There is an inherent tension that exists in the integrator mindset. Integrators are passionate about technology, the mechanics of installation, and seeing the amazing results of their integration projects.
But for many who are stimulated by the challenge and mechanics of AV execution, the second but equally important part of the integrator success equation is often overlooked: knowing how to build and nurture critical relationships with customers.
For integration projects to ultimately be successful, there are really three essential components:
- Building and nurturing personal relationships
- Executing a result that exceeds expectations
- Following up and continuing the relationship (which often leads to repeat business)
Omitting or under-delivering on any one of these means an integrator is not maximizing the full potential that comes when a customer entrusts you with integration projects.
As an industry, we spend a great deal of time on the mechanics of installation, as we should. We do our homework on the tech, leverage it in exciting new ways and frequently push the boundaries of what’s possible.
So often, though, we overlook the huge growth potential for our companies that comes from building solid relationships and following up after the job is complete.
There are simple practices you can build into your business model that hold the power to transform your business, and none of them have to do with technology.
They do, however, require us to take a step back and do an honest analysis of where we can do more to engage with our customers and care about the same things they do.
A Hero Mindset
The client must feel like the hero in their own story, and it’s our job to make sure they do. When integration projects are over, you want the client to be so excited that they chose the right partner that they:
- continue to work with you on additional projects
- become your brand evangelist
Start by asking the right questions. Here’s the main one: “What is the result you are looking for, and why does it matter?”
It’s important to immediately connect to the end-user experience by understanding their why. Put yourself in the position of the event spectator, meeting attendee or control room operator at the very end of the line and ask yourself what kind of experience YOU would want in that scenario.
The internal project champion has that experience front of mind, and when the project is delivered exactly as envisioned, they will be the smartest guy in the room for choosing YOU to deliver it.
Stewart Butterfield from Slack eloquently exemplified the importance of end-user experience when he said, “it’s not about selling saddles, it’s about horseback riding; THAT’S the job to do be done!”
When the incredible result is delivered, acknowledge your client’s vision as being responsible for the outcome. Make him the hero, you just facilitated the heroics.
Human Connection vs. Sales Transaction
The pace of business today has forced us to become more focused on the sales transaction than on building true connection with our customers.
Here’s a simple tip to overcome that: never forget the magic of lunch.
There is something powerful and disarming about getting people out of the office, in a different environment.
People’s favorite subject is themselves, so when you find out more about personal interests, family, and life philosophies, it helps connect you to the customer in a personal way. They become a friend rather than just a customer.
“It’s not about selling saddles, it’s about horseback riding; THAT’S the job to do be done!”
Often, clients simply want to know that you’re listening to them. Make sure they know they have your attention.
Challenge yourself to spend one lunch per week building customer relationships with current or past customers. Not to get business, not to give a proposal, but to remind them that you are honored to be a part of their business story.
Convey to them, through your valued time, that they have your attention.
On the human connection topic, it’s also critical to get the right people involved on the front end. For example, on several projects, Electro Acoustics recommended assembling a team that includes the project architect, general contractor, and other specialized trades.
Tip: Always try to show up for the first use of the project. It shows that you really care about how the project performs and you are available to answer any questions.
Acknowledging the interests of a broader groups makes the project more meaningful than simply refreshing technology in the room.
This team helps create a whole new experience from start to finish, they help uncover potential challenges earlier, and in some cases the team broadens the scope of the project.
Customer Benefit Metrics
What result does your customer expect in order to deem integration projects successful? You’ve taken the time to position your customer as the hero, built an interpersonal relationship, and now it’s time to execute……so how best to measure your results?
Understanding how to measure customer benefit metrics can take your business to the next level.
Customers don’t care how many units you’ve sold or shipped, the dollar volume you’ve booked, or your profit margins. These are typical business metrics. But they DO care about their specific project and how it impacts their workflow.
The Netflix Example:
Netflix research determined people don’t want to come home from work and have to spend time finding a relevant show.
