Last month, I spent some time in this column standing on one of my traditional soapboxes, namely that the AV rental and staging company has come to a point in the history of our industry where it becomes necessary to do some reinvention of our products and services. In my usual roundabout way, I came to the basic underlying premise that it is good to be different than the competition. When two companies offer nearly identical products and services, the remaining factor on which clients make their choice is usually price. A good friend of mine, Bill Sharer (one of our industry’s most notable instructors and consultants), would have simply identified it as the necessity to reach a USP, or “unique selling proposition.”
Now, it’s never a bad time to examine your company’s services and products with an eye to differentiation from the competition, but with the changes in technology going on in our industry today, combined with the changes happening with the organizations and clients we serve, now is a particularly opportune time for the rental and staging portion of our industry to do some introspection. To quote Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as night the day, that thou canst not be false to any man.” The quote is from Polonius (in Hamlet), who I believe once worked with Bill in some early AVIXA sales seminars.
Establishing the Difference
So this is the most difficult portion of the entire exercise: the necessity to sit down and honestly examine the products and the services that you offer, and the quality of their delivery, as compared to the competition. The great strength, and great weakness, of most of the rental and staging companies that I know is that they tend to produce tight-knit crews of people with great faith in their own capabilities and those of their team. This is important, because it is the thing that keeps us going during tough shows. But it can also produce a closed environment of self-delusion, where esprit de corps turns into the idea that “we are really good, and the competition is not.” So the challenge of leadership here is to get a crew to examine itself objectively, without the destruction of that spirit. I have been part of many meetings designed to do this kind of examination, and I am not going to tell any manager how they should be conducted, because it will depend very much on the people who are members of your team. What I will say is this: Get outside help. Without it, one of two things can happen: Either the meeting will go on forever, running in self-congratulatory circles, or things could become bitter between team members. Neither one is good. A strong suggestion would be to find somebody who is familiar with the industry, but not too familiar with either your company or your competition and then use this person to ask open questions. I have made the mistake of using friends or frequent clients for this role and it tends to produce less-than-perfect results because of their fear of offense or their loyalty to the cause.
The second step will be to take the results of that examination and to use them to determine an action path to create and enhance differences between competitors. This is where the real power of the USP lies: that the sales effort and promotional efforts can be focused on the differences. There is no point in focusing your sales effort on services or products that are the same as your competition, unless you are ready to make your sales effort one of sharpening your pencil for the bottom line. Focusing your sales efforts on the places where you truly are different tends to lead to sales efficiency. The parts that are the same will no longer need to be sold, as they will be carried forward along with your USP.
One of the reasons that I suggest that it is important to use some outside talent to facilitate this process is that the group, focused internally, can arrive at false conclusions. One of the methods that I have watched companies use over the years (and one which I have unfortunately been part of a couple of times) is to create a cosmetic difference. New uniforms, new logo, new truck colors or a new website are all methods that companies use to create a difference in appearance between themselves and their competitors. All too often, these wind up as methods that we use to impress ourselves. The great classic is the brochure or website that shows our enormous fleet of trucks or our huge warehouse full of gear, none of which tend to impress customers very much.
The second pitfall of the group guiding itself in this process could become the overdependence on “technological differences.” I have watched groups tell themselves that their great strength lay in products rather than services, e.g., that “our projector line is better than theirs” or “we use line arrays and our competition does not.” In that rental and staging personnel tend to be a bit geeky; this is a frequent line that I hear. Unfortunately, like the color of our trucks, this either goes over the heads of most clients or they just don’t care. Most of the clients that I have known over the years (and all of the serious ones) have been focused on results rather than technology or method used to achieve them. And, in establishing the selling proposition of our company, we should be focused the same way.
So those are the mistakes. Stay tuned for next month, when I will bring you a couple of experts, and some hints on the right way to go about this painful but incredibly necessary process.