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How to Make Money Selling More Than AV Systems

In a tough business climate, stability is key. As a result, many AV pros are focused on diversification. Their goal? Create new services or grow existing offerings in order to generate recurring, more predictable revenue, from maintenance contracts and training to content. Here's how.

Thinking it Through

So if yours is an AV integration firm like Arrow Audio and you know that growing your services business could boost revenue, what are the specifics you need to take into account? There are several elements to a service program you need to map out, and almost all of them come back to pricing. It's important you perform due diligence and take into account all costs–foreseen and potentially unforeseen–of a planned service program before it's ready for prime time. Everything from your geographical reach to the test equipment you might need will affect your costs. But the biggest consideration is human capital.

Staff planning is vital. One company, for instance, might develop a "quick response team" that takes care of smaller service and maintenance jobs, allowing the regular team of installers to stay focused on projects at hand. You also should consider how on call you want your service staff to be. Nelson says you need to think hard about whether you can/want to offer 24/7 support. Because if so, staff likely should be paid to be on call, which can have overtime implications, too.

As you might expect, the caliber of your company's service and maintenance staff needs to be high. They require good diagnostic skills, which can be different from good installation skills, and often need specialized expertise, such as the ability to handle video color calibration, time/energy/frequency analysis, or, increasingly, network troubleshooting.

Furthermore, the service staff becomes the ongoing face of the company, so they need to work well with customers. And, depending on your company, they can be a jack-of-all-trades, servicing a client's AV systems while at the same time spotting sales opportunities as they arise.

"Service technicians are typically our most senior staff with particular troubleshooting skills," Lucy says. "Good ones are hard to come by."

Of course, you won't have service contracts to staff unless you sell them, so sales planning is important, too, not just for hitting revenue targets but also for replacing service clients who drop off. Nelson says on average, across the industry, you can expect 20 percent of clients to drop their contracts at renewal time.

Other Flavors of Service

While ongoing service and maintenance is the most obvious, and in many cases the most lucrative, form of recurring AV revenue, it's not the only type of service. Training, beyond simply how to use the systems you install, can be another offering, especially if you have certain in-house expertise in a particular technology area such as videoconferencing, digital signal processing, or digital signage. Training needs can vary widely depending on the client, the venue, and the type of system, so being able to tailor courses to a particular audience is important.

In Nelson's experience, training services are highest in demand at the university level, and timing of that demand is fairly predictable–it comes at the beginning of each new school year. Nelson says K-12 training can be more difficult to schedule because logistics usually go through a central office and must then be coordinated with the school maintenance or the tech department. Even less predictable are houses of worship, which typically need training only when there is a turnover in their "media ministry."

Lucy says health care facilities are also training customers. "We sell training hours to schools for professional development and to hospitals for retraining. These are typically offered in time blocks at reduced rate or as time and material."

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