Security executives I’ve met are not the sort of folks who tend to waste their time.

If they go to the trouble of selecting an integrator or product they expect to get the problem solved. That attitude leaves a nearly infinite opportunity for disappointment; but somehow, many executives are remarkably at peace with their environments.

What’s the secret?

Integrators and resellers sometimes rub security executives the wrong way. It is not uncommon for one of the sales guys to have trouble carefully listening to customer needs and communicating the value proposition “Oh sure, we can do that” is the common refrain of a vendor no doubt incapable of a consultative approach to problem solving. A few vendors have been forthright and explained to me that the sales team can sell only what the customer asks for.

What Is Selling?

I’m sorry but that’s not selling, that’s order-taking.

I asked a few dozen security directors what they looked for in a solution provider. Careful listening and creative problem solving were the top criterion, next to price, of course. But even those mentioning price made it clear that they’d like to “get what they pay for” rather than pay for it and not get the quality they expected. With each executive, I asked about preferred vendors, favorite products and complaints about both. I was surprised to find a kind of sparkle in the eye of those who used Axis networked video products. Weird. Most security end-users don’t generally show emotion about specific companies – especially not praise. But Axis stands out as a manufacturer whose business practices are appreciated by the buyer and the distribution channel alike.

If Axis can produce loyalty all along its distribution chain – all the way to the end-user – they must have uncovered a secret. I’ve never had any kind of formal relationship with the company, so I decided to investigate.

Axis Communications, the Sweden-based maker of IP cameras, came up with a secret sauce for channel management and ranks extraordinarily high in customer satisfaction. After a few phone calls to their field managers and executives, I had a pretty good idea of how the company excels where so many stumble. Axis actually reaches out to its channel, even as far as the end-user, and participates in the consultation. In contrast, I talked to a senior sales executive at one of the big security product manufacturers whose name everyone knows, and I asked when was the last time he had lunch with an end-user. After he asked me to clarify what in the world I meant by an end-user (a bad sign indeed), he replied, “I don’t think I ever have.”

I asked Fredrik Nilsson, Axis general manager for the Americas, the same question and he said “nearly every month…sometimes every week.” But the secret itself lies in the management of the channel program. Axis signed up distributors in each region from which every installer, integrator and reseller has to buy. That by itself would seem to stifle the channel and remove incentives, until you uncover more ingredients of the recipe. Installers who bring “value” to Axis get rewarded.

Value Is Satisfaction

What’s value? That’s the secret. Value is the feeling of satisfaction, or completion, when the customer and the installer truly understand one another and agree on the solution. If the installer sells, installs and services the project in such a way that the Axis products perform optimally – thereby leaving the customer delighted with Axis – then the camera maker’s channel program is designed to authorize rebates for that installer. It’s a wonderful incentive program and one that truly motivates the sales channel to be sensitive to customers while simultaneously building the Axis brand.

As if that weren’t enough to guarantee success, Axis goes much further. The company protects the channel with utter zeal, rarely varying the program or changing the rules, and certainly never performing the dreaded sin of selling direct – also known as stealing from the channel. There is more to the recipe but you get the idea. The right sales channel strategy can impact a security executive far more than adding new product features or undercutting prices to make a quick sale.

Frankly, I think Axis has it figured out. It is a far superior model to the staid, old fashioned channel program of the big access control; video manufacturers and even the mega-IT companies like Cisco or IBM entering the physical security industry should take note. The trust that Axis has built between the company and the channel partners is important.