The Decision Makers: Investing In High-End AV

“If we could only get to the real decision maker” is a phrase so often heard in the sales process. There’s truth in the lament because, more often than not, purchasing decisions are made by the people who will never use the systems we supply. Inherent in the comment is our desire to supply something superior to what was requested.

I suppose I should explain. We recently had two projects in design at the same time. One was for a large multi-room corporate flagship facility and the other a rich guy’s playroom.

An owner’s intent is often easily discerned when the video system is initially discussed in detail, due to the huge extremes in pricing that video often involves. There can be a 10-to-1 ratio in cost for systems that are reasonably similar, depending on the technology selected.

Thus, it came as a bit of a surprise when the 12k lumen “real 4K” three-chip DLP laser projector was “way too expensive” for a multi-billion-dollar corporation to install in a high-profile area, but was quickly agreed upon by a homeowner.

The corporate buyer went with the $20k projector; the home buyer went for the $200k-plus projector. A $60k projection screen was fine for his playroom, while we settled on a $6k screen for the corporate application. The audio system was no different. Nor were the acoustic, lighting or control systems. All were of significantly higher performance qualities and expense in favor of the home buyer.

Our CEDIA brethren undoubtedly have known of this dichotomy for years, and are probably having a nice laugh right now. According to the numbers, roughly 10% to 12% of their installations are termed “high-end residential (HER)” customers.

Such HER customers are typically male, ranging from 35 to 55, generally single with no children, and often have money acquired by starting or managing privately held technology companies. Turns out there’s more to this than just a general testosterone effect, and the group cannot be dismissed easily.

Many HER buyers actually understand that you do “get what you pay for” far better than corporate buyers for whom accountancy is driving the decision-making process. Some companies “wall off” their decision makers with corporate buyers, even when they don’t want to be shielded.

It is not uncommon for HER customers to understand the return on technology and the differences far better than corporations, where accountants are making the decisions between technological approaches.

Equally, some HER customers use technology in their home systems as a temporary cocoon, refuge or buffer from the stressful world. They become annoyed when they see lesser technologies in their work environments. They also understand the value of technology because that’s where they made their money.

So there you have it. Technological development for years was driven by the American corporate world, but those days are over. The role has been usurped to some degree by the young and wealthy entrepreneurs. Today, more often than not, they are international entrepreneurs.

On one hand, you have a far more accessible decision maker with perhaps less technological sophistication on the corporate side. On the other, you have a rich, smart group of individuals who are difficult to access for a typical high-technology sale, but who understand the value of technology and are willing to invest in it.

Almost every HER customer wants to talk about his or her first set of “real” speakers. I bonded with one customer who was so proud of his Acoustat electrostatic speakers early in his career. My favorites were Quads, but I knew the strengths and weaknesses of both types because I had worked in a dealership that sold both back in the day. The point is, we disagreed on many things, but knew our hearts were both in the same place and we could come to a design agreement eventually, based on our mutual appreciation for technology.

The same can be said of video projectors or flatpanels. Everyone recalls the day they unpacked their first impressive video system in their own home. They remember fiddling with manufacturers’ recommended settings to get a perfect picture. And no one in this industry can forget seeing their first 2K image or their first 4K large-screen projection.

The point is that others who have climbed the technological ladder understand the progression and are willing to make the financial commitment to more expensive technology (just like you once did) and those moments are bondable.

Opening the door on the corporate side can be a challenge, but there are ways around it. One suggestion is to provide two separate proposals to corporate buyers: one that meets their functional expectations and a higher one that might prove more emotionally satisfying to the intended users. No doubt, there are some HER types in every organization who might take notice!

The same process can be said for recalcitrant customers from either side of the aisle. A second proposal never hurts. It just requires a little more planning and work from you.

Recognize that people outside the typical readership of this magazine are starting to examine the capabilities and resources we as a group possess. It’s not a closed shop for those on the free subscription list any longer.

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