With having a monthly column in a respected and widely read publication such as Commercial Integrator there comes a responsibility. It is not enough simply to report, or to make comments, or, at the extreme, to bloviate. All too often, these things tend to dissipate into thin air once they’re said or read. To use a football or soccer metaphor, the writer’s responsibility lies in moving the ball down the field. For those of us fortunate enough to have a platform, our responsibility is to provide thought leadership, educate, report on trends and, when we’re at our best, inspire readers to act. It is this latter ideal that I strive for. This month, my objective is to motivate and, yes, to inspire you to conduct research. Before you immediately move on to the next article, thinking this is an academic rant, it is not! So, please permit me to explain.
I get it. I know you’re all busy. In most cases, you are running at full steam, operating a company day to day. Or maybe you have your sales hat on, selling your AV heart out. When I mention taking time to do research, the reply I often get is that a cursory Google search is fine, but there is not enough time for a deep dive into much of anything. It is difficult to find time to step off “business hamster wheel,” even for a moment. But I would suggest that we must find the time. As an old adage from Benjamin Franklin advises us, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
More Than a To-Do List
The concept of planning in the AV industry must encompass more than a daily list of things to do, whose items you can check off one by one. The kind of planning to which I am referring has substantive research — research beyond Google and your favorite manufacturers’ websites — as a precursor. Of course, this invites the question of why research, followed by planning, followed by implementation is more important today than ever before. The answer is existential in nature. The industry has changed, and it continues to change. We simply must change with it. (I do realize that it’s not actually “simple,” by the way.)
Not long ago, those of us in the AV integration community were relied upon to deliver information to prospects and buyers. We usually worked with two to four people at a company, and we spent most of our time first informing them and then selling to them. The catalyst that changed all that was the internet and, as a result, the sheer amount of information at the buyer’s disposal. Buyers are more self-informed — note that I didn’t say “better informed” — than ever before, and more people inside a company are involved in buying decisions than used to be. Research tells us the average number of people involved in a buying decision is now 12, and it sometimes can be as many as 20 (or more!).
Buyers are confronted with information overload. They’re armed to the hilt with readily available — but not necessarily accurate, and often conflicting — information. Gartner (among others) tells us that 70% of a sale to buyers is made before a salesper son is ever involved.
Understand Buyers in a Detailed Way
We need to understand buyers in a more detailed way than ever before. After all, buyers are different. How they buy is different, what they need to make those buying decisions is different, and how we should approach and sell to them must be different, too. I would add to this that it is not just about understanding buyers and their behavior generally, but, more narrowly, researching the market and focusing our efforts on the buyers who are most likely to buy specifically from us. This is the cornerstone of the research we need to conduct and, yes, it will take time. However, I truly believe that this is existential in nature.
From the foundation of the building up to the pinnacle, we need to research the market. We have all heard the acronym “TAM,” which refers to the total available market. This is the total market demand for a product or service. What makes the TAM more complex is the accuracy of the data/numbers and what segments were surveyed and included. Those of us in the AV integration market have to dig deeper. We have to take the TAM and then look at the SAM, or serviceable available market. This refers to the segment of the TAM targeted by your products and services that is within your geographical reach. But I’ve left the most important part of market research until the end — namely, the SOM, or serviceable obtainable market. That acronym refers to the portion of SAM that you can and should capture. Once assessed and understood, this is where you must invest your time, marketing efforts and sales initiatives.
‘Just When You Thought It Was Safe…’
To paraphrase the iconic movie Jaws, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, there is still more research to do! Now that you know the scale and scope of the market, you need to know — not just know of — the customers. This journey of discovery entails creating an ICP, or an ideal customer profile. An ICP defines the “perfect” customer for whatever your company provides. An ICP is based on data points like employee size, technologies used, industry/vertical, etc. It is a representation of the customers and prospects who, you believe, will get the most value out of your products or services.
Once defined and identified, an ICP allows your company to focus on selling to targeted accounts that fit your organization. I’ve heard it put this way: If you know your ICP, it can help define the problems you’re solving for, align your product/service capabilities with customers’ needs, and assist in laying out your future roadmap for product/service updates and changes. The benefits are significant! This research will improve efficiency by enabling you to spend your time and money on the places that matter most, so you can focus on what works. This stands in contrast to an ineffective and expensive one-size-fits-all approach, which might also be called a shotgun approach. Focusing on your ICP will also help ensure alignment across teams — from management, to marketing, to sales, to customer success.
Almost done, I promise! But there is one final layer of the onion that we must explore. The ICP is not personal. It describes the type of “perfect” customer/business, but it does not address the persona. The term “persona” refers to the personal representations and characteristics of individuals residing and working in ICPs. Personas are unique, and they include both those who buy and those who use your product or service. These are the people at a company who are affected by the problems you will help solve. This research must explore those individuals’ motivations, pain points, buying habits and more. After all, in the end, ours is still a human-relationship-driven business.
Four ‘Keys to the Kingdom’
Faced with the new realities of our AV business, let’s bring this discussion to a close with what I call the four “keys to the kingdom.” These are your key takeaways involving research and how to embrace the concepts of target customers, target marketing and target sales.
- Quantifying the TAM, the SAM and the SOM in which your organization operates.
- Identifying an ICP, recognizing that one size does not fit all.
- Understanding buyer and user personas.
- Employing marketing and sales methodologies that fit the new realities of the industry and its participants.
Let me be clear: This is far from an academic exercise. Rather, this is an investment of time and money that will fuel the growth of your business…and our industry.
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