Having worked with corporate clients for more than 20 years, I can tell you that there's a problem that keeps happening over and over again: AV is not engaging with clients in the most meaningful and effective ways. What do I mean by meaningful and effective? I mean in a way that engages the AV vendor with the corporate client for a long-term partnership and higher-level discussions. That is the goal, isn’t it? To get higher, to elevate.
AV is a combination of technology and construction; we are the technology contractors of collaboration. It is not as simple as buying a device, connecting, and then just going, as other trades might be able to do. AV takes different devices with connectors, software, cables, brackets, etc., and uses them to construct collaborative systems that accommodate the user’s workflow and environment. It’s like putting together a Lego set, except you have to select the right pieces and sometimes test and reshape them in order to assemble a working system. With this in mind, how does AV better engage with corporate clients to convey their full value and efficiencies?
There Is More Than One Decision Maker
First and foremost, you need to know there is more than one decision-maker at corporate organizations. Many times I hear people say, “I know a guy there.” A guy? Just one? Why not a few people? Why not people in other business units? Yes, AV is often decided at the AV/IT technology manger’s level, but not always. Corporate tech teams’ roles are blending with other roles and departments. There are different business divisions and units that make their own decisions on AV tech. I know what you’re thinking: what if you upset your main contact because they feel you are going around them? So don’t! Ask for permission, ask for direction … just ask. This helps your contact become the liaison and perhaps the champion for their colleagues in solving their AV problems. If you ask and they say, “That’s not me” or “I don’t know,” then you have indirect permission to explore on your own.
Engagement Is Not Just for Sales
Most of the time, salespeople are the front line of an AV company. Now—and most especially now—everyone has to be prepared to take the front line with the salesforce. By everyone, I mean vice presidents and executives of key departments like finance, operations, and service. Engineers, project managers, technicians—they are already there.
Corporate understands that successful long-term relationships require key team managers to oversee the delivery of the promises, commitments, and/or solutions that sales prescribe. Just like your corporate clients have to collaborate in-house to deliver to their internal clients, they expect the same of their vendors. Some clients are not so effective, and this is where an AV vendor can show them the way.
Presentation Is Key
Now, in the age of COVID-19, presentation is key. Since most meetings are now virtual, your presence and content will be crucial to keep engagement. AV teams traditionally meet in person with clients; they do not often use virtual tools, and they rarely know how to use them well enough to be engaging. However, corporate clients do. They assist and train their end users to enable them to meet virtually with their clients and supply chains successfully, and often. Some virtual meeting tips:
1. Have a Strong Network – Hate when someone’s video and audio cuts out? Well, so does your corporate client. They do make allowances, but show them you are up to the task. Get situated wherever you are with a consistently working network.
2. Learn the VMR – Whether you are using Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, Zoom, Google Meet, or another communications platform, learn how to use its functions. There are online trainings for all these tools. Take them, and then practice, practice, practice. No, they do not all function the same way.
3. Content Is Your Friend – Have some sort of presentation, whether it be PowerPoint, a video clip, or a demo. If your meeting does not require that, then make sure you always have your video on. Allow your clients to see you and engage somehow.
4. To the Eye of the Beholder – Be neat in appearance. Whether at home or in person, be well groomed—no ZZ Top beards. If you have to have a beard, clean it up. Dress like your client. You will never go wrong with a suit, but if you’d prefer not to wear one, mirror your client’s work attire to effectively assimilate to their culture and gain trust.
Can We Just Talk?
Don’t sell to them; talk to them. Get a deeper engagement to understand more of their pain, to learn more about their business entity, to give them back more of their time. The more you know about your client and their business, the more opportunity you have to find other areas where you can support them.
I worked with a client who had 100-plus business entities that made their own decisions (read: had their own budgets). It was hard for the shared services team to provide a streaming solution that matched all their business units’ needs. So I did my own R&D expedition, with permission, and came back to the table with a data report they never had before. With that, I developed a catalog of three flavors of streaming applications available to all their business units.
I also developed more meaningful relationships in which they understood I wasn’t trying to sell them; I was trying to solve for them. By just talking to them periodically and doing check-ins, I created more time for them, less work, and solved a problem. Now how good did that make them feel?
Be Easy to Do Business With
What drives a corporate client berserk is a vendor that is hard to do business with. If Corporate Client A needs a room implemented in six to eight weeks, and it takes four weeks to issue a purchase order, what do you do? If you do all the previous steps and discover their process for issuing orders and payments and the timespan of these business functions is not workable, then get other stakeholders in your company engaged with you and the client to help you put together a satisfactory resolution. Operations and back offices may be amenable to change. AV is all about presenting different options, so why leave it up to sales reps only?
In the end, a corporate client who sees you are willing to be flexible with alternatives will always keep you front of mind. I can’t begin to list the number of corporate clients I have worked with who complained about how the prior vendor’s people never worked with them, never understood their organization, and never called them. They used the sales rep to run interference to spare internal stakeholders the pain of talking to the client. Do you think a corporate tech manager with a decent amount of AV work will accept that for long? Would you?
Charmaine Torruella is speaking at the 2020 AV/IT Summit on The Modern AV UX panel.