Last month I asked if the AV Industry was getting soft. I hope that it is… because it should be.
In a time when technology is advancing at an alarming rate and becoming more and more advanced, it may seem counterintuitive to tell companies that they should hire less technically minded people, but that is exactly what I am doing in this post. Actually, let me modify that slightly. Companies should be hiring less technically focused people. In other words, technology companies should be hiring people that understand technology but are focused on the people using it rather than the technology itself.
Because technology is advancing so rapidly, getting smaller and simpler to use, and becoming more intelligent by the minute, technology itself is becoming less and less of a hurdle. It’s really the practical application of technology that becomes the valuable asset. Let me say that again with emphasis.
It is the practical application of technology that is the valuable asset.
This means that we really should be thinking more about people’s behaviors, motivations, and desired outcomes than about displays, cables, and speakers. But of course, that seems hard, and we just want our businesses to work as they have for the last 20 years.
In 2019 and beyond, in order for AV companies to stay successful, we need to get closer to the customer. I’m not talking about becoming friends with the IT manager or the purchasing agent, but getting closer to the people who will use the technology we install and the people it will affect the most. We need to understand their communication styles, their workflows, and their habits and then frame those in light of their goals, their company’s structure and culture, and the existing legacy and organizational inertia. These are all things that take soft skills.
I have often recommended that AV design-build firms or consultants sit in on a meeting or observe their client’s workday from inside the office. Any time that I suggest this, I’m met with at least one objection, which is typically a variation of this statement- “We’ll never get that access.” I disagree.
First of all, if we never ask we’ll never know, so it’s worth shot.
Secondly, the main reason a customer would decline this request is that they don’t trust us. We haven’t done enough relationship building within the organization and they don’t realize our value yet. If we can’t get access to the people actually utilizing the systems we design and install it’s because we are not part of the circle of trust yet and we have some more work to do.
Sure, we can bid the job without that access and potentially even win the project, but we won’t add any value beyond being a reseller of hardware and a pool for labor and we won’t establish the kind of trusted advisor status we need to maintain the relationship long term. If you want to compete on the basis of reselling hardware in a world of declining margins, good luck with that. You can keep hiring the legacy AV salespeople and experienced techs needed to grind out a living on 5-10% GM.
Or…we could focus on building the soft skillsets we’ll need in the brave new world of technology.
This means hiring people who understand workplace psychology and work habits as opposed to just selling interactive whiteboards. It means understanding how people absorb and retain information as opposed to just installing a flat panel for PowerPoint. It means knowing why people are motivated to act differently and how to get them to respond to a call to action as opposed to hanging some digital signage in the breakroom.
If we can bring these soft skills to the table, leveraging our knowledge of how people learn, what they remember, and why they act on that information they absorb, then we can connect the dots between the human experience and technology in a way that not only makes sense, but also sets us apart from our box moving competitors. It’s when we bring that unique approach and knowledge to the table that we establish ourselves as true assets and gain the access to the organization we need to deliver the most impact.
So in 2019, we should be focusing less on tech and more on soft skills, both in our hiring and in our employee development. It may just be the key to the new era in our industry.