Doing Nothing Is Not an Option
For many AV companies, business remains good, thanks to a backlog of projects in the pipeline. Still, in these tough times, it's important to stay proactive by ramping up sales and marketing before the pipeline dries up. Need ideas? AV pros share their strategies.
"The best of our integrators are looking at alternative ways to get projects started sooner, or to put things in the pipeline, by offering incentives of doing work in 2009 rather than putting it off a year." –Chuck Wilson, executive director, NSCA
Today's salespeople need to be assertive, flexible, and very personal. Jeanne Stiernberg says studies show that when system contractors determine what promotions and initiatives are most effective, most answers involve face-to-face communications.
"Your competitors are having the normal 'don't travel/save-on-gas/don't buy lunch' reaction to the economy," says John Stiernberg. "If you spend the money on gas and treat to a $20 lunch instead of a $100, you are doing more than the zero most competitors are doing. It's very powerful, and it really stands out in times like these. The client says, 'Wow I appreciate that you are the only one who came to see me.'"
ALTEL Systems sees the end of a project as a good marketing opportunity. Says Andrew Musci, it's the most critical point for the client. "You need to be most attentive ... making sure they are happy."
Credit: Mat Szwajkos/Aurora Select
Bring your army, too. Take an engineer to a meeting. When the deal is signed, involve the entire company. Introduce the customer to every person with whom they will interact. The customer will feel important and the employees will take a personal interest.
When it come to writing proposals, the usual adage applies: Sell benefits, not features. Demonstrate that you understand their business–that you know what they need in normal times, and what they need right now.
Stimson says his best proposals underscore the customer's return on investment. John Stiernberg recommends modular and phased implementations to ease short-term spending constraints. And Gillenwater says a recent AVI-SPL presentation that specifically matched their experience with the client's international requirements sealed a deal.
Change Is Opportunity
"The initial–and natural–reaction to a downturn is to cut near-term costs and drive operational efficiencies. Historically, companies that flourish during a recession focus on strategic cost control while continuing to invest in service capabilities, increasing the customer experience, product innovation, and marketing." –"Identifying Opportunities for Growth in a Slowing Economy," a Deloitte white paper
Change in a down economy can start with very practical steps. Perhaps most obviously, look for ways to save money. Companies are using ground delivery instead of overnight, ordering efficiently to combine orders, renegotiating contracts such as leases, and looking for cash discounts and barter deals.
Operational efficiencies pay off, too. "An important tactic for us is doing the work one time, doing it correctly, and not having to go back," says Thomas M. Gilfoyle, vice president of operations for Ohio-based Copp Systems Integrators.
Minimizing distractions is also important. "It's easy for salespeople to get focused on the system design and overlook the fact that a customer may not have a budget this year and just wants to get some figures for next year's budget," says Brad Nelson, president of System Solutions Northwest in Kennewick, Wash.
Stimson adds you have to watch out for "courtesy quotes that only serve to justify or correct a current supplier's approach and are not in fact true open bids."
Other approaches can be less practical. NSCA's Wilson tells this story: "Someone told me they decided to do all their work at cost until the recession is over. I said he must be the only guy who knows when that will be. What would happen if this went on for two years? You're better off not doing any work than doing it with that mentality. With that mindset, every bid out there will be like that."