AV Police Squad

What Do Clients Need?: Painkillers vs. Vitamins

Mahendra Vora, the Founder of Intelliseek, a marketing intelligence firm, said that startup companies should build “painkillers, not vitamins” for their clients. This makes a ton of sense for entrepreneurs who are trying to guess at what the next big thing will be, or to investors that are trying to decide where to put their money. I think the idea of painkillers being more popular than vitamins is fascinating with respect to AV on so many levels.

  1. We see this in our own personal procedures. It is easy to focus on all the fires that need to be put out. They are screaming in our faces like a three-year-old that needs attention. However, how many of us spend time focusing on the important, but not urgent, things at our jobs, like contemplating ways to improve how we do things day to day?
  2. We see this notion all the time in AV with the migration of Preventive Maintenance contracts to Break-Fix Service Agreements. Clients don’t see value in maintaining their systems and keeping their uptime maximized. AV is being commoditized, and clients only see value in fixing something after it fails.
  3. We see this in the uphill battle we are constantly fighting: trying to convince clients that focusing on quality is paramount to projects being successful. Even clients who buy into quality-driven projects tend to get sloppy after a string of successful projects, and it takes a disaster to wake them up.

Should we, as the AV industry, focus on painkillers instead of vitamins?

I get that this mentality makes sense when you are trying to get a quick return on investment. Pick something that is going to sell like hotcakes, make your money and then get out. That’s the name of the game in Silicon Valley, but I’m not sure how well that translates to the AV industry, especially the AV service providers. Most of my AV peeps are in it for the long haul. Many of us are looking for disruptive technologies to improve how our clients communicate. That is an exciting aspect of what we do for a living. However, most forward-thinking service providers deal in vitamins, not painkillers.

There are elements of pain killers, for sure. That’s all service is. Client calls up with a pain. (“My amp is on fire!”) We show up with a solution. (“I’m here with a new amplifier…and a fire extinguisher!”) There are two problems I see with the painkiller route. My first problem is that it is reactive by definition. We need to wait for our clients to have a pain before they will want to discuss possible painkillers. What if we, as advocates for the AV industry, educated our clients on what “Good AV” should be? Stories about AV pain are not as visceral as experiencing them yourself, but why should we wait for our clients to spend money on systems we already know won’t satisfy their needs? There are many ways to avoid AV pain altogether, like the AV9000 standard or third-party commissioning.

My second problem is that the pain killers approach relies on the client’s interpretation of their pain. If a client is screaming for a 4K display because “they just need one,” do you just provide one for them? Or do you perform a little investigation to better understand their needs? “I know 4K is all the rage, but did you know that users can only perceive the extra resolution when they sit closer than 1.5x the height? So, can you seat all your users within 6′ of that beautiful 80″ 4K display? Further, how many of your users typically sit in the first two seats of the table when they log in because they can’t read the text on the screen? So, before we make a decision on resolution requirements, let’s talk about what the room is going to be used for…”

End users are becoming more AV-savvy as time progresses, but being AV-savvy does not equal being an AV professional. I’m not saying that AV professionals know everything and end users know nothing. I am saying that it is our responsibility as AV professionals to help guide our clients to make better, “healthier” AV decisions.

Instead of trying to be the flashy doctors that dole out painkillers left and right after a 10-second description of your symptoms, maybe we should try to be AV therapists that take the time to understand the needs of our clients. End users might try to convince you that all they need is an AV pain killer, but with a few probing questions, it can quickly become evident that all they need are a few AV vitamins…and maybe a kale shake or two.

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