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.”