I’m sure that we have all heard the phrase, “The only constant is change.” As we enter a new year and reflect on the last few years that have passed, we can’t fail to see that change has certainly been constant. And, no matter how unsettling it may have been, we must deal with it. Change rarely goes away on its own. If we choose to ignore it, we do so at our own peril (both personally and professionally).
As disconcerting as change can be, change need not be an unwelcome thing. Historically, when change has come, so, too, has opportunity. But we need to be willing to open our minds to what those opportunities might be. Intransigent positions are limiting, and paradigm shifts need to be considered to take advantage of changes.
In the not-too-distant past, we in the AV industry experienced an evolutionary change from analog to digital technology. Our displays have radically changed. Our video and post-production, as well as our signal distribution and control, have evolved.
This comes among a myriad of other technological advances that have ultimately changed — and changed for the better. For society writ large, the most existence-altering changes we have experienced over the last two-plus decades surround the internet and its creation of a new, virtual world residing increasingly in the proverbial cloud.
Fueling the Change
The availability of information (i.e., big data), along with connectivity to a wealth of acquired knowledge, is fueling this change. We increasingly have this capability anywhere, any time, on any device. This, coupled with the ability to collaborate instantaneously (think IoT and UC&C), is the practical application of change and growth. Let’s face it: Information is now available at a scale our forefathers never dreamed of. This has not only changed the technologies we use but also — just as importantly for our purposes — changed the way our technologies are bought and sold.
Every year at trade shows (e.g., InfoComm, NAB, CES, CEDIA, etc.), we celebrate variations in applications of AV, IT and digital signage technologies. For decades, we have focused on the technical “toolbox” for AV integrators. While this is certainly still relevant, we have left out the other parts of the equation — namely, sales and the buyer relationship that it represents.
In the world of AV, it is all about the buyers. Today, as never before, the buyers have access to an enormous amount of information, and they possess that information long before they make a buying decision. They have internal discussions with an increasing number of stakeholders in their company before they decide to buy, and they may or may not reach out to seek the advice of a salesperson. Research shows that as much as 90% of a buying decision occurs before a salesperson is involved!
This brings to the forefront one of the most daunting challenges we face — namely, commoditization and the appearance of parity. To the casual observer, a display is a display, and a mount is a mount. But, as we all know, appearances can be deceiving, and that means mistakes can (and will) be made. It’s rare for clear differentiation to be presented online. And if there’s no salesperson to do a proper needs analysis and assessment of product appropriateness, there’s little opportunity to make the case for differentiation.
‘Do I Feel Lucky?’
If the buyer is looking at a major brand that looks (to them) identical to another major brand, the inclination is just to buy the one that’s available at the lowest price. Now consider if the major brand looks identical to one that is not well known, but whose specs look the same and whose online reviews are excellent. The key concept here is to understand the actual need of the buyer and comprehend the benefits of differentiation for both buyers and sellers. Absent this, the old “Dirty Harry” movie quote applies: “Do I feel lucky?”
Given the new market realities and the changes in buyer behavior and processes, suffice it to say that the role of the salesperson has also changed. It is no longer about simply showing up and selling the “speeds and feeds,” using technical jargon to seal the deal. If we are objective, using those old metrics and that old approach, most everyone appears the same or very similar. It is not enough just to claim you are “better.” After all, everybody claims that.
Today, the buyer requires more to decide in your favor. That “more” is differentiation! It may take many forms, but, invariably, it goes beyond the product (i.e., the solution) you are selling. The “more” requires a new sales approach. It is often said that the three feet across the table from the salesperson to the buyer is the toughest gap to bridge in a sale; it goes beyond that, though. It is the nature of what is done with that proximity that makes the difference. The nature we speak about is one of providing value in the buyer’s eyes. The key is understanding what they value. This takes a new kind of work, and one size certainly does not fit all.
With pervasive commoditization and the appearance of parity, the seller must decide if they are content with just being a vendor, thus having the built-in limitations of a transactional sale. Alternatively, they must decide if they subscribe to becoming a true partner. If so, their sales approach must undergo a paradigm shift.
Those who focus on closing the current sale, while making no attempt to build long-term relationships, are vendors. In this competitive world of parity, vendors face price objections and then offer lower prices to differentiate themselves and their offerings to make the sale. Moreover, they inevitably encounter product evaluators or purchasing agents (i.e., gatekeepers) who are intent on limiting any access to the real decision-makers in upper management.
One rung up the ladder from vendors are the AV salespeople who are best characterized as solution providers. They identify additional needs that go beyond immediate concerns or beyond those issues listed on a request for proposal (RFP). These professionals are problem solvers who, in addition to selling products and services, sell operational solutions.
Occupying the highest rung on the sales ladder are the salespeople who go beyond products and immediate solutions in the beginning and establish a “business fit” with the client. The goal is for the seller to become involved in mission-critical applications or functions; help identify critical business issues; and suggest targeted solutions that help customers increase market share, cut costs and enhance customer satisfaction. This approach addresses the new reality of the seller/buyer relationship by introducing new skills.
This is all based on truly researching and understanding the client, maintaining communication up and down the organizational ladder, and delivering an effective presentation that shows the business fit. The premise is that senior-level decision-makers are more likely to buy based on the value of what a salesperson knows about their business and them, rather than to buy based on what they know about the salesperson, their products and their services. This is tangible value beyond the product or price or a single solution.
An Essential Sales Seminar
To address the changing role of the salesperson in AV, a new, eight-hour sales seminar is being launched. It’s entitled “Sales, Your Role and the Importance of You.” It discusses impediments to new opportunities, including the appearance of parity and commodity paralysis. It explores the need for differentiation and shows conclusively that, today, the difference is you, the salesperson.
The course includes all the following:
- the history of sales
- exploring you, the salesperson
- synthesizing today’s most effective sales models
- differentiating by adding your value
- understanding customers and their personalities
- handling objections, continuances and rejections
- being productive versus being busy
- buyers, sellers and influencers
- keys to success
The changing roles of buyers necessitates a change in the way we sell to them. By making those changes, we best position ourselves to address the changing needs of the market in a meaningful manner.
The only constant is change. It’s up to us to understand it, embrace it and react to it. In the end, you will profit from it both personally and professionally.
Alan C. Brawn CTS, ISF, ISF-C, DSCE, DSDE. DCME, is the principal of Brawn Consulting. This article originally appeared on our sister publication Commercial Integrator‘s website.