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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.

Create Your Dream Team

"A good team makes all the difference to any company. Team building can at times be a daunting task but it can be achieved with good leadership skills." –Kashmira Lad, Buzzle.com

A down economy can be an opportune time to strengthen the team. Savvy contractors can take advantage in a number of ways: acquire a respectable yet troubled company; hire a star employee laid off from a competitor; begin cross-training; and start delegating.

Keeping the team strong, though, requires excellent communication. Don't go silent during rough times; employees become skittish and start looking elsewhere. "Strong leadership communicates to everyone, consistently and confidently, telling it like it is but stressing the positives along the way," says Lemke.

Wilson adds: "The best story I've heard is about a company that has a 10-minute coffee meeting every day. At 8:30 a.m. no matter what, they get together. That's all it takes."

Employees are your best sales and marketing conduits. Use them. "In every way, shape, and form that your business comes into contact with your prospects and customers, it is performing a marketing function–good or bad," explains Jantsch. You must look at all of your customer touchpoints and turn them into positive, brand-building opportunities."

Those touchpoints may even come in surprising places. ALTEL Systems focuses on the end of the project, an often-overlooked marketing and support opportunity. "When a job is done, there is a sense of let's get out of here, let's move on, that is the nature of the business," says Musci. "But frankly, that is a critical point for the client. It's the point where you need to be most attentive, training them, and making sure they are happy with what they have. It's a good time for attention to detail and hand-holding."

Take the Opportunity to Grow

"Companies that achieve breakthrough performance don't batten down the hatches during tough times–they look for the opportunities that tough times inevitably bring. If you didn't go crazy and load up on debt during the good times, you may be in a position to really take advantage of the current downturn." –Keith McFarland, founder of consulting firm McFarland Strategy Partners, in BusinessWeek

Matthew Loveland, vice president sales and marketing for South Western Communications in Indiana, says nothing is going to stop Baby boomers from aging, so health care markets can only increase. And Nelson says houses of worship and education still look good. Matt Dlouhy, president of Communications Engineering Co. in Iowa, says, because they work in security and efficiency-saving technologies, the company typically sees increased business during down economies.

Other opportunities to watch: The Gartner Group predicts telepresence will replace more than 2 million airline seats, per year, by 2012. Meanwhile, Gartner expects to see technology spending increase this year in the utility, health care, and government markets.

Many expect state and national legislation to stimulate some AV business segments. But note: stay ahead of the curve. Remain alert to legislation. Know precisely when and how money becomes obtainable. Know before your competition knows, and know before your customers know. You can be the first one in the customer's door bearing interpretations and suggestions.

Now is also a good time to explore new opportunities. Digital signage companies, for example, are expanding to include content creation. A general AV company may push service contracts.

Expanding, however, must be done carefully. It can't be an act of desperation. It has to be done with the same reserve it would have taken to enter a new market five years ago. An integrator can best expand using the same business processes, same vendors, with minimal disruption to the organization.



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