Advance Technology: From Mom-and-Pop to Emerging Industry Force

Advance Technology, a $7.7M firm with limited resources, turns industry obstacles — lack of service revenue, IT convergence and talent recruitment — into competitive advantages.

Tom LeBlanc
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The opportunity to sell both security and AV integrated solutions through clients’ IT staff is great in theory, but it only works if those IT decision makers like what the integrator has to say. Most AV integration firms, at least, struggle to speak IT.

“Rob came to me probably three years ago and said we’ve got to be more IT-centric,” Abbott recalls. “And we agreed. We decided that everybody we hired from that point on had better be kind of a geek.”

However, to say that IT staffs are making all customers’ technology decisions is an oversimplification, according to Simopoulos. “The decision maker is definitely changing. You have your security directors who always were the ones were picking cameras and access control, and your AV directors or media directors who are choosing AV. I think they’re still involved, but they’re playing different roles,” he says.

“Today I’m seeing that the IT teams are bigger parts of the decision making process. You might start off with a security director who wants to address a problem and add a camera, but at some point the IT team is there vetting the integrator, asking questions and figuring out if this is the right product and the right integrator to install these systems. In the end, I think they are really the decision maker, and because of that we’re seeing more overlap between security and AV and opportunities to do that cross-selling to our customers.”

It’s White, a self-proclaimed AV guy (“It’s all I’ve ever wanted to do and all I’ve ever done.”), who is doing a lot of that cross-selling to IT directors. He can pull it off, in part because he undersells himself (he has earned several IT certifications) and also due to his bosses’ edict only to hire so-called geeks.

“Unquestionably, we’re an IT company,” White says. “The new people we’re hiring all have to have IT skillsets. Everything we do is network-centric.”

It’s not White’s role to “talk IT” during the sales process. “I’m selling with my ears,” he says. “I’m listening to what their needs are, focusing on the applications, and extracting information from the customers. Then I get the network guys involved, the engineers that truly understand the topology and can talk at that level.”

‘Make the Leap’ to Service

Its ability to speak IT directors’ language, according to Simopoulos, is a big reason that Advance Technology has been relatively successful in its shift away from product margin revenue and toward service revenue. Among new customers, “we sell 90 percent of them a recurring monthly revenue agreement,” he says.

“The secret sauce that makes it successful is that the decision-maker is IT, and IT lives in that world of service agreements. They understand it. They expect it, and they expect quick responses.”

The “quick responses” part trips up many integration firms, but Advance Technology took steps to facilitate service. It has a 24/7 helpdesk, which is not a typical resource for a $7.7 million firm.

One would think that Simopoulos’ security background is what drew him to committing to a helpdesk, but he says he got the idea from the IT industry, which is accustomed to remote support.  “When we made the decision to start earning more recurring revenue we asked ourselves what we can really do to better help our customers, and we said the helpdesk idea is phenomenal,” Simopoulos says.

Advance Technology has two full-time employees that man the helpdesk and is in the process of adding another, says Michelle Leach, the support and engineering supervisor who runs Advance Technology’s service department. The helpdesk attendants can call on remote engineers, including Leach, “and we’ll remote them in from home or wherever they are, 24/7.”

For Advance Technology a big first step toward adding a helpdesk and committing to managed services in general was researching and procuring as many remote access solutions as possible, even talking to manufacturers about how important that feature is to service-oriented integrators.