By Dave Labuskes
I just returned from InfoComm China 2015. What an exciting experience! I’m always impressed by the grandeur of the ancient society juxtaposed over the amazing energy, can-do attitude and raw entrepreneurial spirit that permeates virtually every conversation that I have when in that country.
Our show was the largest we’ve ever had in China and continues to grow at double-digit rates. Over the course of the three days we had over 23,000 attendees, more than 3,000 students in class and 400 exhibitors. We worked with supporting organizations including the China Hotel Association, the Intelligent Building Branch of China Construction Industry Association, the Digital Signage Multimedia Alliance Taiwan, the China Hotel Technology Alliance, KNX China and the Guangdong Public Security Protection Technology Association. And my team and I met with at least 15 of our manufacturing members while we were there to get smarter about the market in China and how InfoComm can better serve it. We met with companies you’d recognize, such as Crestron, Blackmagic Design, Harman, RGB Spectrum and others that you’ve probably not heard of… yet.
We talked about the commercial audiovisual industry in China and how an association such as InfoComm could help. What we heard was surprisingly similar to what we’ve heard elsewhere:
- It’s really hard to attract talented staff. It’s even harder to retain them.
- It will be challenging to start the certification cycle. By this I mean, people will get certified (CTS, CTS-D and CTS-I) when their clients or the RFP writers require a certification as part of the qualification to bid. The RFP writers won’t require the certification until they see a sufficient mass of holders in the marketplace to make it a reasonable differentiator.
- Education is desperately wanted. But no one has time for it. I always feel like I’m talking to people about their exercise routine when I have this conversation. If you ask someone, “Do you think it’s a good idea to exercise and eat well?” everyone says yes. When you ask them if they actually do that, they’re starting their program next week!
- And unlike in North America (or maybe more so than I’d like to admit) there’s very little recognition of InfoComm as an association of members dedicated to the advancement of the industry — we’re really only recognized there as a trade show organizer.
But, let me tell you about one meeting I went to on the Saturday morning before I left for my return home. There were about 150 dealers in the room and they were there following a manufacturers’ training session the day before. The speaker, Roger Tang of Prevision, was essentially holding a roundtable like hopefully every one of you reading this has gone to. (If you haven’t, shame on you! You have no idea the value of intimate networking that you’re missing.) Let me just share with you some of the points that Mr. Tang made:
- If you wish to be successful as a small business owner you must first focus on your vision for your company. Why do you exist? And then evaluate the market and determine where you can position yourself to achieve your vision with the minimum of competition.
- Once you’re there, grow the company by leveraging the advantage you have in that space.
- Create a focus on marketing to ensure that you understand the customers’ desires and are communicating effectively how you best fulfill those desires.
- The average company in the room had been in business for 6-10 years, had 20-50 employees and revenues of about $1.2 – $4 million.
- Last year there were approximately 6,000 companies just like that in China — by the end of this year there will likely be 10,000!
- There’s space and opportunity for AV integrators to offer digital signage.
- And listen to this: Build your business on service and value with an emphasis on outcomes — not on selling product. There are three categories of companies in the AV space (based on their focus): those focused on selling products, those focused on delivering services and the most successful of all — those focused on providing customers with their desired outcomes. We should all work to be in the third category.
Why do I share all of this with you today in my musings? To make a few key points.
First: The battle to differentiate is universal and although we’ll continue to work hard as your association to make you aware of the battle and give you tools for the struggle, we won’t be able to do it for you. The responsibility for this must be yours and must be based on that which fundamentally and in your heart makes you different from your competitors. And if there isn’t anything that does that, you’re in the wrong business.
Second: All of us must listen carefully, in every interaction we have, to what the customer needs. Don’t ask the client what they want from you. Ask them what their problems and challenges are and then work to help meet or solve them as their partner.
Third: Be a part of the industry and commit to making sure that the talent you attract stays with you by investing in them for the long term through education and training and ultimately through certification. Not because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s the best way to build a loyal team of employees that will help you be successful.
And a closing thought… we want to practice what we’re preaching here at InfoComm. Tell us what your challenges and problems are because you’re our customers. We’ll continue to dedicate the resources that we raise through our efforts towards the advancement of the audiovisual industry globally and I’m certain that we can only do that better with an engaged and committed membership base that shares their expertise and time with us everywhere there are two people that need to be connected with each other through technology.
This column was reprinted with permission from InfoComm International and originally appeared here.