IN THE HOT SEAT: Changing channels

IN THE HOT SEAT: Changing channels

With IT, printer and copier vendors all scrambling to make the most of the current boom in document management and colour printing, it's no surprise to hear that Ricoh has recently overhauled its channel. The vendor has recently scrapped territory restrictions, added IT resellers to its ranks and opened up its full product range to partners. Leading these channel changes is Ricoh's general sales manager, Greg Heard.

How did you come to be at Ricoh?
Greg Heard (GH): I've been here for 16 years. Over that time I've learnt what makes salespeople tick. Money is a motivator but it's also the success of the sale and of securing and managing an account over a period of time.

What are the responsibilities of your role?
GH: I'm responsible for a branch network in the capital cities and a significant dealer network in cities and regional areas across Australia. Meeting your targets is always a challenge but so too is balancing the different needs of the channels.

How is your channel structured?
GH: There are six direct sales branches with a branch and service manager and sales team who look after government and major corporates. Our dealer network looks after the remainder of the market. It's made up of independently owned franchises, which have the right to sell and service under the Ricoh business centre name. They're 100 per cent dedicated to Ricoh.

We also have printer-only dealers, which sell under their own name but can offer other brands. We've opened the channel up to a number of IT resellers as well and gotten rid of our geographic restrictions everywhere but Sydney, where we already have four Ricoh Business Centre dealers.

How do you manage conflict under that model?
GH: Occasionally those overlap a little bit but to manage conflicts we have a reserve account list which is managed direct. Potentially there is less of the pie for each reseller under the changes but we have worked for the past two years to get our franchises ready for this. While there will be some conflict, the broader market is quite substantial and there are still a lot of opportunities we aren't across.

Why go for a franchise and dealer network?
GH: The Ricoh name gives a lot more consistency as there are certain standards that apply. It is also a far better relationship to have Ricoh Australia and a Ricoh Business Centre supporting the customer. Having said that, a lot of other dealers trade under their own names and are still very successful.

What's the motivation behind this move?
GH: It's to open the market up and help those dealers who want to grow their businesses at a much faster rate. Each dealer has their own service and sales team so that's more feet on the street for us and more opportunities to develop end-user relationships. There are also trends happening in this space which require change. The rise of multifunction devices and analogue to digital conversion means there's a need to manage a whole business' documents through software and network tools. That means we need more resellers with skills in those areas. We have also been implementing processes which enable resellers to act as consultants.

Are there any examples of that?
GH: We utilise a proprietary consulting package called Printwise where we go and audit document flows and architecture as well as the hardware devices, and come back with a series of recommendations for the customer. We then work through them to implement those recommendations. We spend a lot of time working with and training our dealers to implement those skills in-house.

With your channel expanding are there plans to appoint a distributor?
GH: We have dedicated staff to support our channel partners in various areas and they'll continue to do that. Under that model we can react quicker and it keeps us close to the market and issues resellers are facing. We have regular meetings with dealer principles to identify challenges and address them.

What trends and challenges are you facing over the next year?
GM: There is also black-to-colour conversion through which people are acquiring devices that do black and white prints but also are capable of doing colour. It is arguably more cost-effective that way as you have one device instead of two.

They are also network enabled so they have fax and scan functions too. Advances in technology and falling prices are drivers there. The colour market is doubling year-on-year so these products have helped open up that market. But on the other hand they are eating into some of the black and white products.

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