Hooking the big fish
Written by: Simon Creasey | Published:

It is not easy going after massive companies when you are a small dealer. Simon Creasey has some tips

One of the most challenging and complex types of customer that two-way radio dealers or resellers have to deal with are large multinational companies. They are demanding, they have exacting standards, which may differ from country to country, and at the same time they are usually incredibly cost-conscious.

So how do multinational companies typically procure wireless comms and what are the main challenges that need to be overcome when dealing with businesses of this ilk?

Although they share many common traits, there are a number of key differences between dealing with large companies that might operate multiple overseas sites compared with a domestic SME business, and these can present significant hurdles for resellers, according to Andy Wilson, managing director at Syndico and who has first-hand experience of supporting dealers who have worked with multinational retailers.

“My experience shows that most large companies try their best to have the fewest suppliers possible, therefore when they purchase their radio products, they are looking for one supply source regardless of where that supply source is located,” says Wilson. “This can be a challenge for an SME radio reseller, who might well not have the experience in doing overseas trade. Syndico operates in multiple territories and in multiple currencies, so we have been able to help some partners to make these things happen for the end-users.”

Another major difficulty associated with selling radio comms tools to large multinational businesses is making sure you are speaking to the right person within the organisation.

“Finding out who is in charge of buying radios or any comms equipment in an organisation is really hard,” says Gary Leatherby, managing director at Chatterbox. “Years ago companies used to have a comms officer, but today you don’t know if it’s the job of the procurement team or the security manager.”

It is important to get these details right because if resellers can locate the right person to speak to, it can make a major difference in terms of the final sale. “You might go to a big organisation and say, ‘Who looks after your radios?’, and you find out it’s the security manager so you ask him what budget he’s got and he will probably reply ‘Not a lot’,” says Leatherby. “However, if you can get to the head of health and safety and explain all of the different applications available and how it can help the company with its health and safety and ‘Oh, by the way, it can do push-to-talk as well so your security team can talk to one another’, then you get access to a completely different budget.”

The issue of tracking down the relevant person within an organisation responsible for procurement is also one that Ash Robinson, account manager at DCRS, has encountered.

“At one company you might have to speak to the ops director, but if you go to another company it might be the security manager, and at another place it might be the IT person,” says Robinson. “That’s where our marketing and telesales team comes into full force.”

He adds that the process of identifying the right person to speak to is becoming slightly easier because a lot of IT departments are getting more involved in radio procurement due to the nature of the systems they are moving forward with.

“For those who use applications alongside their radio system where they need IP connections, I say ‘let’s get IT involved from the start’, because if you don’t then you might go through all of the hard work of getting quotations and getting the budget approved and then IT might turn around and say ‘you can’t do it due to our network’s policies and procedures’.”

Jamie Bishop, marketing and business development director EMEA at Tait, has also detected the growing presence of IT departments in the procurement of comms equipment.

“Radio has turned into more of a piece of IT equipment than it certainly was even 10 years ago,” says Bishop. “Also, generally speaking, in a lot of these companies there isn’t a lot of experience or knowledge of the capabilities of radio, so it’s tending to become more of a responsibility for the IT team.”

He explains that for many multinational businesses, the standard procedure is to source globally and then push the equipment out. “We’ve been approached by a lot of multinationals on a global level to supply them and they want global framework agreements,” says Bishop. “As with IT equipment, they will have a centralised IP framework. Tait has something called EnableFleet that allows you to configure radio devices remotely. So somebody could be, say, based in New York and their equipment could be programmed from a desk in London. You don’t need somebody on the ground to physically touch equipment on such a regular basis. That’s quite a shift in capability in the two-way radio world, but the tools are now available to do it.”

As comms technology changes and new innovation is brought to the market, he sees the IT departments of these large global groups becoming increasingly involved in specifying and procuring radio equipment. He cites the example of Tait TeamPTT – formerly known as UnifyVoice – a Push-to-talk over Cellular solution that connects radio, cellular and Wi-Fi networks so that users on any of these networks can talk to each other. At the moment the solution isn’t being used internationally, but he has customers who are using Tait TeamPTT to communicate with one another in the UK from one side of the country to the other.

“Because it’s PTT over an IP network, that takes another step into the IT world,” says Bishop. “If you want to have connections into a two-way radio system, you have to open up ports on the router and configure files in specific ways, and that involves global IT even more because you have ringfenced the network from the IT system.”

Dealing with large multinationals also presents a series of logistical challenges, says Syndico’s Wilson. “These range from VAT regulations and paperwork to the licensing laws for two-way radio use in different territories – for example, PMR446 is a European standard but not legal to use in the Middle East or USA,” he explains.

Wilson adds that these are just some of the pitfalls Syndico has helped its clients avoid. “The only way to get around the issues is to have experience of having to overcome them,” he says. “With our experience of sorting out the issues, we have gained the knowledge, sometimes having had the pain, to help our dealers to make doing business internationally hassle-free.”

Another commonly encountered pitfall is price. Although cost considerations might be more associated with smaller companies that have to watch the pennies, driving down procurement cost is a major issue for many global groups.

“After the big crash in 2008, purse strings suddenly got tightened and that’s still very much apparent today with people being very price-conscious,” says Ruth Nixon, managing director at Zycomm. “Brexit is also certainly having an effect on larger companies. For example, if a company is having a building constructed that costs millions upon millions of pounds, they’re wanting to re-use the radios from the construction company instead of buying new. That’s fine, but their wishlist isn’t necessarily going to match what they’re going to end up with. It’s all about managing expectations. If they want the price to drop by £100 then they’re going to have to give up x and y.”

Larger companies are also pushing back the decision-making process, adds Nixon. “It was never a quick decision anyhow, but now we’re getting a few weeks added onto what was already a long process.”

Nixon’s point about managing expectations is something that Richard Webb, director of software solutions at Airsys, sees as becoming increasingly important for large organisations.

“Most big businesses have spent an age and a fortune investing in private mobile radio systems and most don’t want to throw away what they have already got,” says Webb. “They are trying to make baby steps to build on what they’ve got, but also look at how they can integrate that with the rest of their business operations. They know what they’ve got, they understand it, it works, but now they are looking at what thought process they need to go through as a business. My job is to help them through that process and allow them to take those baby steps. Then they can invest in what they want at their own pace without necessarily throwing away what they have already invested in.”

Webb adds that no two customers have the same requirements, so it boils down to that old adage of ‘horses for courses’. “What we are trying to do is make sure our customers can enjoy the right technology in the right place and not be forced into taking the wrong technology in the wrong place,” says Webb. “And it has to be economically efficient. As a result, it is fundamental that we take the right x and commercial approach.”

We have seen that while the challenge of dealing with multinational businesses is considerable, resellers can turn to the distributors they work with for assistance. At the same time, it is essential to consider the extent to which your cashflow and margins might come under pressure when dealing with big companies, given the way that Brexit is making them more cost-conscious.


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