Addressing consultants' needs and avoiding competitive practices can help manufacturers increase market share and improve industry relations.
What should manufacturers do?
For the manufacturers already serving consultants (and integrators): congratulations. You have our support and hopefully your own profitability to show for it. But for those who haven't yet embraced the consultant community, it's time to branch out. Here are a few guidelines:Provide a liaison, specifically for AV consultants, who understands and can provide what consultants need from manufacturers: information, product functionality, and support.Find a way to track the number of your products that are installed as the result of a consultant specification. Some manufacturers offer a bonus to integrators for proposing their products on known bid projects when they register with the manufacturer. This provides a highly motivated source of data about how much of the company's product is showing up in consultant bid documents. It may also help justify a dedicated consultant liaison, who by definition only calls on people who don't actually buy its products.Listen to and act on input from consultants and integrators about the need to include design-and installation-related product features.Understand the difference between the needs of consultants and integrators. Consultants need detailed pricing information and access to good technical support. You should also understand that consultants are interested in products coming out in the next three years, not just in the next three months.Provide warranties based on installation schedules, rather than date of sale to the integrator. If the warranty must be tied to the date shipped to the integrator, provide minimum 18-month warranties, and preferably at least two-year warranties. This should almost always cover the lag time between receipt by the integrator and turnover to the end-user, plus the typical one-year system warranty period.Understand that educating end-users about the benefits of your products can increase demand, but avoid offering services that compete with your consultant and integrator friends.
Many manufacturers have come a long way in recognizing the consultant community. Of course, to be specified, a product must be desirable, usable, and reliable. But when those parameters appear relatively equal between two manufacturers, addressing these issues will often make the difference between being in or out of the spec.
Tim Cape is a contributing editor for Pro AV and the principal consultant for Atlanta-based technology consulting firm Technitect LLC. He's an instructor for the ICIA Audiovisual Design School and an active member of the consultant's councils for both ICIA and NSCA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.