The integrator-manufacturer relationship is a two-way street

In my 15 years of attending tradeshows, I’ve noticed the dialogue between integrators and manufacturers has not changed much.

“Hi; I use your products all the time,” the integrator says. “That’s great; thank you. Can I scan your badge?” the manufacturer responds. The badge is scanned, the integrator grabs a free pen and catalog and walks away to have that same 17-second interaction with countless other exhibiting companies. Opportunities on both sides are lost.

Getting the Word Out
Many, if not most, manufacturers invest a significant portion of their time and budget toward marketing their products and services to the masses. As such, their goal is to show that their products and services have been successfully implemented in the field.

Free publicity is good, and showing off your handiwork to thousands of potential customers can be great for business. Opportunities to showcase your latest and greatest install in an industry-leading national trade publication may be just the launching pad you need for generating business opportunities beyond word of mouth. This is especially true for those who don’t have the budget to consistently advertise.

Being showcased in a national trade publication has its merit on a local and national scale. The mere fact that your install has garnered national attention holds incredible marketing benefits for your business and your manufacturer.

An Ear to the Ground
Staying in touch with customers regarding past installs also has proven valuable for digital signage companies.

“We are always in the market to hear about our products in use, both for the potential future R&D benefits and for the possible short and long-term publicity gained from it,” said Keith Fulmer, president of Stevensville, Md.-based Video Mount Products. “Building a one-on-one relationship with our customers is crucial, especially in today’s economic climate. Just like our customers who appreciate a human being answering the phone when they call us instead of getting lost in automated phone recording prompt limbo, we appreciate their feedback—pro or con. It’s one of the primary ways we can make our products even better for them in the future. We shouldn’t be telling them what to use. They should be telling us what we can design and make for them.”

When you offer R&D input to the manufacturer and they include your ideas in their next generation of products, your customers and, inevitably, your business will benefit with an even better install.

End users are not only the pulse of the industry, but what keeps us all in business.

“Whether it’s an integrator telling us about how we can better design a product, or telling us how our products perform in the field, we want to know about it,” Fulmer said. “And, if we can promote that integrator by pitching his install to an industry publication, it’s a win-win-win for them, us, and the publication and its readers, as well.”

Worth Your While
Now you may be thinking your install and insight into a product certainly can benefit the manufacturer, but if you’re based in Los Angeles and just completed a retrofit install in Santa Monica, Calif., what good is it if someone in Boston is reading about it? Is it worth your time and effort? All signs point to yes.

“[Being published] helps solidify the credibility of the dealer in the eyes of their clients,” explained Paul Epstein, president of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based manufacturer’s representative Current Marketing. “It can act much like a personal referral from a past customer or other trusted source. The publicity can also be used in marketing materials and on social networking sites. Integrators often have magazine articles, publicity and awards on display at their office or place of business to further add credibility for all of their visitors and prospective clients.”

More than likely you’re already taking photos of the beginning, middle and end of your projects in order to document what you’ve accomplished. (If not, now may be a good time to start.) These images, and the story behind them, are gold to manufacturers—who are consistently looking for such high-profile end use of their products—and publishers—who are eager to show the world your project.

Remember, this is free publicity. You are not buying space in a publication for this, and neither is the manufacturer.

Reaching Out
Now, where do you get started if you don’t have the opportunity to meet face-to-face with manufacturers at tradeshows? It’s really quite simple. Go to the supplier’s website and look for the marketing contact. It could be as easy as picking up the phone or e-mailing the marketing department or their public relations firm and pitching your story. If you already have a relationship with a manufacturer’s representative or distributor, contact them first.

“Use the rep as a conduit to the right people or department within the manufacturer,” Epstein said. “Having [a bigger and more interesting] installation professionally photographed and providing details of the installation is a plus.”

Besides articles, there are various other ways to gain publicity for your business once you let the supplier know how and where you are using their products. Some publications may ask you to provide your own product review, while others may want to interview you about your business, how you got started and how you grew your company.

You might be a star and not even know it. All that it takes is a little initiative by contacting and telling the manufacturer about your latest installs and what you think of their products and services. They will take it from there.

So, at and in between tradeshows, pipe up! Manufacturers want to know about your installs, your thoughts on where the industry is headed and how they can keep ahead of the curve. With a simple phone call or e-mail, your business may soon reap some very beneficial rewards.