Integrator vs. Facilitator

By Matthew Thompson
Integrated Commercial Design

icd-integrator-0314There have been many statements made comparing and contrasting the IT industry and the AV industry. The main reasoning has been the collective technical industry acknowledgement that something needs to change, particularly in the AV industry. For AV integrators, the change has meant the call for IT competency in a market climate that has moved beyond needing “audiovisual only” companies. Today the market seeks IT competent AV providers, or else it’s just not interested. A variety of organizations have responded to this shift. Certain companies have evolved into an AV integrator providing IT services. This helps in the evolutions, but there’s still a question about whether a single organization can actually provide all the services without seeking partners outside of their organization. We live in an IT generalist environment. Companies must be proficient with many disparate technologies. For the purpose of this article, “Integrator” means the in-house only mentality. This type of company seeks to only provide that which we staff. By contrast, the IT generalist is the “Facilitator.” This company is agile and adept at bringing a team of partners to provide the most value for the customer. The question for companies is: “Are you an Integrator or a Facilitator?”

This doesn’t mean we do away with the term Integrator. It still applies. However, there is an older tradition that has been present among AV integrators for years, and that is “we do everything in-house.” This means that all services are provided by the company staff. But forward-looking, IT competent companies are more interested in being a Facilitator. A Facilitator invests in the technical sales organization so it’s proficient in a number of solution offerings. On the implementation side, these Facilitator’s rely on strategic partners to generate high value solutions.

Why is it that the company with the Facilitator mindset can sell the exact same solution as an Integrator but at much higher margins?

For starters, we all know the customers are getting smarter. They know what they want and what they expect. They realize it takes a significant team to deliver. They might even ask in some fashion, “Are you simply an old-fashioned Integrator?” Of course, it wouldn’t be worded that way. The point is, modern day customers seek something more. They want a company that can provide the solution from its staff, but also, and more importantly can facilitate the best-of-breed solution from its strategic partners.

If a company is simply marching to the beat of the older business model, you might diagnose the issue a few ways. Do you find yourself attempting to claim superior IT generalist ability from you in-house resources only? Do you find yourself fighting to reach the 20 percent margins since you are bidding against traditional Integrators? It’s great to have the ability to emphasize in-house capabilities, and this should remain to a certain extent. But strategic partners could provide you the ability to facilitate more business. Today we are in a time when the typical AV Integrators are struggling to find a way to grow margin, stay competitive and stand out — so this matters.

A brief case study

Picture this: You are a top rated account manager in your organization. You find a massive opportunity with a Fortune 500 company. You sell them all the bells and whistles that your company has to offer. You’re invited back to meet with the decision making team and you bring in your engineer and someone from your executive management team. You’re on cloud nine and nothing can get in your way of this sale. The meeting went great, the customer was excited and you hop in your car and drive back to the office. In the 30-minute window as you head back to the office, here are some thoughts that run through your head. This is over a million-dollar deal; my commission is going to be awesome. I can pay off my debt, buy myself a new Corvette, etc. But then reality sets in. Will my engineer design this project properly? Is my AV project manager capable of this size project? Will we have enough hours to get this project done? If our guys milk the clock on this project my commissions will start to dwindle. This is maybe one dimension of the life of the “Integrator.”

Enter the Facilitator. The same story above, yet the difference is that you are with a company with the Facilitator approach. You as the Facilitator set the meeting. You call your top partners to join you in the meeting. You’re now in the room with the companies that will do the network, programming, design and commissioning. You feel the relief of having the operational leverage to do this job right the first time.

The client questions you about why you have all these other companies with you. You reply:

“We have a different approach that benefits you. The team I have in front of you today are the top services companies in the industry. We are bringing you the best. What I am selling you today is not all about my company, but more about putting the A-Team together to help facilitate you getting the service and support you are expecting within your project. “

The above story is a true story, and here is where it gets better. The AV Integrator went in with its quote and its blended margin between the equipment and labor at 14 percent. The company with the Facilitator approach went in with the same design and solution at 37 percent and was awarded the project.

So, I ask again, are you an Integrator or a Facilitator?