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Reps as Channel Managers

the only sales representative association devoted to the A/V specialty industry), I am privileged to interact with many different members in our industry. Fortunately, there is more than enough passion with those members that wrestling an opinion is not terribly difficult to accomplish. However, more people are joining the dialogue.

As recently as the CEDIA Management Conference and Electronics Lifestyles Forum in San Francisco in March, we found members of the architect, building, and interior design communities engaging in lively conversations with us. Its as if we all know something bigger is happening, and while were all excited about the possibilities, were not entirely sure how were going to get there.

Lets take a minute, then, and discuss some obvious questions. If what were doing is getting bigger and interweaving with multiple industries, then whats the best way to bring these life-enhancing solutions to market? Part one of this question entails answering what the best way is for manufacturers to sell more products. Conversely, what is the best way for retailers and Electronic Systems Contractors (ESCs) to acquire what they need, when they need it, both, as it applies to product and the necessary installation training? And, finally, who is going to facilitate and make recommendations that will provide more synergy between these two important sides of this equation?

We are now at a point where there are more choices about this topic than ever before. And, while one can easily contend that a dealer always votes with his or her purchases, it is also appropriate to ask (wherever the dealers choose to make their purchases) if where they purchased last is really the best option for the dealer? Wouldnt it be great if the dealer had a market channel manager that could provide market intelligence and make recommendationsboth, tactically and strategically, who is not a manufacturer or competing dealerso you could receive informed coaching about your best market options? Wouldnt it also be great if the manufacturer had an interested party in the market advising them about potential roadblocks and needed product features?

Not that long ago, in researching some of the channels and channel-management methods from the computer industry, I discovered an organization that professed to coming up with the newest and best management tool of this new century. Their new idea was to encourage the creation and use of an outsourced, contracted sales force. Utilizing the same ideas that you would with an agency, you could scale the amount invested in that function as it relates to your sales/revenue levels, while working with people who make their living only doing that function. Therefore, a company is never stuck with under-utilized overhead, but can make use of that specialized function as needed. Sounds pretty revolutionary doesnt it?

Sorry, but its not so new. Another word for this idea is a manufacturers representative sales force. However, while the idea is not new, the function in the market needs new energy, focus, and reinvention. While some dealers and manufacturers talk of representative relationships as key and important, still others compare having their rep at work as something akin to their mother making them take their little brother to school with them.

For representatives, its their own fault for not reminding the market what it is they do, or even forgetting what their role really is. They often get caught up in the discussion of new market channel options, confusing even their own companys agenda and course. For many manufacturers representatives that have been in this industry for many years, their experience shows that thats just the way things were done. But, for them as for everyone else in this industry, things have changed; and, even the rate of change is increasing. The number of channel options is proliferating, while convergence brings other industry methods of distribution into the mix.

For the representative, its time to wake up, smell the coffee, and realize that being intentional about being a channel manager is needed now more than ever. For everyone else, take a look at this new idea. It might be just what youre looking for. And, be sure to let your representative know what it is he or she needs to be doing, to do a better job for you.

Andrew Ard is a CEDIA board member and chairman of IPRO in Dallas, Texas.