Almost 3 years ago I wrote a piece asking AV professionals “Why are we talking to IT guys?” Given my recent arguments for video over IP and the potential eclipse of AV Integration firms by large IT managed services providers, you may think that a very strange question indeed. However, even in today’s world of IT centric, (or dare I say convergent) AV, I still think that starting your AV conversation in the IT department alone may be a mistake.
Let me make one thing perfectly clear.
I am in no way suggesting that we ignore the IT department or that we wait until the last minute to consult them on our ideas. That would be SUICIDE.
Over the course of any reliable system design and implementation an integration firm will absolutely need to work intimately with the client’s IT department to discuss network security concerns, bandwidth, etc as well as ongoing maintenance and managed services and support. That is undeniable. I even wrote a piece on how to better work with corporate IT that you should read as well.
I propose however, that due to the blending of AV and IT, it is even MORE important to involve other non IT stakeholders early on in the AV needs analysis and in the design of new systems. Why is that?
An unfortunate side effect of the AV/IT convergence is that budgets are being combined. The IT department has been given the keys to the AV car but with little extra gas allowance to keep it running. This means that many integrators are losing more AV projects, and not to other integrators either. They are losing them to IT projects. If a company has $20,000 left in the budget, they are no longer choosing which AV system may be best in that budget range, but may instead also be considering those funds for something completely different, like upgrading 20 PCs. The integrator has to not only worry about traditional competition, but also competition from other IT products. There are no longer 2 buckets of money, they’ve been swirled together and sometimes the AV money gets absorbed by traditional IT projects.
This is a shame in many cases. PCs are an essential productivity tool to say the least, however AV upgrades should not be seen as an extravagant luxury. What are AV systems used for? Communication. Both internal and external. Better internal communication means more productive workers as they understand the mission and what’s expected of them. That makes AV an essential productivity tool as well, and one that companies should equally be investing in.
External communication is customer facing, and whether it is delivered in a boardroom or through a digital signage network, it can be crucial to driving more business. In this respect, AV is also an important marketing tool.
So why aren’t we talking to more marketing folks?
Think about the amount of money a company spends on marketing and branding. They spend tens of thousands on the sign out front. They spend a large amount of money on their logo, letterhead, and business cards. They print glossy brochures or marketing materials and they have an amazing website that didn’t come cheap either. All of this is spent in an effort to get their potential customer’s attention. It’s designed to help acquire customers for their business.
Now think about this. One of these companies above, with a huge investment in customer acquisition and brand awareness finally gets the attention of a potential customer. They get that million dollar appointment. Then, when that potential customer comes into their office to have a meeting, they sit down at a beautiful conference table, with cables stretched all over the place and fumble around for 5 minutes to finally get their presentation to appear on an undersized LCD form the big box store or on a projection screen with a projector that creates no contrast.
All the money spent in branding the company was essentially worthless at this point, because when it was time to actually wow the customer with a deeper, well thought out presentation, the lack of investment in communication via the AV system brought everything to a screeching halt. The experience the customer had with the brand during the courtship phase and the experience they had while actually trying to develop a business relationship just didn’t match.
These are the kind of conversations we should be having with the marketing folks and the C-suite. These decision makers determine the touch and feel of the company to the customer, and they are the ones that can properly allocate budget to these systems.
If you find yourself only talking to the technology team, know that your equipment may just end up being treated like and competing with other commoditized technology purchases in the company.
Ask your IT contact who will be using the system and for what purpose, and ask for the introduction to those players. Of course you want to respect the hierarchy and maintain a strong relationship with IT. Let them know that in many cases these systems become just as much about marketing as they do technology. If you can make them understand that many times another department may increase the project’s budget, or use funds from marketing to fund part of the project, you can become an even greater ally.
Not only will you get more information essential to ensuring happy end users and increase the chances of making a bigger sale, you also help the IT department keep more of their budgets in their pockets for other projects, which can make you their new best friend.