Not to long ago I was in a series of meetings with fellow AV professionals from throughout the industry. These meetings are not only great for accomplishing our tasks, but they are also invaluable to network and talk through issues facing the industry and receive pointed feedback from different perspectives. One of the topics we found ourselves discussing over dinner and drinks one night was “how do you [as consultants, integrators, or end users] decide what type of gear to spec into a specific install when all the product specifications are similar, if not the same?”
This is a question that is very prevalent in the industry today, and can further be extrapolated to “How do you [customers and end users] select an integration partner when price and proposals are similar, if not the same?” The answer from everyone around the table was simple, straightforward, and surprising: service and support.
Think about that for a second.
It wasn’t loyalty. It wasn’t whichever company’s rep took me out to the nicest dinner. It was the quality and the timeliness of the service and support the manufacturer (or integrator) offers.
The quality of your service, the timeliness of your support, and the friendliness of your technicians can be the make-or-break in winning bids and selling products. But it’s not only that. An easy way to boost your sales, from a manufacturing standpoint, is to improve the quality of the support you offer. I remember, vividly, from my time as a technology manager having the quality of support being a defining factor for what gear I bought. If a device was going to be difficult to install, program, or configure, knowing that I could reach out to the support department and get a live person who was first and foremost interested in resolving my issue, instead of knowing how much product I had bought, or what my current service level agreement was (or how much I spent in extended warranty and support). Now that I work as an application engineer for a manufacturer and work closely with the tech support team, I know how closely quality support correlates with repeat business and increased sales. It’s such a simple concept, an easy way to boost profitability, yet it often goes ignored in favor of selling expensive, often under-utilized maintenance contracts.
So, let me spell this out for all manufacturers: invest in your people in support to maximize your sales. It’s not revolutionary, but it is important. Here are some low-cost ways to bolster sales through support:
Not every company has a staff of design engineers or sales engineers, but training your support personnel to be able to offer sales and design support to your manufacturer reps and your sales managers is invaluable. Poor or sloppy design work can cause a significant portion of equipment sold to come back as "unsatisfactory" or "doesn’t perform as intended." There’s no money in returns, unless you count minimal restocking fees.
Products that aren’t easy to set up, configure, or integrate cost companies money. Bottom line, integrators (just like manufacturers) are in the business to make money, and one of the things that eats into their profit margins and subsequently causes installations to run long (ruining customer perception of the product) can be devices that take unnecessarily long to configure and are poorly supported. As a customer, I loved buying one particular brand of switcher/control/DSP because I knew anytime I had an issue–even if it was during install and configuration–I could call the support line and within 20 minutes someone would be looking at my screen, validating my configuration, or cleaning up my sloppy setup work. Now that is valuable.
Comprehensive Training Programs
Whether you’re a manufacturer or an integrator, this is a simple way to boost sales and win the trust and loyalty of your customers. Manufacturers offering a comprehensive training program is a great way to educate the dealers that sell and install your product: ensuring that the equipment gets specified into applications in which it will work, not applications for which it wasn’t designed. Similarly, integrators offering trainings, or road shows (which anecdotally, I’m finding are a lot more prevalent than a few years ago) are a way to set apart your company as an industry leader. A hands-on approach to content marketing, if you will. Sure, it may cost money up front, but it is sure to result in increased loyalty and first-time sales down the road.
Before you write off your tech support and service team as “just the weird guys who answer the phones,” take a long, hard, look at how you can use these existing resources to maximize sales. Mike Brandes is a former university technology manager and currently an applications engineer for a leading AV manufacturer. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBrandesAV or his personal blog mikebrandesav.com.