by Todd Spell, Partner/Director, Integrated Collaboration Services at Netrix
Choosing an AV integrator is serious business. You have to juggle a lot of concerns: value for your investment, future peace of mind, and maintaining the trust of your team, to name a few. When the stakes are high, those concerns are enough to overwhelm even the most experienced decision-maker.
There are no guarantees that you will choose the absolute best partner. But with careful planning, you can avoid making a choice you’ll regret. Though you can’t predict everything that will happen in a project, you can control who you choose to bring in. That’s why it’s important to dig deeper when choosing an AV partner.
Getting to Know Your Potential Integrator
Teamwork separates great companies from the rest. A team that works together effectively can overcome just about any obstacle, and a great team always comes together for the greatest good of their customers. So in order to choose an AV integrator you can trust, you have to look at their team as a whole.
While a sales team may be the front lines for you as a customer, they’re just one face of any company you’ll work with. Make no mistake, sales teams are vital in developing and maintaining strong customer relationships. But if you evaluate an integrator based on their sales team alone, you’ll miss critical information that can’t be found in a project proposal or by talking to a salesperson.
If an integrator’s sales team does a good job in the discovery and proposal process, you’ll probably consider doing business with them. But if your research stops there, you’re bound to make a premature decision. You simply haven’t learned enough to make a good choice.
Taking the time to do more research is invaluable to the success of your project. The extra couple of hours you invest could end up saving you much more time in the long run.
Digging Deeper: How to Hold a Discovery Interview
The best way to find out more about an integrator is to conduct a discovery interview. It’s important for key stakeholders in your organization to meet with the integrator’s upper management, engineers, project managers, service team, and account executives, all of whom are vital to your project’s success. Only then will you have an accurate feel for how candidate companies will actually perform. Here’s what you need to know before making your choice:
What does it look like to do business with you?
Ask integrators to show you their process in detail. Unclear explanations should raise a red flag, and you want as much information as you can possibly get. How do they handle change orders? What are their safety procedures? How is their team trained? Are they certified? What are their service processes? Again, ask for these in clear detail. If you get vague answers, you should probably look for another integrator.
How well does your team work together?
You can’t find this out by asking directly, because no one will tell you, “Our teamwork is just okay.” But a team’s interactions during your interview will give you important clues. Do they contradict each other often? Do you notice body language and facial cues that signal deeper issues? If everyone seems to be on the same page and get along well, it’s a good sign for your project. The best integrators have strong camaraderie, and that shows up in the quality of their work. Without a solid foundation of effective teamwork, your project and you as a customer will undoubtedly suffer.
How long have you worked together?
The longevity of an individual employee is no guarantee of excellence. On the other hand, the longevity of a team as a whole is a good sign. How many projects have they completed as a team? A longer track record isn’t a vanity metric; it’s the mark of a trustworthy team. If they’ve successfully completed a variety of projects in the past, you can reasonably expect them to do the same for you going forward.
Are you partners or vendors?
Finally, you need to examine their customer relationships. Do they have longstanding repeat customers, or do they merely chase the latest project for a buck? If you want a partner who won’t bow out when you need them most, this is the most important factor in your decision. Great integrators—great companies in general—treat their customer relationships as partnerships. You don’t want to end up working with an AV vendor who treats your project as just another transaction. Look for a team with long-term clients who have continued to trust them through the years. Don’t be afraid to ask for references and follow up.
Why You Shouldn’t Play the Odds
The interview process I’ve outlined isn’t easy. The truth is, few people research potential AV partners in depth. That may be because of the time it takes. It may be that few people understand just how important it is to meet with more than the salesperson.
Perhaps the most likely reason is the feeling that an integrator won’t be open to the interview. Some may refuse this level of pre-project discovery—either because their team really is too busy with other clients, or because they’re uncomfortable with the possibility you’ll go with another integrator afterward. Neither are good signs they will value you as a customer.
One thing is certain: too many contracts are signed based on sales interactions alone. With so much riding on this decision, don’t gamble. Take the time to get to know the team behind the sales staff. You’re more likely to have a successful project and sleep better at night.
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