Buy Canadian

Marketing managers are trained to be cautious, but once in a while one will let slip an interesting bit of info. For example, I’ve been told by American vendor reps on a couple of occasions that the U.S. views Canada as the fifty-first state, and that this approach doesn’t appear to hurt sales.

But that attitude should hurt their sales. Canadians should expect that, in return for hardware and software purchases, we will receive access to local sales and support staff, people who understand Canadian requirements, policies, laws and business conditions. When purchases need to be made, near the top of the list of criteria should be: “Local vendor staff Y/N?” If the answer’s no, then an alternate should be found, if possible.

Two examples will illustrate how this plays out. The first is a don’t, the second a do.

Two years ago, a large American software company bought a smaller software company. The larger company then fired the guy in Ottawa who provided sales and support for the smaller company’s products. One of the dispossessed customers, a tech staffer at the federal government, suddenly found himself waiting on a long-distance support line, only to eventually talk to an American service representative who had no understanding of the issues specific to the Canadian government.

This was especially disappointing as the Ottawa support guy had been very knowledgeable, and the government users of the software had a lot of faith in the company he represented. The government staffer immediately began looking for a new vendor, one with local staff.

That’s the don’t. On the do side is Symantec Canada.

In early 1996, Symantec Corp. was not concentrating on Canada as a separate entity. It had four sales and marketing people in Canada, each of whom reported to American managers. Those managers had north-south territories, so the person who handled Boston and New York City also covered Quebec, for example. According to Chris Monnette, Symantec’s current Canadian general manager, “there wasn’t a tremendous focus on Canada.”

Sales in Canada dipped significantly, and by 1997 the company decided it was missing out on something good up here in the north. “We realized Canada was a key growth opportunity,” Monnette said. It was then he was named Canadian general manager, and now the 19 corporate sales and marketing staff in Canada report to him.

That change, Monnette said, is the driving reason Symantec sped from the number five software vendor in Canada in December of 1997 up to the number two spot 12 months later.

But even Symantec doesn’t deliver a completely Canadian solution. When a customer from Toronto or Winnipeg or Peggy’s Cove phones up the support number, the call is directed to either Toronto or Eugene, Ore., depending on time of day and which site is less busy. Also, support for large enterprise customers is handled almost exclusively out of Eugene.

But at least Symantec acknowledges that Canada is indeed a separate country, and Monnette has plans to increase his division’s Canadian presence. He will soon be paying someone to work in Ottawa to bump up his company’s focus on the federal government. Also, he wants to increase the amount of Canada-specific content on the Web site, because, he said, “I think people would rather read about a Canadian company that is using Norton AntiVirus rather than about some customer in Houston.”

We certainly would.