Yes, huddle rooms are worth your time. Your clients are your partners, and so are your manufacturers. The sales process in AV has been inverted.
These are some of the major issues facing the industry and were the top themes at AVI-SPL’s annual sales summit, this year dubbed the “Sales Acceleration Summit,” or AVSAS for hashtag purposes.
There were two really significant changes the industry’s largest integrator made to the sales event this year: exhibiting vendors were cut nearly in half and the inclusion of the company’s design engineers. The first was part of a broader effort started a few years back to consolidate AVI-SPL’s procurement and vendor management program, and awarding “preferred” status to them. Basically, these manufacturing partners get priority in projects where appropriate. “They’ve stepped up, and we’ve stepped up with them,” stated Dale Bottcher, SVP of sales. There were 41 of them exhibiting at the AVSAS. Other vendors are still used of course when specific applications call for them, perhaps by client request or product specialization, for example.
Each and every partner I spoke with absolutely raved about this change. “There was a collective ‘yay’ when it was announced,” said Tom DeTulleo, national account manager for Sony. Since the preferred partner program was launched, Sony has experienced 60 percent sales growth from AVI-SPL. “We get a lot more attention,” and more bang for the buck, DeTulleo said, in addition to simply feeling a lot more valued. “There’s an element of real sincerity from AVI-SPL,” he said, and Sony’s sales have been reflective of this preferred status.
The slimming down of the partner exhibits at AVI-SPL's annual sales meeting had attendees more enthused and focused.
The decision to include design engineers in the sales summit was also received positively by both vendors and sales staff at AVI-SPL. It’s a direct reflection of the inversion in sales necessary to accommodate the industry’s shift to a services-centric model.
AVI-SPL is training its sales team up to lead this initiative, and the design engineers are being trained up in parallel. Then when a prospective sale starts to go down the path of ever-increasing complexity, the sales reps can bring an engineer directly into the fold. From a pre-sale support stance, “[Sales reps] can bring in the experts on the subject, the SMEs, where they can go in there and help them close those deals and really bring that expertise to our client base.” said Mark Linton, SVP of operations.
The recognition that a stark pivot in sales strategy is a model that other integrators would be prudent to take example from. As buyers have shifted more to IT professionals and generally more tech-savvy people all around, the process and the expectations follow suit. From the AV legacy side of the business, sales engineers could walk into a room, measure, and sell the parts and pieces needed, “That’s gone. We’re selling to a platform and an enterprise,” Bottcher said. “You’re really trying to understand and really adding value around, ‘do I understand the business needs of my contact; do I understand the challenges of the company they work for, and what can I do to help be a trusted advisor to help lead them through and meet the needs that they have in their business with our solutions.’
“The talk about what we’re going to do for them is sort of second. You really want to come in with some value assumptions and really start to understand their business needs and the pains that they have before you start talking product. It’s really inverted.”
AVI-SPL's executive team participated in a lively roundtable with analysts and press attending the Sales Acceleration Summit.
While the emphasis on selling services has wide acceptances conceptually, many integrators I’ve spoken to are challenged to sell them. Tim Riek, SVP of service operations at AVI-SPL, agrees, and further drove home the point of partnership with clients. “When you take that approach, and you help them solve a problem, the sale part becomes almost a non-issue,” he said. “Because at that point, you’re helping them solve a problem. It’s just a matter of framing it properly, delivering upon it, and reporting back to it in terms of how we’re performing against expectations.”
There’s also a layer of accountability that is part of this shift to services. It’s no longer about installing an AV system and moving on to the next project. “With services, you’re there. You’re there, and you’re accountable,” Riek said. We try to convey to our customers, that there are going to be problems that occur along the way, because there are so many instances of use of the technology…what we do is we stand up when there’s a problem, and we work with them to resolve the issue. That’s the tough part about services. You have to be willing to stand up and take accountability of a preferred product.”
Lastly, the huddle space is in fact an area where integrators have significant revenue opportunities; it’s not simply a downgrade from the expensive telepresence rooms of yore. [Ed. note: see how I inverted my topics???]
It’s relatively easy to bundle huddle rooms into packages of 10, and you’re looking at the cost of one boardroom. Riek noted a recent project where AVI-SPL installed 150 huddle rooms for one client. And of course, this also translates to more services. He also pointed to the opportunities in ancillary spaces: the auditoriums, training rooms, and high-end theaters. “The more we can encourage customers to consume the technology, there will be a variety of opportunities that come along with that,” Riek said. “Whether they be lower end huddle rooms or the more sophisticated spaces that complement those huddle rooms.”
Bottcher added that the demand for standardization can also turn into big opportunities, and for the most part, there’s still a need for more customized solutions on the higher level. “What we’re seeing then is you’re having more systems, more video, more UC collaborative systems everywhere. Before you would have two conference rooms on a floor, now you have 10. Granted the sophistication of the hardware and solution may be less, but you have more of it.”
Lindsey Adler is editor of SCN.