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Avoiding AV Sticker Shock

Systems integrators continue to be challenged by potential clients wowed by AV technology, only to be humbled by price.

In the syllabus for Salesmanship 101, managing expectations is near the top. And for companies trying to sell high-tech AV solutions, it's vital. Build up your prospect's expectations too high, and you may pay a steep price when your price is over budget. “If you present a Cadillac and they can only afford a Chevy, the memories of the Cadillac solution you presented that they couldn't afford will linger longer than the price they paid for the Chevy solution,” says Brent Stark, director of sales for Audio Video Resources, a systems integrator based in Phoenix.

Though often difficult, sales reps have to get a feel for what prospects can spend. “Expectations are created at the first client meeting,” he says. “If they aren't discussed and refined, you'll run into problems later.”

All systems integrators need to gauge a prospect's needs, wants, and wherewithal early on. Only then can a proper proposal be crafted and the chance for sticker shock and its byproducts avoided. Here are a few ways to make that happen.

  • Probe. If they're not willing to give a ballpark budget figure, look for other clues. An example: Stark says one client characterized a modest $12,000 conference table as a big expenditure. “On that basis we determined the $50,000 AV system proposal we were eyeing was going to be a lot of money for them,” he says.
  • Offer options. Come in with tiered solutions along the lines of “good,” “better,” and “best.” Kendall Self, operations manager for Ace Sound, Tulsa, OK, says offering one solution at one price can close the door prematurely. “Forty percent each usually choose the low or medium option, while 20 percent go with the most expensive,” he says.
  • Don't wing it. Accurately estimating a job and coming up with a number that won't scare the prospect away or concede too much early on is key. HB Communications, Waltham, MA, has developed a detailed job database to help in the process. “I try to get an idea of the applications they're looking for early on and then I consult the database to find projects we've done that have similar specs,” says Ron Agnello, a sales rep/account executive with HB Communications.
  • Separate wants from needs. It's critical to understand what the prospect wants to achieve. Without knowing that, it's easy to get wrapped up in crafting a solution that has too much glitter, and too high of a price.
  • Gauge if the prospect is tech savvy. “Most who aren't all that savvy fail to grasp the concepts,” Agnello says. “So when I initiate conversations I try to be very clear as to how we're going to do the project and what's involved. It helps reassure them and demonstrates the value of what we're proposing.”
  • Emphasize your skill. Although dollars and cents are still the bottom line for most AV systems buyers, some will pay up for quality. Early on, play up the necessity of having the system specified, installed, and serviced properly. “Anyone can give something away,” Stark says. “It takes skill to balance client wants and needs with your profitability.”



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