REDBAND: Getting IT Right by Mark Coxon

Getting IT Right

I was required to make 65 calls per day. My book of business was 300 accounts, so I was through my book in a week. That means I was making nearly 1000 cold calls . . .per month for almost 2 years. Close to 24,000 cold calls in my time there.

Who were they to? What was I selling?  They were primarily to IT directors, as I worked for IBM.

I lay down the introduction here to simply state that what I am about to relate, has a very sturdy foundation.  The reason the AV industry is losing the battle to install our own equipment may be that we haven’t made the proper investment into learning how to navigate our clients’ IT Departments.

1)  Talk the Talk

Based on some basic historical differences between AV and IT, there is often a disconnect that happens when AV firms interface with IT Directors.

I was given 2 weeks of “training” when I joined the IBM sales team, 1.9 weeks of which was learning how to use the inventory and shipping system. The other hour was an overview of how computers work.

The only computer experience I had was accidentally dumping the BIOS on my first PC and that PC never worked again (worked being a loose term for what an 88MHZ 386 PC could do, even with the Turbo button depressed).

I learned real quickly my first piece of advice to AV firms, “You can’t fool an IT director.”

If you don’t have a background in IT, don’t be discouraged. It took you a little time to learn about HDMI, RGBHV, Scaling, Switching, and VTC bandwidth requirements, so this will take a little investment in time as well. However, it is IMPERATIVE that it is made.

If you think an IT director is going to let you install a system on his network without knowing about VLANs, QOS, Harmonic Mitigating Transformers, or any other of the crucial issues you two will ultimately end up navigating together, you are dead wrong.

These folks spent time and money on an education and have paid their dues as IT assistants showing people how to find the Excel file they just saved and create a mail merge for their address labels . . . for the 3rd time.  They expect you to know your business, and if your system connects to their network, they expect you to know the ins and outs of mitigating any issues. They can smell indecision like dogs and bees smell fear, and they will choose a vendor who has put in the time and can speak their language.

2)  Respect the Culture

Now you have a head brimming with terms you can’t wait to use. You’ve scheduled back to back appointments all next week with IT Directors, and you are going full steam ahead. You may want to put on the brakes.

Knowing the Lingo is one thing, using it appropriately is another.

The IT Director is ultimately responsible for all web presence and e-commerce for the company. He is held accountable. He is not going to hire just anyone. He also doesn’t need anyone steal his thunder either.

Even if you are working with another party in a different division of the company like the Architect or the Marketing Department, make sure you isolate and reach out to the IT department. Make them aware that you are there to help them look good, not to take any credit for their work. At some point, the person you are working with will ask the IT Director’s opinion. If he is unaware that anything was in the works and has not been involved, he will feel like you are trying to sneak something by him and become a barrier to the sale.

Respect the Chain of Command and involve the IT Director. Position yourself as a resource, not a ring leader, and defer to his judgment. Make yourself heard, but reassure him that you are there to help his business communicate more effectively.

IT departments have an organizational hierarchy and you are the new guy in the room. Where do you think you rank in that hierarchy?

The IT culture is one that values this organizational structure. Ignoring that is suicide.

3)  Know Their Concerns

The best way to endear yourself with someone in charge of network security and integrity is to show them you know how your product affects their world. Cloud based streaming media services increase the bandwidth requirements of the network. IP based CCTV systems devour valuable network resources.

Remote monitoring and control can require some intricate port and security setups, depending on the confidentiality of the company’s data.

Other scenarios can include things like scenarios on military bases where special approvals are needed for any hardware that touches the network via an ethernet port and even devices that touch a networked PC via USB or Firewire.

Some facilities cannot have RF transmissions, or even IR transmissions if the room has windows where intercepting commands, or sending them in longer range, may be a possibility.

So how do you demonstrate the knowledge? Ask the right questions. Asking questions of the IT Director as to their base bandwidth expectations for data, their bandwidth with their ISP, the brand of switches, available ports, and network and site security all help in 3 ways:

1) They position you as a resource that understands their concerns.

2) It allows you to isolate many unexpected requirements early on, and build your system and scope of work appropriately, assuring success without various change orders.

3) It gives the IT Director or Business owner the information needed to budget for and provision the network hardware and bandwidth appropriately up front, saving them time and money later.

Do your part to educate yourself on any piece of the network that the success of your devices hinges. Just because a gigabit switch has 48 ports, doesn’t mean it can support 48Gbps of simultaneous throughput, (and in most cases they can’t). Make sure you include provisions to keep your system on a completely separate backbone if necessary, and that your bandwidth requirements are approved by the IT Director, so that later down the road, you don’t become the scapegoat when the CEO can’t download files.


