My Love-Hate Relationship with Digital Signage

By Jimi Gonzalez

The Digital Signage Expo was in Las Vegas last week and I decided to go. Prior to my arrival, I should explain that there was a bit of an internal struggle that led to registration procrastination followed by a poor attempt at gaining press credentials that ended with a very nice rep sneaking me into the show with someone else's badge. To the owner of my borrowed badge, I apologize in advance for all the marketing materials you are about to receive, but you could win an iPad.So, why all the drama? It's because Digital Signage and I have had a difficult relationship. I was introduced to Digital Signage before it even had a proper name and, after it was given a name, I waited for this "next big thing" to bring buckets of business. I sat through countless meetings where very smart people talked about how advertising revenue was going to pay for the hardware, software, and installation of their very large rollouts. It would turn out that advertising plus lots of venture capital funding was never enough. I sold software and hardware from companies that weren't around when it was time to install the second location. I worked closely with manufacturers only to have them make deals direct. Oh, it's been ugly.

So, perhaps you can understand why I was reluctant to spend an afternoon at a Trade Show devoted to Digital Signage. But as a Systems Integrator, you can't hold grudges against technology. After all, Digital Signage is maturing; we no longer have to sell the concept, only the solution. As a solution, it is our basic disciplines; displays, players, distribution, and management. It's custom and creative, just like our most fun and exciting projects. Unfortunately, it is still missing some badly needed industry standardization, but it looks like that is on the way.

My objective at the show was to better understand the current landscape of Digital Signage players. I'm not expecting to sell a national roll-out for a nationwide supercenter or fast food chain, but I need a solution to offer my customers when they are ready for Digital Signage. I saw a lot of things that I liked. Players that are solid state appliances so I don't have to worry about hard drive crashes and Windows updates. There were software interfaces that were clean and simple, so that customers can create and manage their own networks without extensive training. I also checked out a lot of great display technology such as LED pixel bricks and transparent LCDs that made me think creatively about projects and applications outside of Digital Signage. Did I mention there was 3D? There was so much 3D, there were companies exhibiting that even had "3D" in their name.

All of these memories of the Wild West days of Digital Signage made me think about some of the unique things I learned about its sales process. So, rather than closing my blog with more of my Digital Signage Charlie Sheen style rant, I've listed some of these lessons below:

Be patient - Digital Signage has an extremely long sales cycle. Take the longest open opportunity on your Sales Forecast and double it. Seriously.

Be prepared - You'll sell to the executive level, but along the way you'll meet with seemingly everyone in an organization; marketing, IT, facilities, construction, and operations. You need to be prepared to speak intelligently to each of them and understand their involvement, concerns and how they can ultimately help or sabotage your sales opportunity. Also, remember that the Marketing VP isn't going to think your marketing ideas are brilliant, so don't act like you're Don Draper.

I hope you like Demos - There will be lots of demos, there's usually a pilot program, and you better be sure the manufacturer you are pushing has a good product and is ready to support you.