If you have read my columns over the past couple of years, you have likely noticed a pattern. In most of the columns I try to explore creative ways for integrators to continue to find value. Whether that is in the digital signage realm, by selling to higher ed, or just in the general AV industry, finding new and sustainable revenue streams is critical for firms to survive. Over the past ten years, many higher ed institutions have begun to move their installation work in-house. At Bates College we made this move about seven years ago and have never looked back. Each integrator that we worked with reacted to this differently. Some were upset, as they felt we removed a major revenue stream for them. Others went with the flow and began providing us boxes. Some decided to focus on the rental and staging business with us and that has continued to grow for them.
Interestingly, none of these firms have ever tried to work closely with us on education and development. When we were doing installs, they would stop by on occasion to discuss new products and show other installs they have done. That has pretty much stopped at this point. I think that’s a mistake. Despite the fact that we do our own installs and programming, the fact is that we still need and appreciate the knowledge, experience and expansive view of technology that integration firms posses.
The upcoming shows in June (UBTech and InfoComm) provide an opportunity for firms to rekindle those relationships and potentially build revenue streams going forward. Here are some suggestions on how you can provide value to your customers during this show season.
First, develop a list of your customers and find out whether they will be attending either, or both, of these shows. If they are not, then you have a great opportunity to be their eyes and ears. Spend a half hour talking with them about what they see as upcoming challenges during their summer install season. What new technologies are their customers asking about? What information can you collect at the trade show that you can bring back to them? Relationships can be developed through these discussions. When you return from InfoComm with brochures about some of the products they were interested in, or pictures and videos of the equipment being demoed, you have provided value which will likely be rewarded through purchases or future loyalty.
What if your customers are attending the show? This opens a world of possible services for you. I would recommend still having the same discussion on needs, concerns and frustrations. However, as an industry expert (and likely trade show veteran), what if you were to develop a day or multiple day plan for your customer? Tell them some booths they need to visit. Tell them the best times to visit these booths. Perhaps, set up some times with the salespeople in those booths to meet with your customers. InfoComm is a big show, and even for someone like me who has been multiple times, it is still pretty intimidating. Having a “guide” from someone would be extremely valuable to me. UBTech, which is going on the days before InfoComm opens is a much smaller event, where you could have a much more personal touch with your customers and put them in front of salespeople that may not have time during the big show.
How about looking through the multitude of educational opportunities that happen at both of these shows? Again, once you have listened to your customers and know what is on their mind, you should be able to recommend sessions for them. Do you have customers who are preparing to build a new academic building? Perhaps they are looking at a new athletic facility. These two areas might call for different training sessions at InfoComm and you could help them decide which ones would be most valuable. Putting in the time and effort to build this relationship today will pay off in the future, when you are the person they call for the design, installation or maintenance contract. By working with you and developing this clear plan, your customers may also be more likely to have a trip to a conference funded. Rather than try to explain what the trade show is, they could hand over their planned itinerary to their boss and let it be self explanatory.
Many firms rely on “wining and dining” their clients. Certainly taking your clients out to lunch or dinner is appreciated by them, but I think that is too easy. Everyone is willing to take them out for a free meal, but not everyone is willing to invest time and effort into building a partnership with their customers. These solid partnerships are what will continue to provide you revenue streams going forward. You are reading this in April, so you have plenty of time to pick up the phone and start calling your clients. Find out what they need and provide value from these conferences, whether they attend or not, and it will provide even more value for your travel time and expenses.