I am writing this post the day after instructing the CTS-D Prep class the weekend before the InfoComm16 tradeshow floor opens. An interesting topic that kept on creeping up was how companies could differentiate themselves to their clients from the IT Departments or Hang ‘n’ Bangers who might not know AV from a hole in the wall…ostensibly for pulling cable, but it might have just been from another frustrated user who couldn’t understand the far end! This sentiment was conveyed from those who spend their time and money to improve their AV knowledge on a regular basis. However, they were sick and tired of investing in these improvements, and their clients still not noticing or, worse, just not caring. The low bidder always gets the job.
I countered with a few responses.
- Clients are supposed to be awarding jobs to the best value, not the lowest bidder. There are many clients who find it difficult to distinguish between the two. These are typically the clients or decision makers with little experience with AV projects (or are very far removed from the completed systems, aka, bean counters). The difference between running a project with an experienced integrator with several long-lasting client relationships, and an integrator with very little repeat clients is night and day. This should easily be worth a 10% difference in price.
- Clients are becoming more quality conscious, especially the larger ones who simply don’t have time to deal with integrators learning on the job or delivering incomplete systems. They insist on using integrators with a documented, quality process. Integrators with a quality process in place have been known to be able to drop their price and still turn a profit to stay competitive. (They aren’t doing things twice.) On the flip side, clients have been known to award jobs to integrators because of their quality management system, despite having a 20% higher price tag.
- The industry needs to do a better job of raising awareness on this issue of quality. Several manufacturers have jumped on board and started building their networks of trusted integrators. However, I find—in the architectural, construction and end user communities—the AV players themselves are still relatively unknown, much less the nuance of the differences between their quality systems. Things have certainly gotten better as AV technology is commanding a more critical role in business, but why do AV designers continue to be brought into the game so late in the process. We have a significant impact on the building. Shouldn’t we be brought on board with the plumbing, HVAC and electrical engineers?
- We need to do a better job of explaining to our clients (prospective or existing) the dangers of not using a quality-minded AV service provider. Oftentimes, they politely listen to us, but they don’t hear It takes a client who has been burned a few times and suffered some serious project disasters to really understand the value of quality. Or maybe we just aren’t speaking the right language. Maybe we get so caught up in the technology and the specs that we miss what the clients really care about: the experience.
I wish I had more concrete answers. I do know that we need to pay more attention to our clients. Not just in terms of understanding their needs, but what they care about and the vocabulary they use. This social media world is incredible at connecting people, but are we making the right connections? Are we using these tools to make stronger connections with our clients, or just to pass around some (admittedly) funny “AV Nightmares” memes? I do know that the AV companies who have this communication and experience thing down are killing it in the industry, but they are few and far between. I also know that it doesn’t take rocket science to figure this stuff out, just dedication and discipline.
Albert Einstein said it best: “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” You know what you have to do to be successful. Unfortunately, it takes time and effort and dedication to solve that “problem.” Fortunately, we are part of an incredibly fun, exciting, passionate industry…so it shouldn’t hurt that much.
Hope everyone had a happy InfoComm!