Their metric is the least amount of interactions necessary to find the right show. When Netflix finds a show that fits with customer mood, the metric is a high rating after viewing, so their formula is:
Low amount of interaction + high rating of a show = Customer Benefit Metric
Entrepreneur and investor Jason Lemkin said “customer success is where 90% of the revenue is.” So how do we, in our industry, measure customer success and ensure our revenue stream?
Integration Projects Measuring Tools
Being able to measure customer success means quantifying the impact of your project in ways that are meaningful to the customer.
On the tech side:
- What did the customer want this job to accomplish, and did it accomplish it?
- How does the solution provide the expected financial gains/savings?
- How many touch panel changes do you need to make after the job is over?
- In what ways did you meet the expected design standards?
- Is the user interface manageable for the least qualitied user who will be managing the technology?
- What is the plan for post-sale service and maintenance of the project?
- Did the project come in on time and on budget? If not, why?
On the audience/experience side:
- What important message is the AV communicating?
- Does audience engagement use multiple senses?
- In what ways does the solution stimulate participation and interaction?
- Is the final audience, and not just the tech manager, pleased with the results?
- What audience and user feedback are we applying in determining project success?
It’s a great idea to talk through all these topics with your customer in your initial meetings, document the responses and review them with the team so you are all on the same page.
Hopefully you or a team member were there for the project launch, now get customer feedback a month or so after you launch to see how things are going (refer to the Power of Lunch!).
Don’t forget to debrief the team so you can all learn from the experience. If you had failures in any of the metrics, agree on how you can improve them the next time around.
Customer Satisfaction: One Simple Question
There is one critical question that reveals how much a customer values you: “Would you recommend us to a friend or colleague?”
If you do written follow-up, ask no more than 3-4 questions with this being one of them. It’s nice to give them a gift card as a thank-you for providing feedback, and it also increases the likelihood they will return the survey.
Everything outlined above informs the customer view of your relationship, how well you listened, if you thoroughly thought through integration projects, and finally how well you delivered and followed up. These are the factors that contribute to building trust.
Research shows that most buying decisions are made based on trust of the chosen provider.
These customers become less expensive to serve, and it is far easier to generate revenue by add-on or future work with an existing client than to cultivate a new one. Integrators have to continually build trust, create value, and actively work relationships between jobs.
Customers who rank you a 9-10 on how likely they are to recommend you fit into the “promoter” category.
Promoters stick around longer, they spend more, they are less expensive to serve, and they become brand evangelists on your behalf. Brand Evangelists, people who promote you and your work without being paid to do so, are solid gold in our industry.
Follow-up after the sales is a critical component that many integrators miss after integration projects.
According to Luke Jordan, Account Manager with Electro Acoustics, “The door is wide open for integrators to out-service their competition. I don’t think most integrators see this as a competitive advantage.
“But service significantly contributes to the reasons people will do business with you again and recommend you to others. This is often an area integrators don’t think about.”
A New Dimension in AV Business
If you need to make some changes, start with a few things you can do right away to make an impact. Include a strong follow-up and relationship management component as part of the job to be done.
If you don’t actively maintain the relationship, the customer WILL go to someone else. As an industry, let’s make a move to get beyond the dollars of doing business today to making sense of the long-term possibilities.
Key Indicators to Healthy Customer Relationships
Here are some essential characteristics of a healthy relationship with your customer. There are also some simple analytics you can apply to help measure your success in this area.
- What percentage of our business comes from repeat business or referrals? If you’re not doing so, begin asking customers how they heard about you and record their response in your customer tracking tools or CRM.
- Are we consistently checking in with existing clients to see if they require any post-sale service?
- Does the customer feel they chose the right company to partner with, and how do we know?
- Is the customer comfortable talking with us honestly about any deficiencies or unmet expectations?
- Did we celebrate the completion of integration projects together?
- Could we use the customer as a referral?
- What is our plan for maintaining our relationship with this client?