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 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.