Now that the flat panel TV drug is readily available over-the-counter at virtually all mass retailers, its “hang me on the wall” design and confusing HD connectivity has more and more consumers desperately seeking total entertainment satisfaction. Flat panel TV has driven the CE industry for the past eight years with solid growth in high ticket, high margin sales, but no more. According to the CEA, it’s not just about exciting products, it’s about the total entertainment experience and consumers aren’t getting it. And it’s not looking like it’s going to get better any time soon. Stories permeate the media of a national CE chain laying off 3,200 of their best salespeople, a national CE specialty retailer closing a third of their stores and the leading warehouse clubs instituting “home installation” not as a customer service, but to reduce the financial impact of massive returns. How about the in-home service division of a national CE chain being sued for taping a client in the shower? The bar for just meeting customer expectations is at such a low point that you can almost trip over it.
But it’s far from a slam dunk. You must truly exceed your client’s expectations in their total entertainment needs – not just in their purchase and installation experiences, but in their satisfaction of ongoing ownership. Here’s a list from the CEPro list of CI disciplines you need to be prepared to offer in providing the total entertainment satisfaction to your clients:
Audio (sources, speakers, processors or multi-room distribution components
Video (sources, monitors, projectors, screens, DBS or multi-room distribution components)
PC networks/broadband installation
Security systems (alarms, integrated fire, access control or CCTV)
Lighting controls/window covering controls
Structured wiring systems
Other (central vacuum, surge protection, irrigation control, spa controls, mounts etc)
Knowing this rapidly emerging integrated customer solution is composed of a complexity of brands, disciplines & technologies, it’s critical you partner with manufacturers and distributors that are interested in more than just selling your gear. You need help in understanding the products, learning the latest integration techniques, access to timely technical support and professional marketing materials to communicate with your current and potential clients. So how do you stand out in the crowd and get noticed? Well, it’s not about your volume and it’s not about buying direct. Surprised? After 17 years on the manufacturer side of the business, here’s my take on why I believe neither matters in getting your God-given share of resources.
This exponentially increasing market reality of consumer frustration is presenting a significant challenge for manufacturers who are actually concerned about their brand image and not just focused on driving their volume. Their strategists are worried that over time the consumer will tie their dissatisfaction to the brand and product, or possibly the entire category, not the long ago disappointing shopping experience that created the ownership cancer in the first place. Just as recent celebrity debacles have demonstrated, opinions on the Internet have the instantaneous power to create deep damage to a long nurtured image that used to be easily repaired by PR spin-doctors and clever marketing. Vendors urgently need to build an accessible base of dealers/integrators/ installers who interface directly with the end user and who are systematically creating positive consumer experiences by proactively up-selling – not clerking – their unique, valued-added products in useable, satisfying, integrated total entertainment solutions. They desperately need to know what the drivers of fulfillment are with their most satisfied customers so they can add some of that “magic” to their marketing messages as well as have the ammunition readily available to counter blogs and postings of frustrated consumers. You’d think this would be easy, but it’s not. Manufacturers have so constrained their budgets that the majority of their resources must be focused on keeping the revenue flowing from their distributors and base of direct accounts (that they’re shrinking because they can’t afford the business expense).
So how do you become that influential voice among the many? Who do you seek out to make the key connection? What do you say? How do you say it?
Here’s how you prepare:
Make a commitment to the manufacturer or distributor; concentrate your loyalty to a select few. Plus don’t just cherry pick, represent the line or assortment with a mix of products that requires sales expertise as well as with the required commodities, and of course as many of the add-ons as possible
Put together a “pitch package” consisting of an overview of your work, copies of your project documentation, the disciplines you specialize in, customer testimonials, partners you work with, etc. Saying it is one thing, seeing it is another.
Know your market and your customers. Be prepared to communicate your tips and tricks for securing new customers, selling more to existing clients and building referrals. How are you selling them? What are they asking for? What are they not aware of? How are you delivering the total solution? How do you manage your relationships?
Spot trends with the consumers, builders, architects, designers and sub-contractors. What is driving their decision making? How are you succeeding with them? Are they reacting to the market forces or leading the market? Are there influencers that can impact other markets or professionals in their area of expertise?
Deliver real insight on their products, especially new products, and competitor’s products, not just complaining about what it should have or should do.We all need to sell what’s available until the Holy Grail presents itself.
Stop complaining about the mass retailers and other competitors in the marketplace, nobody likes a whiner.There’s more than enough business out there for the ambitious.
Here’s how you engage:
Network! Get out there and meet the manufacturers,manufacturer’s reps and distributor personnel.You’ll know who you should align with based on how they treat you. The great ones are networking too; always open to creating new relationships and learning new things. If they’re just interested in your money, move on. You build relationships based on a partnership in resource.
Make a point of meeting people whose sales you effect at every opportunity. As I said before, it’s not all about your volume; the goal is to be a memorable resource.
Build relationships with your local rep and distributor sales team. They know when the vendor representatives are coming to town. Trainings, vendor days, counter days, field dealer visits, road shows or maybe just to walk your job site! Get in the loop; your key local contacts want to make a good impression too!
Attend trade shows as they offer an excellent opportunity to not only connect with your sales contacts, but to meet the people behind the scenes: product managers, marketing & sales support personnel plus other key inside contacts that can not only provide information, but access to the key decision makers.
Don’t forget the trade press, they have lots of space to fill and are always looking for stories about David succeeding in the shadow of Goliath.
In the emerging new economy the customer is in charge.
And with that the power is transitioning to the front line professionals who have credible customer relationships by delivering scalable, repeatable success in total entertainment satisfaction.
It’s not always about the gear
Bill Johannesen, Managing Director, Vision Werks Consulting, LLC
Bill’s 28 year CE experience encompasses virtually every facet of the industry; from manufacturer to retailer, mass market to custom, category creation to market leadership. He’s a tough times operator skilled in cultivating deep relationships, structuring disciplined execution, coaching high performance teams, entering markets with game changing products/services and operating at the intersection of business and technology. Vision Werks creates tailored, integrated sales & marketing solutions for valued-added consumer product manufacturers, their resellers and channel partners in the CE/CI, appliance and automotive aftermarket industries.