The Changing Face of Relationship Selling

The Recession is over and business is on the mend, so my phone has been ringing with calls from people looking to hire Sales Managers and Account Executives.

The Role of Creative Professionals in Sales

I don’t do recruiting or placements, but I can help folks clarify their needs and perhaps steer them in the right direction. One piece of advice I find myself giving frequently is, “Don’t hold out for an AV Sales veteran, your next rainmaker probably won’t be from the AV industry.”

This is especially true on the Sales Management side. In Corporate America, training for sales and sales management is a big business. But it’s not something we see much of in the audiovisual industry. The reasons are mostly historical and somewhat self-centered. Most owners and executive teams believe that you need to be an AV person to sell AV. There was a time when that certainly was true, but it has been over a decade since anyone had to explain what technology can accomplish. Our customers have become quite sophisticated in their expectations, which has contributed to AV’s slow slide into commodity sales.

The solution and what I see as a emerging trend is the application of creativity-based selling to AV services. Similar to how sales develop in advertising, event production, and marketing – AV sales will compete for the customer’s loyalty by appealing to the creative side of the buyer. This goes far beyond the relationship selling techniques used to foster ongoing opportunities. Creative-selling will look more like an ad agency pitch that focuses on the experience of the finished product.

What Will Change?

The big change is on the emphasis of the sale. Today we focus on the “design” or engineered solution, but our customers never really touch the engineered design as AV folks see it. What they will encounter is the finished look of the equipment and the EXPERIENCE of using it. And this is the one place that AV Integrators can truly distinguish themselves from their competitors. With this new kind of pitch, the players in the room will also change. To develop a comprehensive proposal, you will need a graphic artist to design the control user interface and to generate the conceptual renderings of the finished spaces. The control programmer will be elevated to a front-line customer experience manager instead of a backroom code troll and ad-hoc trainer. Technical design will still be critical, but let’s face it – most customers don’t relate to engineers. Creative-selling will embrace the simplicity of the project and leave the complexity in the background.

A handful of Integrators and Design Consultants are already doing something very much like this. They understand that the future of AV is in software and services and that technology, while still critical, must become transparent. However, the majority of the integrators I encounter still treat programming and aesthetics as an afterthought. In fact programming considerations in hardware selection are generally addressed when it is much too late. We can’t expect Design Engineers to fully grasp the needs or the potential of control systems from a user’s standpoint. Programmers will become the solution geniuses we parade in front of our customers before a project is even fully defined.

The are other things that will need to change as we learn to sell unique solutions. Integrators offices will need to become testaments to their design aesthetic. They will need to be a showcase for the possibilities. Likewise our people need to look less like contractors and more like surgeons. And don’t get me started on marketing! Just look at the SCN Top 50 company’s websites and see how many are indistinguishable from one another.

Whom to Hire?

Let me circle back to hiring sales professionals. There’s nothing wrong with taking on a good AV sales person. But, I think forward-thing companies should be looking for sales professionals from other industries especially creative ones – media producers, marketing sales – anyone that has sold something intangible. Inject some fresh perspective into how you present your services, and give your programmer a raise and add 50% more programming capacity so they can do an even better job at it.

High margin customers don’t buy from low-margin competitors or anyone that looks like one. It’s time to
polish things up and sell the beauty of an elegant solution delivered by creative geniuses.

Just my two cents’ worth.

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