I feel like Shoeless Joe whispering to Ray Consella from the corn field, “Talk the Talk” . . . “Respect the Culture”. . . “Know their Concerns”.  So what are the main take-aways if you want to succeed in speaking with an IT manager?

Learn their language, so you can speak to them in a manner they understand fully. Use insights into their culture to know the correct approach to take, and how you can become a credible resource. Then ask the right questions to fully understand their specific IT environment, its limitations as well as strengths, and the importance of their valuable system resources.

It is not a ploy.  It is developing a true relationship, one that will be valued by both you and the IT Director for years to come

Mark C.

REDBAND_Coxon 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.

REDBAND: Top 10 Gnarliest Movies Ever – Woody Edition by John Sciacca

I’ve mentioned my Definitive Technology rep, Woody, before. He is the one where we shared a Gay Chamsake at our local sushi bar, and then I think he *may* have proposed to me with a delicate selection of pastel colored sakes on another occasion…

Regardless, Woody comes to town a couple of times a year to show us new Def Tech product, go over any upcoming specials, and see if we need anything from him to support our business, blah-blah. Then we go out and grab some dinner. It’s a great opportunity to hang out and chat informally and get to know each other beyond the typical, “Hey, Woody! I need another Mythos SoloCinema XTR!” and “OK! I’ll ship it right out!”

Because we’re both in the tech business and intimately associated with Definitive Technology – a company that was basically founded on the principles of making home theaters more awesome-er – talk naturally gravitates to movies. And it turns out that Woody is into some gnarly-ass stuff when it comes to movies.

Now, I have a list of my 10 Worst Movies Ever, and I thought that some of the stuff I’d seen – specifically Leolo and Man Bites Dog – was pretty gnarly. Like, physical making me ill, asking myself why, dear God, didn’t I get up and leave the theater, gnarly.

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John Sciacca started a personal blog back in 2010 which dared to ask the hard questions like, “Huh?” and “Whaa?” all written in a pithy, deliciously witty and uproarious manner. His blog likes to make new friends and would love to have you over for some caramels. You can follow John Sciacca on Twitter @sciaccatweets  and at his personal blog

REDBAND: Partnering with Competitors When Work Piles Up by Todd Anthony Puma

We currently have the “problem” everyone wishes they had: more work than our small company can handle. Every business has its busy season and right now, we have an influx of new projects coming in daily. Trust me, I am not complaining. But while I’m excited for all the new opportunities, I also want to make sure that I am giving every client my utmost attention.

In fact, last week we got a call from a vendor referral, and the client needed new remotes to replace their old Harmony’s that were no longer working. It would be a very small job, especially given that we are currently working on three large installations simultaneously. My company’s workload would have pushed out the smaller job at least two weeks and, to me, that would be poor customer service.

What we needed was a way to either expand or contract our company, according to business cycle, without incurring hiring, training, overhead, and downsizing costs. That is where my partnerships and relationships with other integrators have come into play. A few weeks ago I wrote about building relationships with other integrators (read that here) that you trust to your company to handle the load while you are on vacation. But these partners are important in so many other ways, too….

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Todd Anthony Puma is the CEO & Founder of The Source Home Theater. Check out his  website at The Source Home Theater and follow him on twitter at  @ToddAnthonyPuma .


REDBAND: 4K..The Next Big Thing? by John Sciacca

Last week, I attended a vendor expo in Scottsdale, Arizona hosted by the world’s largest technology distributor, Ingram Micro, Inc. The theme of the expo was “Plugged In to CE,” and along with the manufacturers and venders on hand, Ingram invited representatives from the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), including CEO Gary Shapiro, and senior research analyst Chris Ely.

Both guest speakers shared some interesting insights into the future of the CE industry, including “Top Planned CE Purchases for 2013.” as well as the most and least prevalent CE products.

Shapiro said, “Our only mission is to grow the industry,” and he spoke for over an hour on the state of the CE industry and took audience questions Q and A. (I asked him about PrimaRIMA Cinema and what he thought the future of streaming might be, but unfortunately he wasn’t familiar with PrimaRIMA specifically and didn’t have any real insights or opinions to share on the subject of day & -and-date streaming.)…

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John Sciacca started a personal blog back in 2010 which dared to ask the hard questions like, “Huh?” and “Whaa?” all written in a pithy, deliciously witty and uproarious manner. His blog likes to make new friends and would love to have you over for some caramels. You can follow John Sciacca on Twitter @sciaccatweets  and at his personal blog

REDBAND: Stick to what you are good at! By Mark Coxon

It’s a rainy Monday in SoCal and I had designs on creating a RedBand post today, but I wasn’t exactly sure what it was going to be on.  I had some ideas, but nothing that really made me open up MS Word and start typing.  That was until I read this article in a magazine called “InAVate” an obvious play on the idea of AV Innovation, of which the article ironically had no hint of relating.

