Directory AssistanceJohn Fuchs had grown used to hearing the protest: ?We don't need product-based leads because we're in the solutions business.? But, coming from the lips of an AV systems integrator executive, a title 12/04/2007 4:15 AM Eastern
John Fuchs had grown used to hearing the protest: ?We don't need product-based leads because we're in the solutions business.? But, coming from the lips of an AV systems integrator executive, a title he once held, he couldn't completely dismiss it.
John Fuchs had grown used to hearing the protest: “We don't need product-based leads because we're in the solutions business.” But, coming from the lips of an AV systems integrator executive, a title he once held, he couldn't completely dismiss it.
However, in his role of overseeing InfoComm iQ, the Web-based pro AV product catalog and information service from InfoComm International, Fuchs' comeback ended up changing not just the integrator's mind, but also his business. “My reply was that most people who become your customers, your potential buyers, think product first,” Fuchs says of the conversation he had a couple of years ago. “That's where you first capture most of them.”
Eventually, the integrator agreed to give the online catalog service a try. Three years later, the “light bulb” moment had arrived. After closely tracking product-related inquiries that came through the iQ program, the integrator was sold. Some 25 percent led to more extensive solutions-oriented business, proof that Fuchs was right about not dismissing mere product inquiries as a waste of time.
Today, six years after InfoComm iQ was first unveiled, Fuchs has to make the case less often and less forcefully, but he still has to make it. Industry usage — which, in its most basic form, directs Internet searches to a master online catalog and then steers information and pricing inquiries to the appropriate AV dealers, integrators, and resellers that, in turn, have their own customized iQ product catalogs on their company Web sites — is steadily growing.
According to Fuchs, the InfoComm iQ product catalog draws some 75,000 unique users each month who collectively log more than 175,000 research sessions. Information on thousands of products sold by more than 600 manufacturers is readily accessible in some 1,500 distinct online catalogs that reflect the product offerings/manufacturer relationships unique to each company.
The information is drawn entirely from the InfoComm iQ database, which is kept current on changes in products and authorized dealer relationships. There are links to manufacturer Web sites, but the iQ catalog is the primary source of information, which reflects the program's goal of driving product inquiries as fast and efficiently as possible to companies that can respond quickly and sell products and/or total AV integration solutions, Fuchs says. Overall, he estimates, the program places some 25,000 potential new business opportunities in front of channel participants each year.
“Many buyers often don't know what they need, and their needs often end up being more complex than they think at first,” Fuchs says.“Using the iQ catalog service, companies can go out and cast a net for those and other types of customers, and introduce them to both the products and the people they need to make a more sophisticated and informed pro AV buy.”
InfoComm iQ's growth also is tied to its being a service with a clear value. Establishing and maintaining a complete, regularly updated, real-time online product catalog is out of the technical, time, and resource grasp of most companies, Fuchs says.
“For a dealer to replicate all that iQ offers and to update it like we do could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” he says.“Depending on the service level, dealers can access our catalog services free of charge or up to $6,000 annually. The average user probably spends about $2,000.”
That was what initially attracted CEAVCO Audio Visual Co., an Arvada, Colo., AV systems integrator, to InfoComm iQ. Realizing that printed catalogs were becoming increasingly irrelevant and that it was too daunting to build its own online catalog, the company became one of the program's early adopters.
Today, according to company president Jack Emerson, the online catalog and referral service is an important part of CEAVCO's marketing and lead-generation program. It also allows existing customers and staff to research products and solutions and stay up to date on the constant stream of new entries.
The ready availability of complete, current listings of all the products it handles, without any need for internal database management, is one of the top reasons that Audio Visual Innovations, a Tampa, Fla., systems integrator, uses InfoComm iQ. Michelle Oswald, vice president of marketing communications, says it saves untold money and labor and has proven to be a reliable source of new business leads and valuable information for customers and employees alike.“We don't have to worry about creating this wealth of information in-house and then maintaining it, too.”
The program is being steadily broadened to incorporate other features. One of the freshest is iQ SmartAnnouncer, which sends monthly “new product” e-mails to designated dealer-customers and prospects. Manufacturers supply the new product information, and the iQ program compiles that into an e-mail and sends it automatically on behalf of the appropriate dealer. Another feature attracting more attention is reseller catalogs customized to individual customers and incorporating online product purchasing capabilities.
“InfoComm iQ is helping the industry market itself better and explore new business opportunities by directing people to sites that have the information they need,” Fuchs says.