Audio Is The One Thing Your Don’t Want Customers To Remember

Using your customer’s recall to win their business

From Rental & Staging Systems September 2008

By Tom Stimson, CTS

My longtime audio engineer friend uses a saying “Everybody knows two jobs, theirs and audio.” Of course he is referring to the fact that audience members think nothing of walking up to the front of house position and telling the engineer there’s too much low end or worse, we can’t hear in the back. However, I can’t recall an attendee walking up to the video engineer and saying there’s too much magenta in the blacks or telling the lighting designer that there’s a dark spot in the stage wash. This same engineer would also tell me that the best shows are the ones where the audio didn’t interfere with the content. People will always remember bad audio, but they barely notice good audio. If you use what the customer remembers from the last audio project, you have a better chance of winning their next one.

Having managed sales people for a number of years I can also tell you that audio is the one thing they think they know how to sell. And on some levels audio for events is fairly simple to budget, but selling audio for corporate events is something most of us do very poorly. Try using this three-step process and see if you don’t close more jobs. Start by understanding what kind of customer you are dealing with, next explain what working with your company will be like, and then show them a sample of what you will do.

Know Your Audience

Every customer cares about audio, but not all in the same way. To size up your customer, ask what they liked about their last audio supplier. If the first thing they mention is the audio engineer, then your focus should be on how easy your engineers are to work with. Explain that your company lets the audio team put the right products on the show. Offer to have the engineer join the customer in a pre-meeting phone conference to talk about the important elements of the event. Emphasize how well your company supports the technicians in the field – customers like to know that their show site buddies are being taken care of.

If the customer wants to talk about all the problems that occurred on their last show, then stress how your company will gather the right engineers and package the right equipment to avoid those challenges on this project. Now might be the right time to explain why audio design is so important and that room drawings and system design should be standard for a project as sophisticated as theirs.

If cost is the first thing that comes up – don’t run away! This customer needs to know that your company will work with them to get the most value on their audio system. This is a great opportunity to collaborate on room layouts and schedules. Demonstrate how over-packing the room adds to the sound budget. Get that rehearsal time moved back an hour so the load-in can start on straight time. Ask more about the last show: If everything had gone perfectly, would the price have been all right? Perhaps it seemed too expensive because things were done poorly.

Sometimes, the first thing the client mentions is the technology. “We needed a flown line array and the last guy sold me ground support stacks!” or “I heard you had an XYZ system, and the other guys only use ABC.” As a salesman, your response should be something along the lines of “We pride ourselves on choosing great audio gear. Would you like to talk to one of our audio designers about your project?” In short, whether you are an audio expert or not – the customer thinks they are. This is not the time to try and outgun the client on product names or technology types. Chances are they blame the last salesman for leading them astray – show them you are different.

Sell the End Result

Regardless of which kind of customer you have, the next step is to prepare a scope of work. This means defining and describing what the package will and won’t do. It also defines what your company is responsible for and what the customer will take care of. Depending on the customer, you might want to talk about the gear – but scope is really about the end result more than the plan. Scopes do not have to be complicated and are often in the customer’s own words (without being too obvious). Show them that you understand the requirements of the audio system and have accounted for the known challenges of the particular application. If the proposal is for a generic project, then the scope has to be clear as to what your assumptions are. For instance, if you and the customer can agree that the project will have an audience of one thousand people sitting theater style, then your scope would state this and note that changes in the audience configuration may affect the budget.

Paint a Picture

The final step is to explain HOW you will get the job done. Most companies resort to a detailed equipment list at this point, but I recommend never doing that until you have a confirmed project (and then only if the customer needs to see it). If you are dealing with an uneducated user, I recommend including photos of the kinds of gear you will be using. If it is flown speaker clusters – they need to know what that looks like. If there’s a big front of house package, they need to be prepared to give you enough space. Pro customers want to see manufacturer names and model numbers, but unless you have collaborated with them on a system design, refrain from sharing the complete details of your solution. Don’t give them a shopping list!

Price shoppers (or Value Customers as we like to say) won’t pay for a lot of value-added services. That includes your proposal. Give these folks a down and dirty scope of work and a price. Your scope may need to include product names in order to fulfill the specification (for instance, if they specifically asked for an XYZ system), but never give quantities unless the customer provided you with a detailed list of the equipment they require. In those cases, bid only what they ask for and provide a scope of work with a disclaimer that says you are not responsible for the suitability of this equipment for the application. In short, win the job on price and work on adding value (and profit) later.

There are a few clients who might be impressed with the brand name of your audio speakers and some may even have heard of your console manufacturer, but everyone knows to blame the audio engineer if things don’t sound good. If the customer is not concerned about whom their audio operator will be, then you risk losing the project on price. Educate novice customers on the importance of system design and professional operators. Remind them that this engineer will be interacting with every presenter and the audience too. If none of this works, then you might have a shopper who was never going to hire you in the first place.

Tom (T.R.) Stimson, MBA, CTS, is president of The Stimson Group, a Dallas-based management consulting firm providing strategic planning, market research, and process management services to the AV Industry. Tom is the 2008 Secretary-Treasurer of InfoComm International, a member of the ETCP Certification Council, and keynote speaker for the Rental & Staging Roadshow. Contact him at tom@trstimson.com

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