Coupled with the beginnings of a long line of bad reviews on Google Glass and some lingering ideas about brand extension I got from reading Jack Trout, I knew what I had to share.

There is an old joke that asks- “How many software engineers does it take to screw in a light bulb?”

The answer. . . “None, it’s a Hardware problem.”

Software engineers know the extents of their realm of expertise, or at least they should, as should we all.  Is it really surprising that Google Glass is getting some bad reviews?  Of course their initial hardware offerings are going to leave quite a bit to be desired.  You may say, well they created Android, and you’d be right.  Android is first and foremost though, a piece of code, and the companies that have leveraged that code with a great deal of success are Motorola, Samsung, and HTC.  They have reputations and market share to uphold in the hardware arena, and probably would have been a better fit to produce glass than Google with its Foxconn relationship.

In the same way, Crestron has little to offer the world with another pair of speakers that are probably offshored at the same factory that produces their competitive counterparts.   They are not known for audio, but for code, and again that is where they should focus their efforts, even if Apple has been taking a chunk out of their touch panel business.

Sticking to what you are good at makes a lot of sense, not only in maximizing the practical skillsets and abilities your company has spent so much time and energy developing, but also because many times it is too hard to earn that spot in the customer’s mind, even if your product somehow turns out to be good.

Offerings like the two mentioned above rarely work, argues Marketing Maven Jack Trout, as the new product does not ring true with the space the brand already occupies in the mind of the consumer, and the product fails and sometimes even damages the core product as a result.

One example he gives is that LifeSavers gum was a horrible failure, as it had nothing to do with the hard, round, candy with a hole in the middle, that consumers thought of when they heard “LifeSavers”.  Yet when they later introduced “Bubble Yum”, it was a wild success.  The capacity for making gum didn’t really change, but they were no longer paradoxically ‘anchored’ by the very LifeSavers brand that was meant to ‘buoy’ the new product.

I think we all know that this argument intuitively makes sense.  I follow this rule with every restaurant I visit.  If I got to a steakhouse I have steak, if I go to a crab shack, I order crab, and if I go to Bob’s Pulled Pork Po Boys (not a real restaurant but I’d eat there if it was), you can bet I’d order the restaurant’s namesake.

Sticking to what you are good at clears the muddy waters, it allows for the best chance of success, and it eliminates confusing your clients, by diluting the value of what you do really well.  In a world of some many great companies, there is much more value in acquisition or in partnership, than there is in extending your brand into categories you add little value to.

Do you agree?  If so or especially if NOT, please chime in below.

Mark C.

REDBAND_Coxon 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.

REDBAND: Knowing When to Say ‘No’ to a Custom Installation Client By Todd Anthony Puma

When business is slow, you have bills to pay, and payroll to meet, it’s hard to turn down a job that you know isn’t the right fit for your company. Most times, it’s important to trust your instincts and know when to say “no.”

In middle of 2012 we quoted a decent-sized job for seven zones of audio and three zones of video in a gut renovation of a Manhattan apartment. The contractor had completed the prewire, and now the homeowner needed a system. In our meetings with them, everything seemed good. They had a budget in mind, they were pretty reasonable with their expectations for what they would get within that budget, and they knew what they wanted and how they would use system. As it turned out, we ended up losing out to a big box store that underbid us by about 10 percent on the total job (using a different equipment mix, with slightly less functionality), and we never had the chance to walk through what we would do differently for the client.

Nine months that same homeowner called us hoping we could rehab the system that the big box store had installed. It wasn’t working up to his expectations and the big box had cut off its free follow-up service calls. His issues were fairly minor (the zone of audio that goes through the AVR was a little delayed from the rest of the rooms, creating an echo; the outdoor speakers are two different zones because the homeowner has parties and plays music so loudly that a shared zone for four speakers wasn’t working; streaming content from Rhapsody and others isn’t available in all zones; and there are some issues with the TV control. His complaints were legitimate, but probably solvable with the existing system. He understandably couldn’t afford to pull it out the current system and start from scratch…

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Todd Anthony Puma is the CEO & Founder of The Source Home Theater. Check out his  website at The Source Home Theater and follow him on twitter at  @ToddAnthonyPuma .


REDBAND: At your convenience. by Mark Coxon

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.

Freakin People

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 C.


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.

REDBAND: Vacation Time: Preparing Your Staff and Clients for Your Absence by Todd Anthony Puma

Like many custom AV integrators, I work really hard and spend long days doing estimates, programming systems, and keeping my company’s financial books in order. So my wife finally convinced me to take a vacation this spring, and I’m glad that I finally did.

