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Hello, Hello? Can Anybody Sell?

What would happen if you built up a squad of young, eager, money-hungry college kids and trained them extremely well to sell just one compelling "thing?"


Julie Jacobson · July 7, 2011

We have such passion in our industry that I guess I assumed folks could actually sell the audio, video and other gear that makes their own hearts go pit-a-pit.

Many of them can. At least many of them can close a good deal once a client walks in the door.

But does any company in our industry have a culture of selling? I haven’t seen it.

Our collective inability to sell became clear to me after attending an outstanding - and I mean phenomenal - training session at Vivint (formerly APX Alarm), the most successful door-to-door security sales company ever. This summer alone, the Provo, Utah-based company is expected to sell more than 200,000 systems via an army of mostly 20-somethings who knock on doors, go to sleep, wake up and knock on more doors.

Before you throw up your hands and say, “Stupid Julie, that’s not us,” consider this: Those same salesmen (indeed, mostly men) are now tacking home automation onto the sale - in most cases leading off the pitch with energy management instead of security. In this case, “energy management” simply means a Z-Wave thermostat and the ability to remotely monitor and control the temperature in the house. For that, the company charges $99 for the thermostat plus a whopping $7 per month on top of the security tab ($40-plus).

Of course, this isn’t your own M.O., so try not to draw too close an analogy. The reason Vivint is so successful in selling huge amounts of security (and now automation) for a very long time is that the company is a sales organization first, and a product provider second.

I doubt the company is profitable yet. And many people object to its particular selling tactics. But you cannot deny the incredible sales machine that Vivint (and many other so-called “summer sales” security dealers) has built. In terms of revenue, it ranked No. 27 on our annual CE Pro 100 list for 2010.

How Vivint Works
Vivint recruits mostly youngish Mormon college kids who have spent two years on a mission, knocking on doors six-and-a-half days a week in a foreign land, facing rejection 99.9 times out of 100. Experienced Vivint sales managers recruit their own underlings for the most part, and train them according to the book (Vivint’s, that is), promising great financial rewards.

During the summer, Vivint unleashes these troops in carefully selected neighborhoods throughout the country. The kids knock on doors almost every day from noon until sundown. All summer long, there are competitions and pep rallies (via videoconference), more training, and fuzzy warm feelings all around.

And money. Lots and lots of money. First-timers will exceed $10,000 for the summer, with the norm being over $20,000. The veterans can make over $50,000, with top sales managers earning six figures - not to mention free room and board for the summer. They go back and share this great opportunity with friends, who sign on for the next summer.

This probably seems extreme, even unsavory, to many CE pros, and it’s unclear how profitable Vivint’s model can be, given the many years it takes to break even on a sale.

Lessons for CE pros
But what can CE pros learn about it? Having a well-oiled sales machine works! What would happen if you built up a squad of young, eager, money-hungry college kids and trained them extremely well to sell just one compelling “thing” like a wireless multiroom audio system or a $199 “cable cleanup” service? Pay the kids a bucket of money - just enough for your company to break even.

What do you get? A huge number of new customers for life (if you do it right!) that otherwise would have cost you thousands of marketing dollars to obtain. And you get it basically for free.

You also get an algorithmically growing number of people (salespeople and potential customers!) talking about your company.

And one other great thing: You get an opportunity to evaluate some young talent that can be your next generation of superstar sellers.



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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at julie.jacobson@emeraldexpo.com

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