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Vetting Products at InfoComm

Once again our industry's biggest event, InfoComm, is here. Now that the exhibition is bigger than ever. Columnist Kris Vollrath shares a little guidance for separating the wheat from the chaff on the show floor. Even if you're not at InfoComm this month, these pointers will help you think critically about new products and technologies before you add them to your arsenal.

Once again our industry's biggest event, InfoComm, is here. Now that the exhibition is bigger than ever, I figure it is a good time to compare notes and share with you a little guidance I've found useful in separating the wheat from the chaff on the show floor. Even if you're not at InfoComm this month, these pointers will help you think critically about new products and technologies before you add them to your arsenal.

For the purposes of a one-page column, I'll confine my thoughts to a single, new application—digital signage, one of the AV industry's hottest buzz phrases. But really, the way I approach digital signage solutions could apply to almost any category.

From all accounts, we're at the cusp of huge growth in digital signage. By some estimates, there are 800 solutions in this space. How, as a dealer, installer, or end-user, can you possibly evaluate so many solutions competing for your attention? Even if you take the top players and concentrate on those, the effort isn't trivial. What's more, you'd be doing yourself a disservice because some of the most innovative solutions aren't even in the upper echelon. As you'll see at InfoComm, digital signage is everywhere, with the Digital Signage Application Showcase and the Digital Signage Presentation Stage being just a couple of great showings on the floor.

My first words of advice, and these are for integrators new to the signage game: This is a whole new animal; it is not your traditional AV solution. Succeeding in digital signage will require a number of disciplines—AV, networking, computers, graphic design, and video editing. You may have a few of them covered well, but covering all of them takes a serious, conscious effort. Hire people with the required skills and the ability to talk about all aspects of the solution with your clients. Dealers that dabble in digital signage will not succeed.

Now follow me onto the show floor. You're looking for the latest digital signage or other AV products. Remember, no single solution will satisfy every client. But when you approach a booth, follow these steps and you'll be on your way to a careful, thorough evaluation.

1. The Solution Demonstration. Your first experience with a solution and its provider should be a comprehensive demonstration. Because you're at an event like InfoComm, this step should be easy because all the players you want to engage should be represented. Find someone from the vendor's sales arm and pay close attention to how the solution demonstrates. Don't look for an overview or “quick look” at the technology. At some point, you or your sales team may be doing the exact demo, so watch how they show off the solution's capabilities and ask what makes it different from the others.

I've been through demos that have made my head spin—and I've seen a lot of solutions. If I'm confused (or you're confused), what will clients feel when we demonstrate to them? In short, see the whole solution, understand the differentiators, and keep a client's perspective.

2. The Reseller Proposition. This is the “What's in it for me?” step. More than likely, this conversation will move you up the chain at the solution provider. Most have a channel partner representative, or maybe a vice president or an owner who gets involved here. That's good because that's the level you need to be talking to at this point. This is when you need to understand how they deal with you, the front-line representatives of their product. You need to understand what's expected from you—demonstration buy-in, dealer training requirements, sales commitments. And you'll no doubt have a discussion about reseller discounts. Some vendors have a sliding scale based on annual sales numbers. Others have registration programs to protect the reseller first introducing a solution to clients.

There are many costing programs used by solution providers to differentiate them from the rest, so listen closely. If you're new to digital signage, for instance, you will no doubt rely on their support teams for pre-sales and post-sales support. Make sure their model is structured that way and that the company is committed to such services.

When it comes to demonstration equipment or software, most vendors have requirements and it's your responsibility to build out a full solution. You should really consider two demonstration solutions: one full install in the office and another that can be kitted and taken to clients. That may not always be possible due to the complexity of the solution. In which case, the demo room is a must. To sum up step two: Understand vendors' expectations of you, understand their support structure, and understand the demonstration requirements.



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