So it’s no secret that I have not endeared myself to the Residential AV crowd as of late. I have had more than my share of feedback on articles I wrote about Residential Integrators entering the Commercial AV Space, the digital signage market, or slamming their trunks to never be heard from again, (I think someone called me a “pretentious pejorative” on that one).
Maybe then to many readers it may be surprising that I am writing an article praising Residential Integrators for some things they do overwhelmingly right. For those who know me personally, you know that I worked in the Residential AV space for almost 8 years and I actually loved it. I am fond of many Residential AV firms. I’m just a fan of them sticking to what they do best.
How many times have we lost commercial work to Residential firms, because that company did the CEO’s home audio system? There is a reason that this happens, and its less about it making business sense, (it usually doesn’t gauging by the mess that is often made when a residential firm takes on complex commercial work), and more about the relationship that the Residential Integrator built.
I read many posts from fellow band members Puma and Sciacca, (@ToddAnthonyPuma and @Sciaccatweets for the Twitterpated), and lately I have seen a common theme emerge. Great Residential Integrators do have a thing or two to teach the guys in Commercial AV. Here are three I think every commercial integrator should adopt.
1) “It’s not personal, it’s business” is a lie.
In the words of Kathleen Kelly in You’ve Got Mail:
“You keep saying it’s not personal, it’s business . . . All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me…Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.”
(I know I’m gonna get my man card pulled by someone on that reference).
Residential Integrators are typically great relationship builders, and they address the personal wants needs, and pains of their customers, as opposed to coming in with a sanitized proposal that sounds like a high school English paper- “If one were to consider multi-zone audio, one might first measure background noise a with an SPL meter and. . .” No one identifies with that approach, and I am shocked that I see it used so often in commercial work. Even when trying to accomplish a business result, people buy for personal reasons.
2) Empathize with the Client.
I have been to more than one meeting with an architect, where my firm and a couple other Commercial AV firms were invited to walk through a project, and the other firms just couldn’t empathize.
In one case, I let the two SCN 50 competitors berate the architect for nearly 3 minutes about analog and digital transmission and HDMI and DVI distribution. Finally the architect looked over at me, and silently said “Help” with his eyes, at which point I intervened and saved him from the techno babble chest bumps. Needless to say, I was able to close that job, and was able to do so being the highest bid.
Great Residential Integrator’s excel at putting themselves in the customer’s shoes. They learn about the customer’s lifestyle, their children, and their musical tastes, and they know how to speak plain English.
3) Be Flexible.
In my experience Commercial AV firms are too rigid in two areas.
The first is their line card. If you come to every meeting wondering how the products on your card will fit into the project at hand, you are starting from the wrong place. You have to start with the end in mind, and then work backward to define the products used. Many of the products on your line cards may fit well and others may not. You may have to go outside of that and bring in a specialized product or two to do the job right. Put away the shoehorn. It is not the customer that needs to be wedged into your idea of the system you want to sell him, but your system should be custom fit to the client.
Residential firms are much better at adopting new technologies and lines and bringing them to their clients. However this also requires the second thing Commercial Integrators often lack, and that is flexibility in the Scope of Work over time. I’m not talking about being flexible with “Scope Creep”, where the client tries to get more an more out of the contract over time, that is always dangerous to the bottom line. I am talking about being flexible in upgrading or changing components when it has little or no effect downstream to the rest of the project.
I had a church where iPad/Apple TV mirroring became available, and was a much better fit for them than the KVM extension and laptop desk behind the altar. It was nice to be able to change that on the fly. All of my projectors, lenses, screens, video extenders, and infrastructure cabling stayed the same, so there was little to re-engineer, and the end result was an ecstatic customer who was very appreciative that we continued to think about and improve their system even after the formal contract had been signed.
At the end of the day, whether the job is Residential or Commercial, we are dealing with people. People buy because of personal reasons, and appreciate working with others who can put themselves in their shoes, speak to them in their own language, and adapt to their changing world. If Commercial Integrators want to get to the next level, they may just take these lessons from their Residential counterparts. They may not know about pink noise and DSPs, but they know people very well, and that will always play to their advantage.
Mark has been in the IT & AV field for over 12 years. He currently works as an Account manager with Horizon Display and is a contributor with Commercial Integrator magazine. You can follow Mark on Twitter @AVPhenom. The expressed opinions are his own…You have been warned.