B2B future for 3D imaging?

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Trimble, one of the largest manufacturers of hardware and software in the 3D marketplace, is now offering “services.” Check out their website offering Building Information Modeling (BIM) services. What you’ll also quickly realize is Trimble has made the strategic decision to go directly to the end user, and completely bypass their previous business-to-business model. Trimble’s new BIM Service eliminates the need for the [insert your company name here]“middleman.”

So, the obvious question is why anyone would use a service provider, surveyor, engineer, architect, etc., who purchased Trimble products to service their clients, if the end user can go directly to Trimble? Just place your ‘BIM order’ online and you’re good to go!

Trimble (Nasdaq: TRMB) is one of your newest competitors in the 3D imaging market, and, if you are a service provider, you should be concerned because they are a smart company, with a huge war-chest, and a list of clients a mile long. You now compete directly with Trimble in the A/E/C and BIM space. So, if you are a service provider you have to ask yourself, ‘Where’s the future?’

Mission
What is Trimble’s mission? No matter what anyone from Trimble might tell you about wanting to be your partner, they’re ultimately responsible for driving up the value of their stock. So, the move to bypass their B2B model is a subtle admission that in order to be successful, they have either chosen to not rely on their existing distribution channels for growth, or they feel their B2B clients aren’t competent. Or perhaps it’s some combination of both.

Why would I, as a small business, want to buy products or services from a company that I will be competing with? Why would you buy any of the products or services from a company that’s literally banking on their success based upon your failure? American capitalism, at its purest, would logically conclude that, ultimately, they don’t care. And frankly, that’s what great about our economy and the free marketplace.

Blood in the Water
It’s logical to conclude that the other hardware/software companies who compete against Trimble would use this to their strategic advantage. The fiercely competitive 3D industry now, collectively, has a common position, or perhaps an opportunity. If I were running the sales department for one of the major companies, I’d make certain that any client considering purchasing Trimble product(s) understood they were helping their competition.

To illustrate, if I were a sales rep from company X, I would include in my presentation a phrase like, “We love our customers and want to partner with you, and we will not compete against you…like Trimble will.”

Challenges
For Trimble’s strategy shift to pay off, they’ll have to overcome these challenges:

  • The technology changes rapidly and they’ll have to make sure they’re educating the clients on those changes. Many times that takes a continuous face-to-face interaction. There is no substitute for having boots on the ground to teach and communicate the BIM and its processes. Can that be done over a website by a huge corporation?  
  • Every project involving BIM is unique to itself and requires a customized set of solutions that work for the skill level of the stakeholders. Can Trimble provide customized solutions, especially if they’re limited to their products?  
  • If you screw up one project, you’re toast with that client forever. You cannot fail or you will be eliminated from the game. Trimble will have to execute and be accountable for a workflow, and not just hardware or software sales. Do they have the ability to make that operational and cultural shift? 

Future 

The 800-pound gorilla is here … or is it? Time will tell. If Trimble’s bet is correct, and they can do it better than the existing providers, they’ll have the last laugh and they’ll change the industry for years to come. However if they are unsuccessful, they will have effectively alienated both the end user and the B2B customer. That would leave a scar that would take a long time to heal.

In the immediate future, if they are not successful, they will seek revenue growth by lowering prices. Because of the size of their footprint in the market, that could alter the playing field for all of us as it relates to our profitability.

Remember the story of David and Goliath? I believe the service providers can make quick tactical responses to changing technology, understand local market conditions, and continue to build long term personal relationships. I’m putting my bet on small business.

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About Author

Ken Smerz

In an attempt to shine light on the rather significant question that service providers throughout the U.S. have struggled with, I’ll be authoring a series of articles that address some challenges service providers face and hopefully offer some constructive advice gleaned through my work running Precision3D Scanning. I want to emphasize that my opinions are just that—and nothing makes me more qualified than anyone else trying to earn a living in an emerging marketplace. I encourage your feedback.

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