Friday, April 12, 2024
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Manufacturer Training: Empowering the Future of Custom Installation

Hey tech enthusiasts! Whether you’ve caught my trainings, seen me on your favorite YouTube channel, or know me from the CEDIA volunteer board, you know I’m all about boosting the industry and supporting enthusiasts. I’m here to discuss a vital topic in this multi-part series on: why manufacturer training needs more investment, both for their teams and consumers. Let’s dive in. 

From smartphones to smart homes, we’ve witnessed a tech revolution, but something’s changing. Over the last decade, the focus on training programs for industry representatives seems to be fading. In this context, a “representative” includes internal sales, marketing, manufacturer’s reps, support, distributors, and integrators – everyone from the manufacturer to the end consumer. 

Back in the day, products were simpler, yet companies had more extensive training programs. It built relationships, showcasing the brand’s commitment to the channel, the integrator, and the consumer. Fast forward, and many companies now prioritize flashy interfaces over educating consumers on product interoperability and compatibility. The result? Confusion for everyone involved, negative comments in the forums, and a damaged brand image that forces consumers to move towards larger brands and simpler products that don’t always offer the best experience. 

Adapting to Change and More Complex Consumer Electronics 

Adapting training programs to fit faster development cycles and complex consumer electronics is crucial. Swift development cycles and intricate products demand continuous education. Sales associates have a history of being trusted advisors, after all there’s a reason conventional wisdom was to go to your local hi-fi or home theater shop. But with less and less education for the integrator, today’s customers come armed with online information from the same websites and forums the integrator often goes to. Representatives must be subject matter experts, going beyond what customers can find online. Failure to do so weakens our channel, pushing consumers towards making online purchases instead of valuing local integrators.  

While the Internet is a great place for a consumer to do initial or follow-up research on a brand or product, it’s difficult to see the total solution. Understanding that based on their needs, this product works with that product, but not another one. Then making sure as the consumer’s ecosystem grows, the products they chose can scale with them. This is the true value-add of the integrator – getting a product is easy (except the past couple of years), understanding how everything goes together so it’s simple and reliable is where the CI manufacturer and integrator really demonstrate differentiation from their big-box counterparts.  

Manufacturer Training Reignites the Passion

I get it, costs are rising, and training is an easy cut as it’s often seen as a cost center rather than revenue generation. But here’s the thing – cutting corners on education will eventually backfire. Returns increase, negative online reviews accumulate, and future sales suffer. Some brands think they protect themselves by not allowing returns, but that opens the door to newer and smaller consumer-focused companies to come in offering a 30-45-day return policy. As products get more expensive, consumers and integrators need confidence in the brand’s support, – while return policy is one method, education and more objective data can be a much less expensive option. 

Let me share a quick story: I spend hundreds of hours a month in various electronics, lighting, and builder forums. When I was with Kaleidescape, I found someone asking questions on a Saturday, and ended up on the phone with him. After 2 years, he was still on the fence regarding a 6TB Strato S. By the end of a 45-minute call, I was introducing him to a local dealer so he could purchase a 24TB Terra. He thanked me for the time and appreciated my objectiveness. He knew I worked for Kaleidescape, but because the forum and our discussion confirmed my expertise, and then I spent time understanding his actual needs before giving him a recommendation, he considered it more objective than what he had heard and read previously. This happens all the time. In January alone, I’ve helped a new dealer who has multiple pending Kaleidescape sales, a client who is ready looking to upgrade from the Alto I helped him buy two years ago, as well as another client who wanted help in deciding whether a Trinnov processor was worth the upgrade. 

For the manufacturer and retailer, this should serve as a lesson that if you aren’t continuously providing education and engagement for your products, someone else will control the narrative, potentially damaging your brand. It’s happening right now in forums and at retail, and even if people aren’t saying anything negative, saying nothing at all can be even worse…  

Combining the Service of the Past with the Tools of the Future 

Manufacturer training needs a balance between in-person and cost-effective solutions. A centralized online solution, like a Learning Management System (LMS), can offer consistent messaging, accessible information, and cost-effective training for thousands of people simultaneously. Certification programs strengthen relationships, tying incentives to brand commitment, which eventually grows sales as representatives gain confidence in their knowledge and ability to answer questions. Structuring your sales to better support education and engagement will not require a large increase in spending either. At MRKTMKR, we are always happy to discuss various strategies designed to increase revenue while helping reduce costs related to travel and support. It also turns you into a true vendor partner for integrators, not just another commoditized brand that can easily be replaced by brand, X, Y, or Z.  

In a nutshell, the future of custom installation depends on manufacturers re-embracing industry education. It’s what defines this channel vs. the megabrands that bought their way in with huge marketing budgets but no real passion for what makes the integrator and enthusiast tick. Let’s adapt to change as an industry, and once again exceed customer expectations using modern tools like an LMS and forums to keep everyone in the loop and the messages on-point. Our industry offers cutting-edge technology; let’s make sure our front lines have the tools to make their client’s dreams a reality. They deserve it, and frankly our channel’s livelihood depends on it. 

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So that you don’t have to go it alone, each month I’ll explore different education and engagement topics that integrators and consumers can put into practice. My new FAQnatics YouTube channel kicks off this month and will feature discussions with industry experts on various technologies and will provide consumers with the information needed to feel confident in their technology decisions. My MRTMKR YouTube channel focuses on manufacturers and integrators, making sure they know the ins and outs of the latest technology, how it can help their clients, and strengthen their bottom line. If you want even more direct input to the manufacturer, subscribe to my mailing list for access to newsletters and surveys. It’s all free, I don’t share any personal information, and your opinions can help shape the future of the industry.  

Drop a note in the comments and let me know what you think. Should manufacturers be doing more to educate the integrator and consumer? Which manufacturers do a standout job currently, and which areas do you wish were a bit more transparent? This is a small enough industry that informed discussion really can lead to change, and I for one am here to support it.  

 Brett Bjorkquist 

Head FAQnatic & MRKTMKR 

Click here to subscribe to the FAQnatic channel 

Click here to subscribe to the MRKTMKR channel 

(Click here to subscribe to our newsletter and survey list) 

 

With 24 years in the CEDIA industry, Brett Bjorkquist got his start at GoodGuys, a local AV business, and was running his first location by 25. He’s been recruited by a variety of manufacturers including Logitech, Bowers & Wilkins, and Kaleidescape, served as a volunteer Co-chair for CEDIA, and won multiple Quest for Quality awards for training/support. Recognizing the industry's need for better training programs, he founded MRKTMKR, offering manufacturers a more effective way to engage Integrators. In 2024, he launched FAQnatics, a consumer-focused YouTube channel educating on technology trends and connecting consumers to qualified products and Integrators.

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