you’re aligned with a good vendor, make sure you are getting the most from the relationship. Integrators should be able to call on their vendors for assistance with business planning, buddy sales calls, pre- and post-sale technical issues, market development brainstorming, special bids, inventory management and credit issues. A vendor can become a business consultant to help grow an integrator’s business.

You should know the products and the technology. This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s easy to view products as commodities without getting to know the intricate details.

In addition to having a thorough understanding of the products you carry, it’s important to understand compatible technologies. If, for example, you’re selling ID card printers, do you also understand how they integrate with door access technology, IT databases or time and attendance software? Once again, look to your vendors to help supply this knowledge. If they’re worth their salt, they’ve engineered and tested their products in conjunction with compatible technologies, and forged alliances with the vendors who supply them. Their joint knowledge of technologies and customer behavior can help you become a more consultative sales person.

Sell the complete solution

These days, the customer is doing less in-house because of cutbacks in money and personnel, thus placing more demands on the integrator. Smart integrators consult with their customers - they design the solutions that meet specified needs and budgets. In designing a solution, keep in mind that your products can be the catalyst to unite the security needs of several departments within a client’s organization, thereby providing them with a more holistic solution while increasing your total sales per customer.

For example, an ID card system can unite the needs of the facilities group that handles physical access, the IT department that handles network security and human resources that handles time and attendance tracking. Although you may start prospecting in one area, it may open doors to other areas.

Invest in marketing

As the security market matures, it will take more effort to attract and retain customers. Marketing is an expensive investment, but a crucial one. Through a thoughtful marketing program, you can attract customers, communicate your capabilities and build your business. Talk with your vendors on how to develop a comprehensive marketing plan. And, to make the most of scarce resources, tap into their cooperative marketing programs that often include e-mail campaigns, brochures, telemarketing, web support and direct mail pieces. With steady planning, executing and tracking, your marketing programs will result in continued business.

These integrator growth strategies aren’t rocket science, nor are all appropriate for all integrators, but they can represent a roadmap for those who want to grow their business.

Kathleen Phillips is vice president of sales and marketing at Fargo Electronics. She can be reached via e-mail at