The Other Side of the Table
As an AV guy, I probably have a different perspective than most. About four years ago, I joined Advanced AV, a design/build systems integration firm located in West Chester, Pa. My background is pure IT ? I've been in computer sales, multimedia development, IT R&D, IT management, and enterprise IT. My father worked for 26 years for IBM, so I wore blue underwear when I was little ... you get the point.
AS AN AV GUY, I PROBABLY HAVE A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE than most. About four years ago, I joined Advanced AV, a design/build systems integration firm located in West Chester, Pa. My background is pure IT — I've been in computer sales, multimedia development, IT R&D, IT management, and enterprise IT. My father worked for 26 years for IBM, so I wore blue underwear when I was little ... you get the point.
I've been involved in IBM hardware beta programs and every Windows beta program prior to Vista. I've played on the bleeding edge with technologies and loved every minute, as frustrating as is it sometimes was. Although I'm quite conservative when it comes to deploying new IT technologies in my business life, I've been a closet “early adopter” with the scars to prove it.
When I entered the professional AV world, I was what you might call “consumer AV savvy.” I could hook stuff up and understand the “gazintas” and “gazoutas” just fine, but pro AV was a whole new world — a world without rules, as I would quickly find out.These guys were nuts! They were ex-roadies, musicians, engineers of all fashion, and did they have some stories! These pro AV guys thrived on the newest, latest, greatest widget they could get their hands on. Six-month product life cycles? No problem. That was their attitude.
BACK IN TIME
I'd been brought on to take the reins of a few new products that were a little advanced for the AV guys to effectively market and support, such as AxisTV, VBrick, and Mediasite. All cool products and each with its own set of IT requirements. What I soon learned was that I had been transported back in time some 15 years, back to what felt like the days of Windows 3.0 with MME 1.0. (If you know what that is, you're familiar with the hell AV pros were in when it came to hardware and software talking to each other.)
I remember thinking, “This AV stuff; there are no standards? There must be.” My whole world revolved around standards. I didn't deploy anything until it was well past version 1.0, period. Enterprise IT management is not — in any way, shape, or fashion — an early adopter of technologies, be they hardware or software. Yes, there may be strong business cases for jumping in early for some things, but in general, no way. How many of you still log into a Windows 2000 Professional desktop at the office? Many are still not even using XP yet, and that's not at all uncommon in corporate America.
Today, more and more IT executives are becoming your clients. Corporate budgets have been slashed as a result of consolidation, and in many cases AV is now just another IT department. And your top salesman, after eight years of selling to facilities managers and marcomm folks, is now sitting in front of the head IT guy. What should his approach be? Is he going to say, “Hey, I've got the latest and greatest widget, here. You're gonna love it. It has all the latest new technologies, and you can do all kinds of things with it when you plug it into the network!” Probably not the path to take with the head of IT.
Now, I'm not going to sit here and pretend to teach you how to sell. But I will say that if you want to sell to this client, you had better have someone in your company that can speak their language, know their concerns, and understand why the last meeting was cut short. I've spent the last few years helping people talk to these guys and helping them understand why IT professionals think the way they do and act the way they act — after all, I was one of them.
I've tailored presentations to answer their concerns before they have a chance to ask them. And when they do ask, I have the answers they need to hear — no bull, no fluff. If I don't know, I say “I don't have that answer, but I'll get it for you.” And I do.
These guys want to know the impact of, say, the multicast video streaming product you are suggesting they allow on their network, so you better know the answers.And rightly so, because they are responsible for business-critical applications running on their network; applications that are running the company and, if they go down, cost the company serious dollars. If you think they can't kill a project with only a few words in an e-mail to the right person, ask around, the stories are out there.
The differences between the worlds are huge. Not that they can't be overcome, they most certainly can. But it will take the right people and an effort to understand the new and changing landscape.
Understanding the IT world, looking in from the AV world, isn't as straightforward as you might think. There are vast differences in methodologies. IT execs and technicians are meticulous about how things are implemented and how technologies interact. The equipment and applications they are responsible for is proven and stable. (Well most of them, some are just too big to make an alternate choice.) The common thread — standards.
Lack of standards means chaos; AV is chaos. Knowing this and having a solution before going in front of an IT executive is like having the opposing team's defensive plays. Your job is to make order out of chaos. Know, completely and totally, how these new IT-centric AV applications interact with their world and you will win their confidence.
Understanding and explaining the business implications and ROI of the solutions you present will go a long way to gaining their trust. They want less work from less resources at lower costs. The last thing they want is more work and a headache on top of it. Having the right people on your staff interfacing with client IT is a huge step towards winning their confidence — and the deal.
Kris Vollrath is vice president of Advanced AV in West Chester, Pa. He is also an industry consultant on product development, placement, and enhancement. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.