How to sell audio-visual (and more importantly, why)

Audio-visual (AV) solutions may seem like "foreign territory," traditionally handled by specialised integrators, but that's rapidly changing in the world of IT departments and IP communications, writes Graeme Harrison, VP international at Biamp Systems.

Audio-visual (AV) solutions may seem like "foreign territory," traditionally handled by specialised integrators, but that's rapidly changing in the world of IT departments and IP communications, writes Graeme Harrison, VP international at Biamp Systems.

In 2010 the AV channel landscape changed dramatically with several major acquisitions, including Cisco's purchase of video communications leader Tandberg, and the acquisition of Interchange Technologies, an AV systems integrator by VAR powerhouse ePlus.

These two acquisitions made it abundantly clear that VARs have a new market opportunity in offering AV products and services and further demonstrate the consolidation of IT and AV.

Likewise, current C-level executives' attitudes toward IP communications highlight the growing value of AV solutions; according to a Frost & Sullivan survey, C-level executives consider IP communications to be very or somewhat important to business. Ninety-three percent of respondents cited audio conferencing as the most important IP communication application, followed by web conferencing and VoIP.

I believe this affirms a bigger issue: to remain competitive VARs must learn how to sell AV products and services to IT decision makers and end users. Understanding the nuances of AV will be key for VAR business growth and success, and comes down to some basic selling best practices.

Many VARs haven't fully realised the significant opportunity that selling AV products presents. Unlike IT products that operate as a basic "science" in terms of installation, maintenance and quality, AV systems require a certain "art" when it comes to system design, integration and upkeep.

AV systems demand a technical knowledge and intuition, which in turn increases your value as a service provider. This means these systems can be sold at higher profit margins than commoditised IT products.

At the same time, they also include many network-friendly features that make them familiar to IT decision makers, such as IP addressable ports, central control and remote access.  For these reasons, profitable AV end-point sales are available for those VAR's interested in new revenue streams.

Recognising the opportunity is the first step toward selling AV products and services.  However, the next steps and best practices won't happen overnight. Selling AV does require commitment and investment, but by following these best practices VARs can successfully begin getting a piece of the AV pie.

Start by Developing AV Knowledge and Reliability
In order to effectively sell, VARs must bring the same proven reliability to AV solutions that they bring to IT solutions. This means they must become AV experts, and must make organisational choices before entering the AV space. They can:

Partner with an AV integrator
Forming relationships with existing AV integrators positioned well in the market is the first step. VARs will benefit from the integrator's expertise, product inventory and preexisting relationships, while the integrator expands its business offerings by gaining access to new clients and jobs.

Hire AV experts that have certifications
Most AV manufactures won't sell certain sophisticated AV products to anyone (AV distributor, integrator or VAR) unless the company has employees on staff who are certified to install and program its equipment. VARs new to the space will need to bring on certified AV experts or allow current employees to receive certifications. Certification requirements aside, AV requires a slightly different knowledge base VARs will need to gain.

Acquire an AV integrator business
On a larger scale, some VARs may be in the position to acquire an already existing AV integrator business. Acquisition brings expertise, product inventory, preexisting relationships and a variety of other business advantages.

Prove the Business and IT Value of AV Solutions
Once these business decisions have been determined and applied, VARs have additional selling tactics to think about before and during the selling process.

1. Convey the value of AV to your customers
Today, audio and video conferencing technology is used by almost everyone in the business world in some form or another, with many being highly dependent on these forms of communication. Failure of these systems could lead to substantial productivity losses. In Frost & Sullivan's survey, eighty percent of C-level executives said audio conferencing is the most important IP communications tool available to help improve productivity. Making the business value of solid AV systems clear will appeal to IT decision makers who have to justify spending.

2. Discuss AV solutions just as you would discuss IT solutions
In other words, your AV experts must speak the IT decision maker's language. IT professionals don't care about the problems; they care about the solutions and ensuring there are no problems to begin with.

3. Demonstrate AV is network friendly
AV solutions follow similar networking principles and tactics as other IT solutions. Highlighting the similarities between the systems and the fact that AV solutions can operate on the network is important. Additionally, IT professionals are looking for solutions that can not only be integrated with the current networking infrastructure, but also offers simplified management and maintenance, such as remote access. Offering these types of solutions will be paramount for successful sales.

Ultimately, selling AV products and services can open new revenue channels, but only if you are willing to invest the time and effort needed to offer these end point solutions. IT decision makers want to (and will) use their trusted VARs whenever possible.

If you can demonstrate your prowess in AV, this will hold true regardless of the project size and scope. Following these best practices will prepare VARs for creating the best team for the AV jobs of the future and capitalising on a rapidly converging market space with high growth potential.

Graeme Harrison is VP of international for Biamp Systems, provider of software and hardware that power audio systems. Biamp Systems has manufactured networked media systems for nearly a decade.

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