This week, Commercial Integrator releases the next chapter in our popular #AVLivingLegends series, featuring Sam Nord of Listen Technologies. CI created this series to celebrate the remarkable individuals whose contributions have shaped the commercial AV industry. Nord, whose role with the company is vice president, global channel sales, is a fixture at industry events. Moreover, he’s a widely respected member of our collective #avtweeps family.
In this article, Nord speaks candidly about the decisions that affected his career trajectory. He reflects on his thinking just out of college, how he “accidentally” found his way into the AV industry and the mentors he’s had along the way. Among those mentors is industry legend Cory Schaeffer. In the interview, Nord marvels at the personal touch Schaeffer had with all her clients, and how that continues to impact his own approach to selling. Plus, Nord recollects a hair-raising demo trip that had him questioning whether he’d get home alive!
Check out this thoughtful interview, the latest in CI’s #AVLivingLegends series. We believe you’ll enjoy Nord’s reflections and stories, all of them capturing a career spent among friends, peers and trusted mentors.
And if you’d like to read even more coverage relating to our #AVLivingLegends, check out our hub page, which includes direct links to every living legend!
Commercial Integrator: What motivated you to join the commercial AV industry? What has kept you motivated and engaged in the decades that followed?
Sam Nord: I fall into the category of people who sort of ended up in the industry accidentally. I graduated college with a degree in English. So, I figured I should look for a job “in publishing,” even though I’m not even sure I could have told you what that meant exactly. As it turns out, pretty much every other recent college graduate with a similar degree was interviewing for the exact same jobs. So, I’d find myself going on interview after interview for low-paying, entry-level gigs at publishing companies, and I always seemed to fall just short of landing the gig.
Just needing a job, I eventually applied for a customer-service position at what turned out to be an audiovisual company, and they hired me. Interestingly enough, the night before I was supposed to start, I got a call from one of the publishing companies I had interviewed with. They offered me a position, but it was only a temporary role, at a lower rate of pay. So, I turned it down. Now, nearly 30 years into working in the AV industry, I’d say I made the right choice!
The consistent evolution of technology in our industry prevents burnout. Even though I’ve technically worked “in AV” for a long time, the type of work I do today bears little to no resemblance to what I was doing earlier in my career. In my first few years in the industry, I made the majority of my living just selling portable LCD projectors, which were relatively new to the market at the time. But, today, that probably sounds as archaic as if I said I used to be a fax-machine salesman! Many of the solutions I’m selling today I couldn’t have even conceptualized back then.
CI: Reflect on your role as both a mentee early in your career and as a mentor later in your career. Who helped shape the trajectory of your professional life, and how have you tried to shape others’ careers both at Listen Technologies and elsewhere?
Sam Nord: I’ve had the good fortune to have worked for some wonderful people, all of whom shaped my philosophy once I started to manage others. At my first job in the industry, I worked for Rob Moss, whom I was lucky enough to work with for the next 15 years across a few different companies. Rob taught me that you could expect a lot out of your employees and demand results but that you get more out of people with positive reinforcement and by encouraging them to believe in their own high capabilities, rather than with scare tactics and denigration.
I also had the pleasure of working under industry legend Cory Schaeffer for a few years. It’s funny…when I started at Listen Technologies, I had already been in the industry for quite some time. So, I kind of came in with the attitude of, “Look, I know what I’m doing. I’m not sure there is much I have left to learn.” I was quicky disabused of that notion after just one trip with Cory. Nobody taught me more about the power of relationships and networking than she did.
Cory Schaeffer and Her Motto
“Customers buy from people whom they know, like and trust” — that was Cory’s motto. And it wasn’t a motto merely in words but also in actions. Whether we were meeting with a top-tier consultant or a small-time dealer, you’d think we were meeting with her best friend in the world. And it was completely genuine. I remember her telling me the favorite brand of gin of a customer in my region, if that shows how closely she got to know her customers.
It will sound self-serving, because I still report to this person, but Maile Keone has not only done more for me professionally than anyone else in my career but also been a tremendous mentor. Whatever the opposite of “micro-manager” is, that word would describe her. Her philosophy, which I try to emulate, is to fill roles with talented people you trust to get the job done effectively, and then get out of their way. She is also a proponent of promoting from within, which is how I have found some of my best performers.
CI: What’s the most memorable story/anecdote of your career at Listen Technologies or in commercial AV?
Sam Nord: Years ago, a consultant who specified a great deal of our product into a large-scale education project asked if I could visit the end user to demonstrate the system. The location was a few hours away from where I live, and the only time they could meet was at 4pm on a Friday. And, of course, a storm was in the forecast. I distinctly remember my wife asking if I could reschedule, but it had been challenging to get the various stakeholders to agree on a date and time in the first place. So, I didn’t want to restart the whole process. The weather was fine when I left the house, but no sooner did I arrive at the location than the skies started to open up. As I made my way home, the CHP was turning people around near where I needed to catch the freeway, due to flooding.
Sam Nord Remembers a SoCal Snowstorm
Shortly thereafter, as I tried to navigate an alternative route home, I experienced an extremely rare Southern California occurrence: a massive snowstorm. My navigation system could not keep up with the various road closures that were happening in real time. So, every time it appeared that I was making progress, I’d be hit with another roadblock. I had no idea how I was going to make my way back. As you can imagine, my car was not made for driving in the snow, and visibility was extremely low. And this was not a well-populated area I was stuck in, so it wasn’t like I could just find a hotel, either.
I can laugh about it now, but it was really scary at the time. It can never be said that I won’t do anything to land a sale, including doing what ended up being a 12-hour roundtrip demo where, at times, it felt like my life was on the line.
CI: What has been your greatest professional accomplishment to date? What has been your biggest professional regret to date?
Sam Nord: There are a few individual sales wins I could mention. I think everyone remembers their first big sale, and there are some logos that took a lot of work to land. They will always feel like a big accomplishment. Overall, though, seeing Listen Technologies achieve record revenue and growth in the years since I took over leading the sales effort — thanks to the great team I have — is my proudest achievement.
CI: What’s the best advice or pearl of wisdom you either received during your career at Listen Technologies or came to realize on your own?
Sam Nord: “Take advantage of the opportunities that are presented to you.” Not everything is going to be a fit, but the entire trajectory of my career could have changed had it not been for one quick decision. About a year into the industry, I was working an entry-level gig at an audiovisual company in northern California when I got a call from a sales manager from our southern California office, letting me know there was a sales opportunity down there and asking if I was interested. I immediately turned it down since it would involve moving, which just seemed so overwhelming and which would involve that worst of all things: change.
Literally, as I was hanging up the phone, I realized, “That may have been the dumbest thing you’ve ever done.” So, I immediately called this person back and said, “I take it back. I’m interested.” Every other good thing that has happened in my career has come from that decision. That includes meeting my wife of 20 years, whom I met at that southern California office.
Would you like to nominate a peer or colleague — or perhaps yourself! — to be featured in this #AVLivingLegends series? If so, just email Dan Ferrisi, editor-in-chief of Commercial Integrator, at [email protected]. And thank you, Sam Nord of Listen Technologies, for sharing your story with us!
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