Know When to Hold

One of the real tricks in business is to know when to hold. When to stay with a service or product offering from a vendor, when to hold your own pricing, when to keep (or make changes in) what you offer to your clients. It is especially hard in our business, being driven by technology that changes so rapidly that printed catalogs and literature are almost impossible to maintain up to date.

Probably the most difficult leap is to make changes when a product or service is on top of the market. We have a tendency to try to ride our trick ponies just a little too long, to try to milk the market cow just one more time (and, apparently, to hold onto metaphors for just one use too many, if you’re me).

There are, however, certain signs that foretell the need to break some new ground. I watch for them in my largest vendors and service suppliers, and, when I am feeling particularly honest, in me and my company.

Here are just a few.

“Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad”

The very definition of crazy is that somebody sees a different world around himself than anybody else does. In our business, I define this as the ability to deny or discount market forces, as if we are plugging our ears and chanting “nyah, nyah, nyah, I can’t hear you” as loud as we can. Compare this to salespeople who have made their living selling expensive desktop videoconferencing systems, denying that Skype is having an impact. Or staging salespeople who think that when the recession is over, public events are going back to exactly the way they used to be. The most difficult part of success is remaining objective, it seems.

“Pride goeth before a fall”

One of the most profound statements from the Old Testament, this one actually dates back a lot further than that, to the earliest Greek tragedies (and we know it is true, as the Greeks are having an economic tragedy of their own right now). Market leaders tend to become complacent and practice this one. The best example I can think of, currently, is RIM, who brought us the Blackberry (or “Crackberry”). When faced with the onslaught of the iPhone, their co-CEO actually said: “There may be 300,000 apps for the iPhone and iPad, but the only app you really need is the browser.” –Jim Balsillie, November 2010

“In the real world, Goliath always wins”

In the software world, there has been no Goliath like Microsoft. And yet, that very market dominance can lead to being blindsided by new products or new thinking, and I can think of no better example than these kinds of statements: “Right now — well, let’s take phones first. Right now we’re selling millions and millions and millions of phones a year. Apple is selling zero phones a year. In six months they’ll have the most expensive phone, by far ever in the marketplace and let’s see. You know what’s so special…?” –Steve Ballmer, January 2007

“It’s a floor wax AND a dessert topping!”

Remember this from Saturday Night Live? This is the fallacy that our product or service fits all market niches, if you just look at it the right way (tilt your head, close one eye and squint). We get this way when we’ve developed a product, put a lot of time and effort into it, and try to deny market forces that ask for something else, even part of the time. You will see it in vendors that, rather than expanding their product line, try to re-define all market demands into what they already have.

“The future is NOT now.”

We use this one when a competitor brings out something innovative. One of the market leaders whose various divisions have practiced this was Sony in the ‘80s and ‘90s, who always seemed to discount being behind the curve in data projection because the market was of course going to buy theirs whenever it finally became available, and led those of us in that market to say their name stood for “Soon, Only Not Yet.” Despite the numbers, they seemed to believe that the market was going to swing to their product whenever they decided to finally come out with it. They were wrong.

The ancient Greeks referred to the tendency to become overconfident as “hubris.” Currently, we often refer to it as having your head in an inconvenient anatomical location. Either way, it can be an uncomfortable position to be in when the market surprises you that it has a mind of its own.

rAVe Rental [and Staging] contributor Joel R. Rollins, CTS, is general manager of Everett Hall Associates, Inc. and is well known throughout the professional AV industry for his contributions to industry training and his extensive background in AV rental, staging and installation. Joel can be reached at joelrollins@mac.com