AV Sales: Building Relationships and Managing Expectations
Type: Article, Report or Whitepaper
Topics: Marketing and Sales; Project Management
Date: February 2012
AV Sales: Building Relationships and Managing Expectations
By Bradley A. Malone, PMP
This is the fourth in an ongoing series of project management articles by InfoComm University™ instructor Brad Malone.
Many of the AV integration companies I’ve worked with have employed a range of sales strategies and styles. But overall, their approaches come down to this: short-term sale (hunt and kill it) versus long-term relationship (nurture and grow it).
Both approaches could be effective in generating significant revenue (some of the companies didn’t track profit per job), but the short-term sales person seemed to have to work a lot harder repairing relationships, whereas the long-term sales person spent considerable effort building a relationship. So I’d like to describe some of the best salespeople I’ve seen from some of the best companies I’ve worked with.
The best salespeople I’ve met have a firm understanding of the vision, mission, values and ethics of their company. These underpinnings form the basis of their sales process and are used as differentiators, as well as a guarantee of quality. The message: “This is who we are; this is what we do; you can trust us and here’s a list of other clients that have and continue to do so.”
Some readers will scoff at this as just a bunch of fancy words, but the best companies have proven, through surveys and discussions, the importance of aligning their business processes with their vision, mission, values and ethics. An integral part of any sales process is establishing credibility and integrity. Showing clients that you measure not only the quality and professionalism of your implementation and service, but also your adherence to your vision, mission, values and ethics, gives them the confidence that you care and that you’ll be there for the long haul.
Good salespeople care about and validate the purpose of the project with the client, which is much different than selling equipment to fill a room. The best salespeople want to understand what the client is truly after — productivity, efficiency, lower maintenance costs, ease of use, flexibility — and they align their conversations and their proposals to meet those long-term needs. They also regularly contact clients of past projects to find out if their needs have been met.
Often, this process means talking to more than just the buyer. And sometimes the buyer doesn’t like it. But, of course, the people who ultimately use and maintain the system do like the communication. Does it take extra time and initiative on the part of the salespeople? You bet. Is it worth it? They sure think so — especially when their repeat business and referrals grow.
Top salespeople are aware of the billing and invoice cycle and make a call around commissioning time to remind the client that they’ll be contacted a month after commissioning to verify that the purpose of the project is being achieved.
The best salespeople I’ve met use a site-survey process for educating the client. Most clients don’t understand the complexity of installing an audiovisual system, especially in an existing space or facility configuration. Some clients neither care nor want to learn, and there are salespeople who’ve learned to give those clients to other AV integrators. But making your client aware of the challenges and constraints helps educate them so that they understand their role in the project — especially when changes happen during implementation.
Using a site survey also demonstrates a company’s professionalism and it serves to mitigate unnecessary risks to both your client and your company — and people respect that. In situations where the good salesperson is unable to conduct a site survey, he/she sends the site survey form to the client to fill out. Again, this process serves to educate the client about the complexity of systems implementation. Salespeople who don’t have the time or energy to conduct site surveys often create unrealistic expectations (“happy talk”) that cannot be met by the project’s implementation teams — or worse create ill will when the project goes awry.
Top salespeople employ a comprehensive scope-of-work document, not just a bill of materials with a price tag. They ensure that the client has read and understands the scope of work. Many projects suffer because the primary players (sales, client, project manager, client manager, etc.) never read (and sometimes never even see) the scope of work. (More on the scope of work in a future article).
They also facilitate kick-off meetings (both internal and external) to ensure that expectations are clarified, key stakeholders identified and introduced and ground rules for communicating everything from status reports and change orders to final sign-off and billing are established. An external, client-based kick-off meeting is also an opportunity to conduct a field-verification audit, especially if a site survey can’t be conducted. If the successful salesperson is unable to attend in person, they are definitely on the phone.
They’re Team Players
The best salespeople support the project manager when issues arise and changes occur. They follow — in a timely manner — the change-order procedures outlined in the scope of work. I’ve met many salespeople who’ve said, “I’m the client’s advocate” or “I’m the voice of the client.” To which I always ask, “Which logo is on your paycheck?”
I’ve also found that setting up a good cop-bad cop routine with the PM, although it may save the client money and make the salesperson look good, ultimately ruins the credibility of the salesperson with respect to their project managers and technicians. And it hurts the credibility of the company as a whole because it doesn’t reflect well on the company’s integrity (see “They’re Credible”).
They Follow Up
Finally, the best salespeople I’ve met send a survey to the key client stakeholders (and may also place several phone calls) to determine how well their company did in several key areas:
- Managing expectations throughout the project
- The professionalism of the installation team (project managers, technicians, etc.) and company support staff (accounts receivable, service, etc.)
- Making the installed system usable
- The alignment of the company with its vision, mission, values and ethics
This survey process closes a loop that began at the initial sales meeting. It offers an opportunity to improve and grow the relationship, and provides valuable information that can be used for future sales opportunities. I’m often surprised at how many companies rarely or never ask their clients how a project went or what they thought of the company’s professionalism. And some never use the information, even when it’s given, to help them in subsequent sales.
Of course, even the best approaches to selling AV systems and service may not guarantee a successful sale or a satisfied client. But they do create the opportunity to build a respectful, professional relationship with a client base that will ultimately garner greater client satisfaction, more referrals and more follow-on business.
Bradley A. Malone, PMP, is an InfoComm instructor and president of Twin Star Consulting, an organizational excellence and program management consulting company serving multiple industries. He holds the Project Management Professional (PMP®) designation from the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is one of PMI’s highest-rated instructors. Please share your thoughts with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.