Don

Don't Gamble The Future

How to improve your odds when picking the best partners and products for your business

Gambling is a common pastime, from picking lottery numbers and placing bets on horse races and sports teams. We’re willing to risk a little money in hopes of a big payoff. But one thing you don’t want to gamble on is the future of your business. When it comes to picking the right strategy, the right partners and the right products, you want to make sure the odds are stacked in your favor.

ISC West in Las Vegas offers countless combinations to choose from with nearly a thousand different manufacturers displaying their wares and touting the advantages of their products and services. As you look around, you’ll soon discover that some of the companies you met last year have fallen by the wayside, while other, newer companies seem to show great promise. However, can you count on them still being in business next year, or five years from now?

Then there’s the question of technology. Some vendors have been developing their own proprietary technologies, others have been aligning their research and development to open standards and still others have chosen to OEM all their devices and software. It’s a real smorgasbord of opportunities for dealers. So, how do you choose? What strategies can you employ to ensure that you’re not gambling away your future on a poor bet?

Whether your dealership’s target market is small and medium businesses with little technical know-how or vast enterprises with extensive security expertise, your choice of vendors and products should always focus on three key things:

  1. Is the solution is future-proof?
  2. How easy it is to design, install and maintain?
  3. How cost-effective it will be for the customer to own and operate?

In the enterprise world, that analysis has typically centered on IP-based solutions. But in the small and medium-sized business world, you’ll find a greater variety of system solutions and vendors available in a greater range of prices. Even so, the same analysis criteria applies, though from a slightly different perspective.

IS THE SOLUTION FUTURE PROOF?

There are two aspects of future-proof that should concern you. Is the vendor in it for the long haul? And will the installation provide a solid base for future business opportunities? Both questions need to be answered with an unqualified “yes.”

CHOOSING A VENDOR YOU CAN COUNT ON

Before you embark on the project, you need to feel confident on two fronts: the life expectancy of the solution and the life expectancy of the vendor’s business operation. Whether you’re installing a five-camera security system for a gas station or a 30-camera solution for a commercial building, you need to know how long the system will be in operation. Is it three years? Five years? Longer?

Most video surveillance customers tend to keep systems “as long as they work.” So then you have to ask yourself: if/when the system fails or needs a spare part two, three or five years from now will the vendor still be around? Will the vendor continue to support the solution as long as it remains operational? It pays to check references and their reputation in the industry. Make sure you understand the vendor’s financials. Talk to their sales people. Talk to their technical support team. Due diligence can help you lower your risk of making a bad decision.

But ultimately, you have to accept there’s always going to be some element of risk involved. Think about the 1000 booths at this year’s ISC West. A good 10 percent of the companies that attended last year didn’t show up this year. Even with the big brands there’s no guarantee. Some of them don’t own the technology; they simply put their brand name on it. And some, like GE did this past year, may decide to divest in the security market altogether.

CHOOSING A SOLUTION THAT FOSTERS FUTURE REFERRALS

As anyone who runs their own company knows, the best strategy for success is to keep your customers happy. It’s far easier and more cost-effective than prospecting and acquiring new customers. Even when pitching perspective customers, solid referrals from your existing customer base will be the single most valuable way to help you land them.

What customers want most are systems that work reliably and require minimal effort to operate and maintain. So it’s imperative that you build the solution with quality components known for high reliability and long-term performance. Also, make sure that you and your vendors don’t walk away from an install until you’re sure the customer is satisfied that you delivered on your promise and therefore is happy to tell others about the experience. It pays to think of every customer as a walking advertisement for future business opportunities. Giving them the best system and the best experience possible is one of the best ways to future-proof your business.

IS IT EASY?

Easy makes us happy. Booting up our new smartphone on the first try or having the network recognize a newly installed surveillance camera the moment it’s powered on. Conversely, nothing is more frustrating than having a new device malfunction and finding tech support unable to get it to run. Whether personal or business related, we generally gravitate to devices and vendors that make our lives easy. But how do we define “easy?”

  • Is it easy to determine which components are best for the system’s intended use?
  • Are those components easy to procure?
  • Is the system easy to install once on site?
  • And if there are questions during design and installation, are there tools and information readily available? What about support people who are readily available and trained who can quickly help you out?
  • Once installed, will the customer find the system easy to use? Easy to maintain?
  • Are the components covered by an extended warranty? Will the vendor provide quick replacements in case of failure?

At the end of the day, “easy” equals time. The less time you have to spend on designing, installing and supporting the system the more profitable the installation will become.

IS IT COST-EFFECTIVE?

There’s constant pressure from the marketplace to drive down the cost of surveillance solutions. But there’s a major difference between cheap and cost-effective. A lower technology price tag may come at the expense of higher design, installation, operating and maintenance costs. Or as Benjamin Franklin once said “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten.”

You need to examine all sides of the equation to determine the real cost of ownership.

  • Acquisition cost: Are all the costs upfront or are there ways to spread the costs of the solution through the life of the system and its components? Would a hosted solution be a better business model for the customer instead of a traditional capital investment in onsite equipment?
  • Design time: Are tools readily available from the vendor partner to quickly and effectively design the system? Are all components specified for the solution available and vetted to ensure optimal functionality? Can you leverage existing technology and off-the-shelf components or will you have to customize the solution?
  • Installation time: Can you piggyback on existing infrastructure and take advantage of installation tools to expedite deployment? Or do you have to factor in the cost of materials and labor to string cable?
  • Maintenance: Can you troubleshoot and correct most problems remotely? Can you hot swap replacement parts or do you have to totally shutdown the system to make repairs?
  • Longevity of solution: Can the system easily expand to meet the needs of the company as it grows?
  • Upgrade path: Will you need to forklift the old system or can you extend the value of the initial investment through strategic add-ons?

WILL YOU CHOOSE A WINNING COMBINATION?

What distinguishes the short-lived from the successful seasoned security dealers are the decisions they make that will move their business forward. You can improve your odds for long-term success by asking the key questions that will help you determine which partners and products can sustain and support you and your customers in the immediate future and for many years to come.

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Security Today.

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