Most the integration companies I’ve worked with employ a range of sales strategies and styles. But in general, AV sales people take two basic approaches: the short-term sale (hunter), versus long-term relationship building (farmer).
Both approaches can be effective in generating significant revenue. I’ve noticed, though, that the short-term sales person seems to have to work a lot harder repairing relationships.
With this in mind, I’d like to describe some of the best AV sales people I’ve seen, from some of the best companies I’ve worked with.
The best sales people I’ve met have a firm understanding of the vision, mission, values and ethics of their company. These underpinnings form the basis of their sales process and are used as differentiators, as well as a guarantee of quality. The message: “This is who we are; this is what we do; you can trust us and here’s a list of other clients that have and continue to do so.”
Some readers will scoff at this as just a bunch of fancy words, but the best companies have proven, through surveys and client discussions, the importance of aligning their business processes with their vision, mission, values and ethics. An integral part of any sales process is establishing credibility and integrity. Showing clients that you measure not only the quality and professionalism of your implementation and service (both the solution and your staff), but also your adherence to your vision, mission, values and ethics, gives them the confidence that you care and that you’ll be there for the long haul.
Good sales people care about and validate the purpose of the project with the client, which is much different than selling equipment to fill a room or win a contest. The best salespeople want to understand what the client is truly after — productivity, efficiency, functionality, lower maintenance costs, ease of use, flexibility — and they align their conversations and their proposals to meet those long-term needs. They also regularly contact clients of past projects to find out if their needs have been met.
Often, this process means talking to more than just the buyer. And sometimes the buyer doesn’t like other people being invited into the conversation about requirements and value measurements. But, of course, the people who ultimately use and maintain the system do like this communication. Does it take extra time and initiative on the part of the salespeople? You bet. Is it worth it? Those who do it sure think so — especially when their repeat business and referrals grow.
Top sales people also are aware of the billing and invoice cycle and make a call around commissioning time to remind the client that they’ll be contacted a month after commissioning to verify that the purpose of the project is being achieved.
The best AV sales people I’ve met use a site-survey process for educating the client. Most clients don’t understand the complexity of installing an audiovisual system, especially in an existing space or facility configuration, and especially where there is existing client-furnished equipment. Some clients neither care nor want to learn, and there are salespeople who’ve learned to give those clients to other AV integrators (one way of staying in business is to have others go out of business). But making your client aware of the challenges and constraints helps educate them so that they understand their role and the role of their subcontractors in the project — especially when changes happen during implementation.
Using a site survey also demonstrates a company’s professionalism and it serves to mitigate unnecessary risks to both the client and your company — and people respect that. Again, this process serves to educate the client about the complexity of systems implementation. Salespeople who don’t have the time or energy to conduct site surveys often create unrealistic expectations (“happy talk”) that cannot be met by the project’s implementation teams — or worse create ill will when the project goes awry.
Top salespeople employ a comprehensive scope-of-work document, not just a bill of materials with a price tag. They ensure that the client has read and understands the entire scope of work. Many projects suffer because the primary players (sales, client, project manager, client manager, etc.) never read (and sometimes never even see) the scope of work.
They also facilitate kick-off meetings (both internal and external) to ensure that expectations are clarified, key stakeholders identified and introduced and ground rules for communicating everything from status reports and change orders to final sign-off and billing are established.
Finally, the best salespeople I’ve met send a survey to the key client stakeholders to determine how well their company did in several key areas:
This survey process closes a loop that began at the initial sales meeting. It offers an opportunity to improve and grow the relationship, and provides valuable information that can be used for future sales opportunities. I’m often surprised at how many companies rarely or never ask their clients how a project went or what they thought of the company’s professionalism.
Of course, even the best approaches to selling AV systems and service may not guarantee a successful sale or a satisfied client. But they do create the opportunity to build a respectful, professional relationship with a client base that will ultimately garner greater client satisfaction, more referrals and more follow-on business.
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