How to Find the Right OEM Partner

July 14, 2015
Integrators need to carefully vet the vendors they choose to work with

The business world is built on relationships. They come and go, deepen or fade and generally evolve over time depending on the needs and goals of the parties involved. But one thing they all have in common is that their role is critical to any project’s success.

That’s why it’s so important for systems integrators to be choosy about the OEMs with which they partner. You want to make sure your suppliers maintain high quality standards, deliver the appropriate products on time and on budget, and that they stand by those products once they’re deployed. In this age of open technology, the task of evaluating potential OEM partners becomes more complex because you have to also consider that it’s your job to make all the pieces work together as one cohesive unit. Part of your due diligence is to learn how to separate marketing hype from reality. Not all manufacturers’ products are interoperable, even if the specs say they’re built to open standards. Research security industry best practices so that when you speak with potential OEMs you can discover whether they actually follow them. And seek out relationships with OEMs that might have prior experience (positive and negative) with similar security projects that you can leverage.

Keep in mind, too, that relationships should be a two-way street. Both parties need to derive benefit from the association for it to have any value or hope of continuing. The benefits won’t necessarily be the same because each party plays a different role in the relationship. And the benefits may change over the course of the partnership. For instance, an integrator often forms a relationship with an OEM based on their ability to help meet a customer’s needs. But over time, the integrator may find that this partnership leads to operating efficiencies, unique solutions that are more cost-effective to install, and even future joint business opportunities that neither the integrator nor the OEM had anticipated.

From Pre-Sale to Post-Sale Support

Because your goal is to build a long-term relationship with your customer, you want to be sure that you enter OEM relationships with companies that are in it for the long haul. The right partner will support you from the time you start pitching the customer through the installation process and beyond to help foster continued customer satisfaction which can lead to repeat business and greater profitability for you both.

While an OEM’s reputation in the industry is certainly critical, it’s the individuals inside the business that can make or break the relationship. So before you start negotiating all the give-and-take details of your partnership with a manufacturer it’s important to establish a strong personal/business relationship with a specific individual who can be your go-to person whenever you need anything from the OEM. As the OEM relationship progresses, you’ll eventually build close relationships with other individuals in the organization who possess various levels of expertise you can draw on: sales and technical support, technology trending advice, project management savvy, etc.

Pre-Sales Support. In terms of pre-sales support, there are a number of things you should look for in an OEM relationship:

  • A sales team that truly understands the manufacturer’s entire product portfolio – beyond what’s on a spec sheet – and can recommend the right components for a given project.
  • Highly-trained field sales engineer with the expertise to assist in difficult/complex system design and interoperability issues
  • A commitment to ongoing education and technical training on the OEM’s current and new product offerings as well as security industry trends and innovations
  • Access to, or introductions to others in the manufacturer’s ecosystem of partners who may bring enhanced capabilities, efficiencies or insight to the project
  • A comprehensive understanding of industry standards and protocols associated with the solutions you’re looking to install
  • Automation tools that can assist you in streamlining the design and bidding process to optimize profitability

A word of caution about an OEM’s pre–sales support: it could turn out to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the OEM might give you the inside track on newer technologies, pricing strategies, marketing promotions and other products whose release is just around the corner. And they can draw on this knowledge to help you design and deliver a more cost-effective, higher-quality or even more functional solution than you originally thought. On the other hand, those “futures” might be the product of an overzealous OEM eager to gain a leg up on the competition. They may in fact be overselling and promising something they ultimately can’t deliver. Not only will your trust in the relationship falter, it could also damage your relationship with your customer. And that could lead you to delivering the project at a loss.

Implementation Support. There are a number of ways the right OEM partner can contribute to a successful implementation/installation phase of a project. To determine whether a potential OEM has “the right stuff,” you should look for:

  • An OEM that offers certification classes and similar programs to their integrator partners to ensure their staff is sufficiently trained to do the actual installation properly and efficiently
  • Provides software installation and other installation tools
  • Offers online support through training videos, online chats and online knowledge base, including product manuals
  • Maintains extended hours for live technical support

Despite meticulous planning, implementations don’t always go smoothly – especially if they involve the interoperability of multiple OEMs’ products. This can lead to a lot of finger pointing and frustration on all sides. As the integrator you are the single point of contact for the customer who is expecting a fully operating system. So if you want to save yourself a lot of headaches, partner with OEMs who have extensive experience in complex systems and maintain a large ecosystem of trusted partners who can help facilitate the project. Being able to draw upon this larger pool of experts and their knowledge base can lead to faster problem resolution and, in the end, a happier customer and a more successful installation.

Post-installation Support. Customers expect integrators to stand by their installation long after they go live. You should expect no less from the OEMs who partner with you on a project. There are a number of signposts that indicate whether an OEM is committed to post-sales support:

  • The company has an established policy of issuing firmware updates on a regular basis
  • Field sales engineers make themselves available post-installation to assist in fine-tuning system operation and working through issues that make crop up down the road
  • The OEM provides quality tools for onsite and remote maintenance of the installed solution

Oftentimes, landing the sale and installing the solution is the easy part of the process. Once the installation has been accepted and paid for by the customer, many OEMs and integrators drop the ball and move on to the next opportunity. This is a major mistake because everyone is leaving some of their highest margin business behind. Instead of walking away, integrators should be selling annual maintenance contracts to ensure that their customer’s system remains in peak operating condition. It also provides a solid ongoing revenue stream for the integrator. Given that much of today’s systems can be serviced by technicians remotely via the Internet, you can improve your maintenance margins by minimizing expensive truck rolls to the site.

When you think about it, good post-installation support delivers a great ROI. It is far easier – and less expensive – to sell a happy customer incremental equipment and services as their needs and technology changes than to invest resources in cultivating a prospect and turning them into a customer.  This doesn’t mean you should become complacent and only serve your existing customers. But when you do go after new business, remember that happy existing customers make excellent reference accounts that can lead to new opportunities. Conversely, an unhappy customer can tarnish your reputation and ruin your prospects for future business.

Not All OEMs are a Perfect Match

Looking at the laundry list above, you would think these attributes could be found in every OEM- integrator relationship. But, unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Sometimes the sales people working with an integrator, especially those who represent multiple manufacturers, have a short-term outlook when it comes to project sales. Once the last piece of hardware’s delivered and installed, they stop returning your calls.

So choose your partners wisely. Whether you want an exclusive relationship with a single OEM or a solid network of manufacturers you can count on, take time to vet them carefully. Relationship building is a long-term investment. And like a good marriage, both partners bring something special to the union. The right match – or matches – will serve you well in the long run and lead to greater success and profitability for everyone. 

Larry Newman is director of sales, North America, for Axis Communications. Request more info about Axis at