SCN: What is your position, and what does it entail?
The team at Sapphire Marketing.
Marla Suttenberg: As the owner of Sapphire Marketing, I spend a good amount of time supporting my salespeople’s efforts, giving advice on complex business situations, acting as a general sounding board, and providing overall strategic guidance. I’m also very client facing, maintaining strong relationships with our customers. The rest of my time is dedicated to interfacing with our manufacturers to ensure our efforts are aligned and synced with their strategies and expectations.
SCN: What is your background, and how did it prepare you for this role?
MS: I’ve been in the business since I graduated college, so it’s really the only industry I know. I love the ever-changing technologies and the challenges that presents, and I have certainly witnessed its evolution during the many years I’ve been involved.
- I equally love and treasure the relationships I’ve cultivated over the years with our customers, many of whom I’ve known ever since I started. Having worked for two other prestigious manufacturer representative agencies prior to starting Sapphire Marketing, I learned what was important in how to treat employees and customers alike, and I follow my instincts when it comes to my interactions and decisions. So far I guess it’s worked out pretty well—as evidenced by my long-term employees, customers and manufacturers.
SCN: Where do you see the commercial AV integration market heading?
MS: The integration market is much different and larger today than just “traditional AV” used to be, and everything and everyone in it needs to transform from “AV guys” to “technologists” in order to stay relevant.
Although the types of rooms end-users are asking for might be changing, the need to communicate and collaborate never will. Although I’ve heard others preach that “the sky is falling” as it relates to AV hardware that’s needed in a room, yet I maintain that effective meetings still require people to see, hear and control what’s going on in that room. The consultants and integrators can continue to add their value and be relevant as they design systems that are flexible and easy-to-use, and they can provide additional value-added services, such as monitoring, staffing, analytics and more.
Sapphire is very fortunate to represent many of the leading manufacturers in this category, such as Crestron, Vaddio, Revolabs and others, that have been paying attention to what the market is asking for, and developing technologies to suit these new environments.
Marla Suttenberg and the almost award-winning fish she caught on Vaddio's rep fishing trip in Canada, July 2014.
SCN: What is the greatest challenge that AV designers and installers face today?
MS: One big challenge is in selecting manufacturer partners that they can trust and that will support them before, during, and, especially, AFTER their project. It’s also important that these manufacturers have a definitive technology future vision and direction, and are not just in it for the short-term. As a rep principal, that’s been my greatest frustration. In the past, I’ve selected to represent manufacturers because they seemed to be the next shiny object, or I felt their products worked strategically with our other brands. They all pretty much ended up costing us money and, most importantly, our reputation.
Another challenge I see is that although the designers and installers are 100 percent responsible for the systems that they specify and put on a customer’s network, they rarely, if ever, are involved in the design of the network infrastructure. Hopefully that will change in the near future, if it hasn’t already, seeing as the IT manager is now in charge of our AV projects as well.
Another difficulty for the designers and integrators seems to be in hiring and, more importantly, keeping qualified employees. I think proper training is one of the most important keys to success here, and reps can be a tremendous resource for that. My salespeople are not only technically-savvy, they are also market-savvy. They educate, guide, and help the dealers develop their business, and navigate through a very changing and dynamic marketplace. They’re more like business partners, rather than “order-takers.”
SCN: What new initiatives are we likely to see from Sapphire Marketing?
MS: We’ve been told by our manufacturers and customers that our regional roadshows are one of the best in the industry, so we’re continuing with those, and we will be adding additional markets next year.
Recently, we started hosting targeted events for end-user partners—education and enterprise, for example—where we’re able to present pertinent technologies for their current needs, and bring in the appropriate factory personnel for them to interact with. On the residential side of the business, we do similar events with architects, designers and builders.
About 6 months ago, we started doing product-specific webinars for our customers, which have been extremely well received, so we’ll be kicking that up a notch as well. Unsolicited emails with boring product specs just don’t cut it anymore. People need to know where, how and why to use a certain technology. These interactive and voluntary webinars are a great resource for that type of learning.
We’ll continue to organize and sponsor manufacturer training events since they are very effective and well attended.
We’ve got a lot more fun, creative stuff coming too, but I can’t say what yet—it’s a secret.