The key to my enjoying a restful and (relatively) stress-free break, however, was making sure that I’d properly prepared my company and my clients to deal with my absence. I came up with a pretty good checklist and learned a few things I should have done differently and figured I would share my advice for getting ready to take your next vacation.

1. Prepare Your Customers
Make sure you’re clients know when you are leaving, when you are returning, and whom to contact in your absence for urgent issues. You can make personal phone calls to large or more recent customers, send emails, send regular letters, or a combination of all three. Be sure to set up an out-of-office email with the same information as above. Do this for your voicemail outgoing message, as well…

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Todd Anthony Puma is the CEO & Founder of The Source Home Theater. Check out his  website at The Source Home Theater and follow him on twitter at  @ToddAnthonyPuma .

REDBAND: WTF? CEDIA Invites Nest CEO as Keynote Speaker?!? by John Sciacca

Like many of you, I received a postcard from CEDIA the other day getting me pumped for the 2013 EXPO.

Honestly, not much pumping is required. I love the EXPO. And by “love” I mean I frickin’ love the EXPO.

Also, the EXPO is moving back to Denver this year which I think sent a chorus of collective, “Praise be!” throughout the entire CEDIA membership and press corps. CEDIA in Denver is just awesome. The weather is great, the city is clean, it’s easy to walk and get around and there is an awesome baseball stadium right in the downtown! (Note to manufacturers: If you are hosting any events that involve seeing the Rockies playing, I am totally in. Consider this a firm Sciacca + 1.)

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John Sciacca started a personal blog back in 2010 which dared to ask the hard questions like, “Huh?” and “Whaa?” all written in a pithy, deliciously witty and uproarious manner. His blog likes to make new friends and would love to have you over for some caramels. You can follow John Sciacca on Twitter @sciaccatweets  and at his personal blog

REDBAND: Switch Wars by Mark Coxon

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away. . . .



If anyone has been following the Crestron/Extron/AMX Video Shootout of their HDMI switchers, let me start be saying. . . WAKE UP!  I’m sure the 5 minute demonstrations have lullled you into a slumber, so get some coffee.

I will first take AMX out of the fray here, because their response video was awesome.  1 minute of “who cares”, with some quick red asterisks pointing out the “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire” sections of the original Crestron Demo.  I give AMX a free pass to Endor.  Go have a great Friday, those Ewoks really know how to party!

As for the other two. . .It’s hard to tell who the Evil Empire is and who is the Rebel Alliance.

Crestron obviously took little care to set up a controlled demo, or  could have purposefully slanted the demo in their favor.  If they did the latter, they are no better than Best Buy and the other box stores whose salespeople turn up the color and brightness settings on the TVs they want to move that month, so they look brighter than their low margin, out of stock counterparts.

Extron responds by setting up a controlled demo, and then saying “look over here” while playing slight of hand with their stopwatch and button presses.  Don’t get me wrong, given that Crestron took the first punch and didn’t care to make sure the equipment was set up the same, turnabout is fair play.

None of this changes the fact however that the whole video switch shootout is just a big distraction.

I’m hearing Vader tell me to “Search my Feelings”, so here they are:  We are stuck in a galaxy of AV that is dependent on HDMI, and given its variances, the real world performance of either of these switches will pale in comparison to these controlled video demos.

Take a closer look at both videos and as an integrator think about these things.

1)      In the Extron demo all cables are the same length and all source material is 1080p.  When was the last time you had a job where that happened?  Different run lengths, 720p signals on satellite, SD video on legacy gear, etc are the real world we live in.

 2)       In both videos the Sony Display and the BenQ display have dramatically different switching times.  In the real world we are faced with various models and brands of screens being integrated into one job, and neither switcher can provide a ready, set, go that triggers all screen equally.

 3)      HDMI extenders through a whole new kink in the chain.  Copper based extenders are commonly used and commonly don’t work as needed.  It may be due to the source and sink, it may be due to the cable length and EMF, it may be due to poor tolerances on the extender, but whatever the case, unless you’re transmitting at Light Speed over fiber, you risk some major problems.

 So congratulations Crestron and Extron!  Neither video has helped serve any purpose or proven anything definitively.  My guess is the switching time is probably the same on average if you add up and average the large variance in times across brands and models.

At the end of the day, no one cares how many parsecs it takes your ship to do the Kessel Run if the journey takes us through a star system with pink sparkles and black holes that swallow video randomly.

I think you both have been indulging in your own glitterstim spice along the way.

“Help me Hd-SDI, you’re my only hope.”

Mark C.


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.