Small Biz Pros

by Matt Scott

Small business sales can be a blessing or a curse. I’ve been working with small businesses for years and have found that I am always amazed at what I can discover about the small business market.

You see, on one hand, I’ve got a client who is always upgrading his offices as much as possible. It’s fairly minor stuff... a flat panel display here, an IP-based phone system there. You know, standard stuff, but my client does realize that they are a professional business and a bargain-basement flat panel or phones from an office supply store just won’t cut it. To this client, it’s not only about quality of the products they use in their office but also about the perception of his business through the eyes of his customers.

On the other hand, a few months ago I had the opportunity to meet with a small business owner who was preparing to move into a new office space. Since they were moving into a new build situation, they had a desire to upgrade their existing audio system with some professional commercial audio into their offices. As I do with every client, I met with them to discuss the project and determine what they wanted to achieve and most importantly... what their budget was!

We looked at plans and talked about how they’d like to use the space. They talked about listening to different songs in different treatment rooms as well as being able to have local sources accessible in each room. All told, around 10 zones and four sources with some local source capabilities. Sounds easy right? Well it was, until I asked the most important question: “What’s your budget? What are you expecting this will cost?” This is when it got fun. Their response: “Ohh, I’d like to spend about $800 to $1,000. It shouldn’t cost any more than that, right?”

I told you it’d get fun! After I shook my head a little, I proceeded to ask the leading questions about how they arrived at their budget. I also began to explain to them what is involved in a system designed to work in the manner that they expressed they required. As per the usual, they had no idea what was involved in system like this. We came to the decision that ‘Yes’ they definitely wanted some better sound, and they’d come to their budget without any information on which to base that decision. We agreed that I’d keep budget in mind, but a $1,000 budget wouldn’t allow us to even install the most basic of systems. So I went over some design options and discussed some of the different configurations that I’d outline in a formal proposal to them. I said I’d be in touch, said thanks, that I looked forward to working with them, and went on with my day.

After meeting with the client, I knew the budget was going to be paramount on this project and most likely, the deciding factor. I know you’re all shocked! Come on, you know it, I know it—it always comes down to budget. So I worked late into the night writing up their proposal and outlining the scope of work for their offices. All the while knowing there is no way we’ll come close to hitting their budget point without some serious concessions. But as you already read, I’ve already told them that their budget is not in line with their required feature set. So as per our standard practices, I finish up the proposal showing multiple configurations and having tried as hard as possible to get remotely close to their budget point, I felt comfortable with the finalized proposal.

Here’s the REALLY fun part. Now that the proposal is complete, I can’t get the client to fit me into their schedule to meet with them and present the proposal. (Always a bad sign.) After about three weeks or so of trading emails and voicemails. I finally gave in and emailed the proposal off to them (This is more of a bad omen, not just a bad sign). All of this, only to hear back from them a week later to tell me that they purchased some residential-grade audio boxes and little speakers to attempt to provide audio throughout the building. To address the local source requirement, they decided to bring in some portable CD players to use in each room. This sounds like what we do...right? Not so much! Luckily they do realize that they do not have professional commercial audio but offered to contact us when they are ready to upgrade to proper professional sound.

So what have we learned from this:

1.) Small business is fun! It’s always full of adventure and very interesting people. But, this market is a very important part of our industry. Let’s face it, most of us are small businesses too. We need to make sure that we service this market just as effectively as we work with larger commercial projects or professional projects.
2.) No matter what your clients tell you, it always come down to budget in this market. There are many clients you will encounter who want to accomplish some great things, but those things are only so important dependent on how they affect the budget.
3.) More so than in just about any market, customer education is the most important part of your job throughout all phases of the project. From the initial client meeting to after the installation is complete, you will constantly be educating and training your client. I know this gets harped on a lot, and with good reason. As integrators, we work with this technology every day and the budget points that most small businesses work with usually that we’re specifying more entry-level technology. So just because it seems incredibly simple to us, to our clients, the daily use of this technology can seem like a very daunting task.

Let make a commitment to continue to serve the small business market place, even when things get a little frustrating like on this proposal. We still have the ability to continue to help small businesses take advantage of technology that they may have never even heard of. How do our small businesses know what technology is available to them if we don’t go tell them? So put together some products and solutions that fit into this market correctly (and don’t spec residential gear, see above!) and let’s get out there teach small business how they can increase the technology in their business!

The AVNetwork staff are storytellers focused on the professional audiovisual and technology industry. Their mission is to keep readers up-to-date on the latest AV/IT industry and product news, emerging trends, and inspiring installations.