A top Ricoh executive said he sees "chaos" in the printer market and believes it's an opportunity for the company to grab market share from its rivals, which in the case of Xerox is coming off a highly publicized internal battle for control.
"We're starting to see classic chaos in the industry and we think we can take advantage of it, both through the differentiation of having both products and services, and being unified in front of the customer associated with our go to market strategy," Glenn Laverty, senior vice president of Ricoh Americas marketing, and CEO of Ricoh Canada, told CRN. "I think the one thing that will stand the test of time is our approach to the customer experience. We saw last year when we changed our market strategy, a four point gain in our customer loyalty index which surprised us. It was an indicator to us that we're headed in the right direction."
In April, Ricoh named Joji Tokunaga, as CEO of its Americas division. A 33-year veteran of the Tokyo-based printer maker, Tokunaga said his channel strategy is going to revolve around giving Ricoh's 380 partners the support they need to "harmonize" them with the company's direct sales force.
"What I feel personally is that the product itself, is not that much different to us," Tokunaga said. "Whether it's an A3 or an A4 and it prints in color or black and white. You mentioned Lexmark reinventing its entire fleet. My view is, I don't think a new product alone is going to have a strong enough pull to differentiate. So our focus is to try to have an alignment between direct sales and our dealers, and try to create a mutually agreeable strategy to drive sales through that."
Some of this work was done last year when the company stopped the "insane" practice of fighting for sales against itself, Laverty said. He said Ricoh's direct sales team was competing for small and medium-sized business share with Ricoh channel partners.
"When you get in a room and think about that, that's close to insane in my opinion," he said. "So we demonstrated the courage to change, and say, 'We're going to move that part of our sales force away from competing with our dealer partners.' In doing so we elected to take the sales force that we had, and move it to the upper end of the marketplace to add some verticals."
Ricoh said one way they accomplished this is by turning over leads aimed at its direct sales force to channel partners. Laverty said those leads generate sales about 38 percent of the time, which has been a tremendous help to partners.
Some of Ricoh's 380 channel partners have been with the company for 40 years. Taken as a whole, their work represent 40 percent of the company's sales. Laverty said providing customers with a local business, and commitment to the community has paid off.
"We're seeing growth in the channel today," he said. "We don't think they've exhausted their opportunities. We're, quite frankly, excited about the large number of our dealers who are still interested in growing their businesses. And when we map out what our support systems can do to assist them in that regard, we definitely see them taking share and ultimately growing their business and we along with that as a byproduct."
Tokunaga said his job is to grow channel sales by fostering the relationship between direct sales and partners, and give partners the support they need.
"The only way to help us grow is to get the customer's mindset," he said. "Our challenge is how can we make it easier for dealers. Our job is not to grow direct and dealer independency," he said. "Rather we want to combine the assets and our back-office capabilities and then make the dealers more flexible into the market place."