Thoughts on InfoComm AVEC

This was probably the most intellectually challenging educational business conference I have ever attended. Congratulations and Thank-you to InfoComm, the Event Staff, host David Nour, and all the presenters and panelists for a wonderful, thoughtful event. I learned a lot. So much so that it has taken me two days to just sort out my initial reactions. I met a lot of great folks and spent time with good friends. But there were all these people talking up on the stage. What was that all about?

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Events like InfoComm’s AV Executive Conference are tough on us introverts. We tend to avoid large groups and therefore often miss the opportunity to crowd-source knowledge. While there is no great advantage to sitting in a ballroom to learn, applying new information with folks you don’t know is always enlightening. Introverts, especially the left-brained, engineering types that are drawn to AV tend to build models in our heads. As AVEC presenter Dr. Yves Pigneur pointed out, we fall in love with our first idea. I’m guilty. It is only by witnessing a roomful of peers being equally un-clever that we see the true ramifications of what I call “bubble-think”. Here’s what I learned about my friends in the industry.

Integrators learned at last year’s AVEC that they need to worry about IT invading their space, but the real issue seems to be that so many Integrators are stuck in an out of date business model centered on product sales that they cannot see emerging market opportunities. Instead, they see competition all around. Some even consider Distributors to be their competition. Hoo boy! The “Sell Service” battle cry has bypassed much of the industry. “Margins on equipment are so LOW!” – Who cares? Make money somewhere else already! AVEC helped with a new model for evaluating and applying business ideas.

Rental-Stagers – the Live Event guys – often believe that their businesses are unique and therefore universal business constructs don’t apply to them. “You just don’t understand…” Hmmph. If rental folks spent less time re-inventing the wheel, maybe they could focus on discovering services that customers need and will pay for instead of battling for crumbs on price-driven projects. AVEC helped by bringing in David Goldsmith to remind us to not to act like an expense. Behave like an asset.

Manufacturers have to follow the money. Dealers – Integrators and Rental-Stagers – are still huge customers, but End Clients, Design Consultants, and Distributors are more influential today. What’s a sales extrovert to do? Work multiple fronts? If so, you better tailor your messages for all those customer segments instead of hoping one marketing plan works for all. AVEC to the rescue with examples on how successful products go to market.

And I have to ask this every time I attend an industry event, why do so many folks think that the rest of the world is competing against them anyway? Heck, if the CEO of the most successful AV company in the world stood on stage and told us all their secrets, most of the audience would dismiss those ideas out of hand. I saw so many people reluctant to share something about their companies that they undermined their own opportunity to learn. Give it a break folks. Your competitors don’t have time to execute their own ideas. When are they going to copy yours?

My cynicism aside, AVEC is a wonderful and important event that needs to be experienced by more folks if we hope to drag all of us Neanderthal thinkers into the 21st Century. InfoComm is making a pretty darn good effort at bringing a higher level of thinking to AVEC attendees. The content was top-notch. David Goldsmith is one the great thinkers in business today, and he certainly dumped a dose of “get over yourselves” on the room. His message about stop thinking like an expense and start acting like a benefit resonates with me and will become part of my conversation with clients going forward. It also reinforces why Dealers needs to disassociate themselves from products and focus not just on services, but outcomes. Think: ROI.

The other major “Ah ha” moment (ok, it took about six hours, as we were slow to embrace) was the aforementioned Dr. Yves Pigneur and the Business Model Generation tool. “You mean to tell me that what customers want should affect our Value Propositions?” All kidding aside, what a great methodology for constructively considering the possibilities, vetting good ideas to discover better ones, and connecting the dots all through an organization. I keep thinking of how many failed initiatives would have been saved by this system (or killed off sooner). Thanks AVEC!

Finally, the AVEC Master’s Program is a brilliant idea designed to help leaders continue their journey after the conference ends. The nine-month program builds on the lessons from the conference and in particular helps members develop their ideas using the Business Model mapping system presented by Dr. Pigneur and reinforced by a panel of users. I am excited for the companies that choose to join this group.

As an event, AVEC was well-constructed if not a little too over-packed with content. We could have used more unstructured time in directed groups, but isn’t that always the complaint? The meeting production values were just below average. The Rental-Stagers all noted the poor poor choices on audio, screen placement, and lighting. “You get what you pay for” was muttered on several occasions. On the other hand, the content was stellar. Top-notch talent brought their A-game to a sometimes unwilling audience. The facility, food, and planning were darn near flawless. For those of you that were “too busy” to attend this year: what have you learned?

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