Small businesses need help connecting to the AV industry.
Not many years ago, I joined a brand-new, state-of-the art live-events facility as its technical director. The space was brilliantly outfitted with a very expensive and thoughtful AV integration—I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with the system.
Unfortunately, it only took me a few hours to feel the results of a major communication gap between the business owners and the AV integrators. I could not plug in a mic due to a lack of XLR cables. Here I was surrounded by a freshly installed and tuned multi-million dollar system, and, somehow, I was still running out to the nearest record store to purchase cables to get through the night. How was that possible? Why didn’t anyone sell them XLR cables?
Since then, I have worked with several small businesses and non-profit organizations that have extensive AV integrations and exhibit a need for ongoing, reliable AV services that will help them to maintain and update their installations as they grow. However, building these lasting relationships with the AV industry is difficult for small businesses as there is no direct route to quality, affordable AV consultation for small businesses and non-profit organizations.
Any organization with $100,000 can hire an integrator and build an AV system. Unfortunately, once the integrator leaves the job site, owners are often left without a manual, without a maintenance schedule, and without any idea about what the buttons do. Businesses will spend all of their capital on the design and installation of the system without planning for the ongoing costs associated with the service contracts that keep their integrators engaged with their projects.
Likewise, they are not normally staffed with end users who have knowledge about how to run or maintain an AV system. These responsibilities often end up being passed around the organization, falling into the laps of either the Creative Department that produces the content, or the part-time IT person, or whatever Side-Job-Saturday person the organization can get a hold of to take oversight over the system.
Although well-intentioned, none of these characters are likely to possess the insight, skill set, or contacts needed to fully maintain the integrity of a complex system.
AV is a team sport. The systems are intricate and require a diversity of talent for deep troubleshooting and system health management. It is very rare to meet a single individual who can design, build, source, program, install, run, and maintain a system alone.
But, for the sake of affordability, that is exactly what an entire community of potential clients are trying to do. These potential clients are ready, willing, and able to invest in their communication infrastructure and they want to become customers but without exposure to the industry, they do not know where to turn.
Figuring out how to reach out to these customers and meet them where they are would solidify the value and reputation of AV service as a standard business necessity—and not an unobtainable luxury service, reserved for billion-dollar businesses.
It would be worth the effort for the AV Industry to reach these markets with easily purchased solutions that are intuitive enough for end-user configuration. Users will still call on us for assistance and upgrades, but building the trust for a new level of clientele in today’s environment requires empowering the users to run their systems the way they want to.
Pair this accessibility with a focus on clear, clean communication with buyers and users. AV integrators and manufacturers have to listen to the specific needs of small businesses and design solutions that specifically address those needs, and are neither high-end consumer solutions nor tiny versions of enterprise solutions. AV solutions work best when made to measure.
While pret-a-porter fabrications will build dependence, the ideal relationship with small clients is based in confidence. We want to be confident that they know what they are dealing with and they want to be confident that they have what they need—including someone who will help them with it when they cannot figure it out. Meeting these clients where they are is a matter of communicating in language they understand and bringing the customer along as they learn more and more about their system.
The industry wins in this deal as well. Creating relationships with these historically do-it-yourself businesses will expose the industry to competent, creative end users who represent the owners. These end users have the ability to heavily influence purchasing decisions and will be loyal customers to integrators and manufacturers who have the ability to understand their needs and help them solve their problems.
There is even opportunity for the industry to build strong relationships with the lone wolf end users found in these spaces. They could be leveraging these as occasions for training and experimental implementations to raise the next generation of problem-solvers and solutions. More than a few could even make the transition from customer to colleague, and bring their own inventiveness directly to the industry.
Integrators hold the key to closing this gap. By creating business units that are specifically focused on fostering relationships with small businesses, these companies can represent small business clients’ needs to manufacturers and facilitate a conversation that leads to innovation for these spaces.
Integrators are also well positioned to carefully oversee owner’s design and purchasing processes to point out future pitfalls that the business may want to protect itself from with extended service or internal hiring.
Most importantly, they are the salespeople who understand how a business plans to use the system they are installing and can advise them on how to manage it going forward.
Rachael Harris is speaking at the 2020 AV/IT Summit on the Stop. Collaborate. And Listen. panel.