Client Management Is Just the Beginning 

At a typical AV company, the sales designers and sometimes the project managers are the front office people that the clients know and work with. They’re the ones that the clients ask for when they call, the ones they look to answer their questions, solve their problems and reassure them that everything is going according to plan.

Good front office personnel know that a cardinal part of their job is securing agreement from the client. Whether it’s getting to yes on a proposed project in the first place, or ensuring that the client has an informed understanding of the process down the road, client management is an art that the best AV pros practice every day.

Great AV pros also know that it’s equally crucial to secure agreement from your installers. There are critical parallels between talking to clients and talking to installers, and the need for designers and project managers to get both on side.

It’s often thought that the installers are the gee-whiz techie guys, and that may be true to a certain extent. However, on the jobsite, great installers are inherently conservative: They just want to complete their task list, have it all work and go home early. It’s not their job to interface with the customer or fix problems and they’re not necessarily well equipped for that. Installers don’t like surprises and they want the designs they’re given to install to work.

Designers and project managers have 100 percent certainty that the design is sound and, if it was outside your installer’s prior experience, you’ll demonstrate that and assure them that it isn’t going to give them problems.

As a veteran AV pro once told me, installers are supposed to do their job, not yours.

When I was a novice designer, until I had earned some respect, the senior installer would grill me mercilessly about a proposed install: connections, control, power, everything. If it was a retrofit job, I needed to be able to detail the layout and construction of the home, including details such as which way the joists ran. If I couldn’t answer every question in detail, there wouldn’t be an installation until I could. And heaven help the rookie designer who specifies untested or vaporware product into a project without first testing it in the shop. Torture-testing new gear on the bench in the office isn’t only crucial to gain an understanding of its strengths and weaknesses, it’s also necessary to provide the proof of concept to the installers that it’s going to work.

On one occasion the lead installer called me from a jobsite. “Lee,” he said, “I’m looking at these diagrams, and I don’t think it’s going to work.”

“Listen,” I replied, “I’ve tested and retested, and tested again. It will work.

“But,” he continued, “I’m looking at this, and it’s not going to work.”

“Trust me,” I responded, “I spent an entire day testing this on the bench. I spent hours on the phone with the vendor. My diagram is exact. Follow it from top to bottom, and it will work.”

“But…” I didn’t let him finish. “Listen. Follow the diagram exactly for every connection. If it doesn’t work, all the drinks tonight will be on me.”

Grudgingly satisfied, he went back to work. A couple of hours later, he called me to say “It all works. I’m sorry that I doubted you.”

The lesson there is to take the time to demonstrate your findings to your colleagues. If I’d gone through it with him in the office, he wouldn’t have doubted me. We all know that securing agreement from the client is an essential skill, but securing agreement from the rest of your team is just as fundamental.