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Two More Twin Sons of Different Mothers

Sept. 1, 2011
Introducing new electrical products and evaluating the profit potential of BIM technology have some striking similarities.

On the surface, two feature articles in this month's issue wouldn't seem to have too much in common — the art and science of introducing new products and the impact of building information modeling (BIM) on the electrical market.

Even the most innovative new electrical products do their jobs in relative obscurity — behind a wall, in the electrical closet of an office tower, sealed in the darkness of an electrical box or conduit run, or perhaps 30 feet above a warehouse floor in a lighting fixture. On the flip side, many people think building information modeling (BIM), which allows designers to create three-dimensional building designs that they then stress-test and otherwise torture with all sorts of sinister environmental challenges, is downright cool.

While these two worlds couldn't seem more different, oddly enough they suffer from at least one similar challenge — gaining the attention of electrical distributors, electrical manufacturers and independent manufacturers' reps. For the inventors who design new electrical products and the salespeople at distributors, reps and manufacturers who sell them, it's an age-old, evergreen challenge. While BIM is new to the electrical scene, it will suffer from many of the same challenges of other new technologies in the electrical market — cozying up to a skeptical audience that's been burned in the past by technologies that didn't live up to expectations, or flamed out before they ever got the chance to gain traction.

It's been said many times that new products are the lifeblood of the electrical wholesaling industry. That may be a bit of an overstatement, but there's no doubt new products keep things interesting, particularly today, with all of the solar products, LEDs and voice-data-video (VDV) products that didn't exist even two years ago.

One thing never changes about even the most innovative of new products — they can be tough for distributors to sell. Sometimes manufacturers don't keep them in the loop about new product launches. Who hasn't had the embarrassing experience of a customer walking into the counter area and asking for a product they saw advertised in an end-user trade magazine, but you didn't know even existed? Then there's the whole issue of the additional time that new products can take to sell. You really can't blame salespeople when they rely on proven winners to hit their sales goals if they don't receive any additional compensation to sell a new product.

Let's face it — salespeople in the electrical market aren't selling iPads or General Motors' new Camaro, so they have to work hard to get customers excited about some new products. But if they stick to the basics and focus on proving that a new product can help customers do their jobs faster, safer, more efficiently or more profitably, they stand a pretty good chance of grabbing that customer's attention and making the sale.

The early BIM believers in the electrical market will probably have to go through the same arc of grudging acceptance that inventors of new electrical products must endure when then they attempt to convince the “less-enlightened” of why they should buy their products or services. It's nothing new, Just talk to the evangelists who first had to sell bar coding, EDI, the IDW, IDEA and vendor-managed inventory in this industry. Like new product inventors, they struggled — and in some cases are still struggling — to gain industry acceptance.

So it will be with BIM. It's already a way of life for a large swath of the construction community. Once a standard is in place for product data and designers start populating their BIM designs with this enhanced data, it may become a way of life in this business, too, and electrical manufacturers will need to be sure their products are in those designs.

Author Victor Hugo is credited with saying, “All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” That defines the best new electrical products, and it could one day define of BIM in the electrical market, if a workable product data standard is developed and if BIM can prove itself to be a tool to increase product sales.