Building a better dealer program
Last spring, during the ISC West conference in Las Vegas, a small group of manufacturers and channel partners hosted a presentation called “Why can’t we be friends?”
The title, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, was designed to spark some debate about the relationships between the security industry bodies that design and produce security tools and those that sell and install them. A thought-provoking comment came from panellist Tim Palmquist, vice-president, Americas, for Milestone Systems, who offered that “loyalty is a consequence of partnership” and that “we also talk about how we can stand up for one another. We have to work together as partners to get through all of the day-to-day.”
Another important observation from Palmquist during that same panel: good channel programs can help establish the rules of engagement and provide valuable support.
In a more recent interview with SP&T News, Matt Fishback, Milestone’s business development manager, Americas, provided some additional detail on how the company has recently revised its own dealer program, which has provided some improved alignment with training and certification.
“But what we’ve really done this year that will have the biggest impact moving forward is we’re taking a strong look and really determining how we interact with our dealers,” says Fishback. “Looking at the way that we do it and how we can improve how we work with them in the future. It’s been a focus for us, and me in particular, in 2017. We’re learning a lot and we’re hoping to make some significant improvements in the upcoming years.”
Seeking feedback from dealers and engaging them in conversation, i.e., making them a more integral part of the overall process, is paying dividends for security providers across the board.
Brian Baldo, strategic account and dealer program manager for Canada at Honeywell Security and Fire, says the Honeywell Authorized Dealer Program has undergone tremendous change since it debuted more than 25 years ago. At the time, it included only a “handful of dealers” across North America and Latin America, but has expanded exponentially since then. Some of that more recent change has to do with Honeywell’s realignment around its security and fire pillars.
“As recently as last year, we expanded the program to not only include intrusion, video and access products, but also fire products due to many of our dealers looking to expand into that category,” says Baldo.
Feedback has been a major component of that change — and also encouraging dealers to talk to one another.
“The program is managed by Honeywell, but driven by dealer participation. Our dealers take control of the direction and communicate that to our management. The program continues to evolve based largely on the direct interaction we get from our dealers — it becomes exactly what they’re looking for and need,” explains Baldo. “When you hear from your peers what’s working or not working in a given marketplace, other dealers listen and have insightful conversations. Honeywell likes to take a step back and let these dealer-to-dealer conversations happen organically, as they tend to build great business relationships while sharing best practices.”
Support and communication mechanisms are also much better than they were 25 years ago due the availability of platforms that support feedback and outreach (like social media, or, more simply, email).
“At the heart of our program are continual communications,” offers Jennifer Elliot, director of channel management at Montreal-based Genetec. Through newsletters, webinar tools and information provided through the Genetec Portal, Elliot says the company is able to offer timely information to its partners, tailored to meet the needs of a particular customer engagement “whether that customer is an airport, a law enforcement agency, a retail outlet, a utility, a corporation, etc. We strive to provide our partners with the right tools for every situation.”
Online training and certification tools have become a vital component of dealer programs. Honeywell offers a “Discover Online Training” module in addition to those offered in more traditional classroom settings, for example.
According to Hikvision’s director of sales, Vince Lupe, the surveillance company has created a learning and development department “that is constantly creating and refining training material,” available in both in-classroom and online formats. “Online courses cover video surveillance technology, products and system design. We offer several professional certification programs.” Lupe says the company is adding new partners “on a weekly basis” and currently about 20 per cent of its dealers are located in Canada.
Fishback says Milestone has seen “drastic uptake” in its elearning courses lately, even though it will continue to offer instructor-led learning for those who prefer it. “It’s much easier for our partners to use these e-learning tracks to gain knowledge to help them save time at the customer site,” he says. “We’ve invested a lot in the last two years — continuing to bring more classes to our e-learning portal. It really gives them a tool for all areas of their organization for them to become more efficient.”
While channel and dealer programs are, by necessity, evolving, a number have been rebuilt from the ground up to respond to the changing market, and by extension, dealers’ needs. Camera manufacturer Dahua, for example, revamped its entire program earlier this year. “The reason we did that is we want to provide new advantages and incentives,” says Dahua Technology channel marketing manager Anabel Soto. The company is now offering a five-year warranty across the board for its partners,and has added a partner care program as well as a dedicated resource to help with project quotes and bids, and other incentives. It now operates a three tier program (two-star, three-star and four-star), providing additional advantages for its dealers in the top ranks. “We really want our dealers to feel as though they are an extension of the Dahua family,” she says. “That is our goal with providing all of this support. They are definitely not alone, and we are here to support them with whatever challenges or opportunities that may arise.”
Honeywell’s owned tiered program, which is now labelled Silver, Gold and Platinum, is also incentive-based and encourages dealers to climb the ranks by unlocking “even more benefits the more we work together,” says Baldo.
But, as with all dealer programs and incentives, the proof is in the results. A Honeywell dealer for 18 years, Roger Barnes, of Burlington, Ont.-based Roger’s Security Systems, says “it has changed huge. What we’re finding is it’s more of an open forum now.”
Barnes says a consequence of Honeywell’s reorganization around its fire and security businesses has been to encourage more discussion and cooperation between dealers an integrators. And ultimately, business begets more business. Barnes started as a Silver Honeywell dealer under the current iteration of its program, but was able to move up to Platinum recently. “Honeywell is setting it up so the dealers are more interactive with each other. If there’s any issue with products or coming up with ideas, they’re having open forums with the dealers. It didn’t used to be that way.”
Milestone’s latest dealer program is essentially still in pilot mode, says Fishback, with an initial rollout in the U.S. It will likely debut globally sometime next year. Milestone recently created advisory boards made up of end users, staff members and channel partners to serve as a feedback mechanism. It also sends out an annual survey to its partners globally (there are approximately 600 in Canada currently) to gain information about products, support and how they feel about their relationship with Milestone. “The data gathered provides extremely valuable information,” he says.
“We have a lot to learn,” continues Fishback. “We are continually trying to learn what’s valuable to our dealers and what we can provide today and what we can do a better job of. That’s really a focus on mine this year — trying to figure that out and listen and make the changes that will help them become more successful. When we’re more successful, they’re more successful.”