AV Integrators Should Be in ‘Control’
In an era when ‘good enough’ is simply not, integrators should seize the opportunity to deliver a superior experience through a systems-design approach.Leave a Comment
Most who glance at this article’s headline will simply agree that AV integrators should be in control of a sale and a project and move on. But not so fast…. The fact is, in far too many cases, the AV integrator is no longer in the “catbird seat” of control. Put your paradigms and self-interest aside for a moment and consider why this should be true, from a buyer’s perspective, but might not be in many cases.
As the AV integration industry has evolved over the years, so, too, has the way that customers purchase products. In the past, customers would count on AV salespeople to visit them and provide information. They would work with a small group of internal stakeholders, and, in the process, a project would begin to take shape. However, if you fast forward to current times, the project process has radically changed.
Too Many Cooks?
Research shows that the number of interested parties (e.g., stakeholders) has increased from a few in the good old days to 12 or more today. (Some estimates get that number of “involvees” into the 20s!) Think of that old adage about “too many cooks in the kitchen” — but I digress. Ultimately, this adds confusion and conflicting information to the process. But what is most alarming is that 70% of a sale is conducted before a salesperson ever gets involved. Here’s the reality check: Customers are doing online research on their own — in some cases, a lot of it — before ever engaging outside input.
Related: The Need for Change in Our Approach to Sales
Today, AV integrators are no longer in control of the narrative (i.e., in control of the information, explanation and exploration) like they once were. Apart from that, though, there’s actually an objective problem with customers doing research on their own prior to an AV sales professional’s involvement — namely, the challenge of finding information of the appropriate quality and accuracy, in quantity. Yes, we know that there’s no way to stop customers from doing their searches — especially in the day of big data and omni-information anytime, anywhere, on any device — but that fact does not negate the problem.
To say the least, it is difficult to tell a customer after the fact that they don’t know what they think they know. This is an existential challenge that AV integrators must work to address.
We live in a commodity world in which many things “appear” to be alike. An end user can look at a display, a mount or myriad other items that they think, feel or assume will fit; however, they often miss key factors. This is not intentional or careless on their part. In most cases, they simply don’t have the background and experience that an AV integrator has.
The Price Factor
I want to begin what some might call my sermon with a simple — perhaps even an obvious — concept. It bears mention, though. There is a tendency for buyers to purchase primarily based on price. They do some degree of research, and they find that things appear the same. The caveat is that appearances are deceiving. Suffice it to say that there’s a lot of junk out there that looks just like the well-made products. Separating the wheat from the chaff is the purview of the AV integrator. Caveat emptor.
Let’s start with displays. They do mostly look alike. A 55-inch 4K display is a 55-inch 4K display, right? Wrong! Quality is generally not the issue, actually, as all the well-known brands (and even some of the lesser-known suppliers) make “good stuff.” So, baseline quality is not usually a major deciding factor. What is important is the decision of whether to buy commercial displays or consumer displays. Commercial displays are more expensive, but they have many features missing from consumer displays.
So, you might be asking, are those features necessary? Let’s consider them. At the top of my list is duty cycle and warranty relative to TCO. But the real decision of whether commercial or consumer is appropriate can only be answered by looking at what is expected and needed for a specific project. I can say this: In our consulting services for our clients, we support end users who might have bought a consumer display when, in fact, they really needed a commercial display. Think touch capable, system on a chip, videowall processor, IR lockout and more. That’s tough to correct after the fact. Is commercial always the answer? Of course not. But commercial is a safe bet, and it’s the most flexible in any application.
Related: Networking Deep Dive: Are AV Companies Transitioning to IT Companies?
It’s also important to consider component compatibility. We group this under interoperability. Of course, everything connects with everything and works, right? Wrong! Think firmware, software, network ability and more. Does it all work together as a system? AV integrators know all this, but the end user might not. In most cases, the research of the “involvees” will not have shown what works with what. As a result, all too often, something does not work as hoped. This ends up being a waste of time and money, not to mention having a negative effect on overall system operation.
Considering Warranty Issues
The next issue huge: What is the warranty on the product and, more importantly, who replaces it if it’s defective? Who services and maintains it for optimal performance? If an end user buys products from multiple vendors, they expose themselves to dealing with 10 or more individual companies. If the product they buy is defective, they will have to return it to the source of purchase. If it was purchased online, then it will take time — and often involve frustration — to get a replacement. Can they really afford that? There is no responsibility for the entire system.
A small rant here: This is all about end-user uptime. With our dependence on real-time information and fast data transfer and response, uptime takes on a new meaning. What was your response the last time that your network went down, or the last time your laptop stopped working? Think risk avoidance for the end user and risk transference and assignment to the AV integrator.
My final example is futureproofing. Most companies have a five-year amortization of capital expenditures. The AV integrator is uniquely qualified to look at the products set to be purchased, as well as the system as a whole, and ensure that, where possible, growth/expansion is built in. This is all about operations and TCO.
The AV integrator must find a way to regain some control — not only for their own benefit but also to benefit the end users they serve. Think of all the online information that might (or might not) have the proper focus and detail. The rabbit-hole metaphor comes to mind, whereby the pursuit of something (e.g., an answer or solution) leads to other questions, problems or pursuits, with no clear end. Think of time spent and, perhaps, time lost.
Expertise Beyond Information
Managing this process and, yes, controlling it will have exponential benefits for end users. And this is where the commercial AV integrator comes into play. The AV integrator brings expertise beyond the information found on the website. Integrators know what works together in a system and what does not. Integrators know about serviceability, as well as system uptime and lifetime. They know how to futureproof a system for the end user. In other words, AV integrators ensure, protect and increase customer ROI.
The added value that commercial AV integrators bring lies in delivering a superior experience through a systems-design approach, proper product selection, interoperability and professional integration, rather than a simplistic (and often random) selection of products that are, at best, “good enough.”
Today, “good enough” is simply not.