Part 6:

There are certain aspects of the project you decide:

1. Products

2. Process

There are aspects of the project you may allow your client to help design:

1. Aesthetic issues

2. Interface

Avoid the Puma

You choose the products. You choose how they’re installed. That’s not up for discussion. If the prospect has product suggestions, steer them to your choices. Why is this important? Because you cannot control the project unless you control the products. It’s that simple.

Like the trail guide, you choose the path. If a hiker asks to go up the north side of the hill, and you know it’s the home of a man-eating puma, you say, “No, that’s the home of a man-eating puma. We’ll take the south side.” The same is true with your AV design. When a prospect asks if he can have a system design you don’t favor—or products you won’t carry—tell him “no,” explain why you’ve made the choices you have, and move on. There’s no reason to dwell on the danger the puma poses. It’s a puma.

Letting a prospective client choose products makes you no more than a glorified valet. You lose control of performance, of interoperability, and of success. Letting the client dictate even one product you don’t carry is a mistake. Avoid the puma.

Most clients don’t want to choose the products. That’s what they hired you for. If they enjoy shopping for furniture, if they keep swatch books, if they tour model homes on weekends, then they don’t need an interior decorator. If your clients spend time browsing stereo magazines, if they build ham radios for fun, if they spend weekends in Circuit City, they aren’t your clients. They know where the pumas are, and don’t need your guidance. But your clients, the clients who need guidance, want to make two choices: the first is with whom to work. The second is aesthetic. Clients want to choose their system interface—and determine how it looks in the home. Remember: no negotiating on this point.

Let your client decide aesthetics

Every aesthetic decision should be one the prospective client has an opportunity to make. Since you’re operating like a designer, aesthetic decisions are numerous and important—and become the focus of the project.

The more energy you put into the aesthetic decision-making process, the easier it will be to get the prospect enthused. They don’t know HDMI from RG40, and they don’t want to know. But they do know if they want the big plasma TV over the fireplace or tucked into custom cabinetry. They know what color faceplates they should have and where the keypads should be located.

Even when aesthetic decisions compromise performance, you should let the prospect know the trade-offs, but support them. Focusing on aesthetics allows the prospect to avoid these embarrassing conversations: “I don’t really watch that much TV, so an expensive set isn’t important to me.”

Many clients don’t believe they watch as much TV as they do. And they certainly won’t tell you about it. So trying to sell a high-end TV on performance may backfire.

Talk about the design of the set. Talk about fit and finish, and how the TV becomes a part of the room. Tell your prospect how good it will look on the wall. And, of course, mention the performance of your higher-end offerings, so when they do watch TV, it’ll be crystal clear. People are confident they can make a visual decision, and they understand a clearer picture is a superior one. So sell the aesthetic benefit of the picture.

Clients say: “I can’t hear the difference.”

Of course they can hear the difference, but it will take too long for you to prove the point. Instead, tell them they will hear the difference, and they’ll appreciate the sonic quality of the system—after it’s installed. Prospects say they can’t hear the difference. They’ll tell you they aren’t audiophiles. They do this to protect themselves from buying expensive speakers.

Remember the Trading Line from my first column? Prospects put you on the other side of the line until you prove your value. Disavowing a preference for sonic quality is a defensive maneuver. Unlike visual acuity, most people do not believe they can hear a difference.

But you know better. Hearing, like all senses, can be fine-tuned with practice. Your client knows a good cup of coffee. But would they have known a good cup of coffee 30 years ago? Had you tried to sell “better tasting, more expensive coffee” in 1970, you would have struggled to make a sale. Starbucks didn’t just introduce better tasting coffee, they had to re-orient the customer’s entire coffee drinking expectations. You don’t have the time, nor the budget to fight that battle.

Instead, focus on the aesthetics of speaker design, size and placement. You can talk about hiding speakers in furniture or in the walls. You can show how speakers can be placed outside so they can’t be seen. Selling the aesthetic decision will lead your prospects to buy better-quality speakers. Once installed, they’ll learn to appreciate better sound.

These are aesthetic discussions that lead you to sell higher quality, better-looking speakers. Because even if they can’t hear the difference, they can see it.

Let your client dictate the functionality of the system

Functionality refers to the user interface—how your client controls the system, where the controls reside and how easy it is to navigate the controls.

Involve your prospects in every detail related to functionality. Show them how you design systems by presenting a live touch panel or remote. Show them a portfolio of your work with rack-mounted electronics in out-of-the-way places.

Explain the options your prospect has in choosing what they can control, and to what degree. Each presented option should be asked as a question such as: “We can simplify this system so anyone in your family—even guests—can operate it intuitively. There are plenty of options we can consider. What would you like to achieve?”

Remember the “lesson of the iPod”: it is a successful product because it’s intuitive and beautiful. You can propose intuitive and beautiful systems as well. Let your prospects determine the level of elegance and functionality they want in their systems. You’ll find that if they drive these decisions your projects will grow exponentially in scope.

You may encounter objections like these: “I hardly listen to music, so I don’t need an audiophile system.”

Here’s an opportunity to talk about functionality. Explain how easy it is to use an automated distributed audio system—so easy, in fact, they’ll find themselves listening to more music throughout the day. Tell them how the iPod, with its ease of use, rekindled the music industry. People who had never considered surrounding themselves with music now rely on their iPod on a daily basis.

We all know music in the house makes the home feel better. This is how you turn your presentation to functionality and away from “audiophile.”

“It’s not hard to hit a light switch. Why do I need a lighting control system?”

Selling functionality requires a dose of story telling. Here’s a possible answer:

“Since your husband travels so often, perhaps we could put a lighting control system in. What if you could shut off all the lights in the house at night without walking around—right from your bedroom? That’s really convenient. What if the kids could turn on a hallway lighting pathway so they can get to the bathroom at night? What if you could turn the outside lights on when you heard a car pull up the driveway? It might seem extravagant, but my clients always thank me after the system has been installed.”

Let your clients focus on system
functionality and interface. Your job is everything else. CR

Next Month: Developing the Performance List