Joining a home-technology buying and networking group is just the first part of an integrator's journey. To make the most of your investment, heed the nine tips below. This is part II of a series on buying groups. In the first installment, we compare the four major groups in the custom-install channel: HTSA, Azione, ProSource, HTSN, plus the emerging PSA security network entering the channel.
1. Attend the Annual Meetings
Aside from the keynotes and educational offerings, this is your chance to really meet your peers, share ideas, attend roundtables and meet the principals of your key vendor companies. Most buying groups host at least one meeting a year in the relaxed environment of a resort hotel to facilitate easy conversation and the chance to make invaluable business connections, and sometimes lifelong friends.
2. Don’t Be Shy — Learn and Share
Speak up, ask questions and introduce yourself to anyone and everyone in the group you’d like to meet. In our industry, by far the most powerful buying group benefit is the quality of peer-to-peer networking, learning from others who may have solved the same issues you face, and sharing what you have learned. A caveat is to not get too greedy when seeking help and information, and to always find a balance in the give and take. Find a meaningful way to say thank you to someone who goes out of their way to help you.
3. Respect Confidentiality
It is vitally important that everyone respects what other members share and not go blabbing what you hear or learn around the industry. It is very hard for groups to cultivate a trusting environment for optimal sharing and it only takes one or two episodes where someone betrays a confidence to dissuade some very smart people from participating.
4. Don’t Be a Size Snob
Sometimes bigger companies don’t think they have anything to learn from smaller companies, and vice versa, but you’d be amazed how even the smallest detail of how someone else runs their company can help you improve operations, or hatch a new idea. No matter the size of their company, some people have great technical or operational expertise while others excel in the sales and marketing process.
5. Volunteer for Boards and Committees
Time spent in smaller groups working together on a project helps you get to know people in a more personal way and facilitates a richer level of idea exchange. Board membership can also open up opportunities to attend industry events and network with a whole other level of thought leaders and decision makers.
6. Try to Support the Group’s Key Vendor Partners
Though none of the buying groups in our industry mandate that members buy exclusively from vendors the group has deals with, it behooves everyone in the group for as many members as possible to support a few key lines which in turn can engender stronger vendor programs for everyone. As a start, any product category that is not so brand sensitive could be shifted to a group product offering. There is no hard-and-fast rule. Just try to make an effort to align your product lineup with the group’s vendor programs whenever possible.
7. Use and Disseminate What You Learn to Your Company
It takes a bit of discipline to make time when you get back from workshops and events to share what you learned with the rest of your company and make plans to implement new ideas. At the very least, on the way home, jot down three things you learned that you can commit to implement as soon as possible. It can also be helpful and worth the extra time and money to take an additional person to the group’s business and educational events since it’s easier to reinforce what you learned when you have someone else to bounce off of and who knows what you want to convey to the troops.
8. Have a Problem? Pick Up the Phone
You don’t have to wait for the next annual meeting to get help solving problems you face in the moment. Whether you are trying to figure out how to pay your new project manager or how much you should be spending on SEM and SEO, or what lines make sense in your networking product mix, just call a few members to hear how they solved the problem, which will surely help shed light on your own situation.
9. Take Advantage of Non-Product Based Programs and Services
All of the groups have partnerships and deals on a wide range of business and marketing services. Do yourself a favor and evaluate these offerings which might include programs for more favorable credit card rates, check cashing programs and freight services as well as business and marketing consulting services, technical training options, and administrative resources such as HR, accounting and payroll services.