AV Matters
The Stimson Group Newsletter
All AV Issue Nov 2007
In This Issue
R&S Roadshow
Join Me at LDI
End of the Year - Already?
Your Questions
Reader Response
Book Review
About The Stimson Group
R&S Quick Links

Thank-you to everyone who has forwarded this email to a friend or colleague. The response has been wonderful.

This issue has something for everyone in AV Rental & Staging and Systems' Integration. If you would like to receive a shorter email with one topic, click on the confirm link at the top of the page to manage your preferences.

I would like to hear from you. Is there an article idea you would like me to cover or a survey topic that interests you? Send me an email.

Best Wishes,
Tom (TR) Stimson, CTS
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Take this Month's AV Integrator Trends Survey

Register for the R&S Roadshow in LA
Rental & Staging Roadshow Dec 5th in Los Angeles

LA RoadshowThe New York Roadshow was a great success and I am looking forward to seeing old friends and meeting new ones next month in LA. This Roadshow will be at the Los Angeles Convention Center in conjunction with the Digital Video Expo. In my keynote you will hear about The One Trend That Really Matters. I will also give a seminar on how to take your R&S Sales & Operations to the next level. Bring your whole team because there will also be manufacturing training sessions plus technical seminars from InfoComm. This is a not-to-be-missed networking opportunity plus lunch and a cocktail reception - all free. To learn more or register click here.
Join Me at LDI
For the first time, InfoComm's Rental & Staging Council will be hosting a reception at LDI for InfoComm Members and anyone interested in learning more about InfoComm. The reception will take place in Rosen Center on Friday, November 16 from 5:30 pm - 7:30 pm in Salon 10. Please come by and say hello.

Where the Boardroom Meets Backstage: Service and Technology Expectations in the Corporate Events...

On Saturday Nov. 17, from 1:30-3:00 pm I will be moderating a panel discussion at thew LDI Conference about the demands of the corporate events sector and working in the new shared space between Lighting and Video. I will be joined by Chris McKeen of Scharff-Weisberg, Tommy Melancon of Level2Design, and Chris Prosio of Barco Events. Please bring your corporate expertise and join the discussion.

I will also be working the ETCP booth on Saturday from 10 am till noon. Stop by Booth 1243 just to the right of the ESTA booth (dead center of the exhibit hall). I hope to see you there!
It's the End of the Year...
now what?

For many companies in the AV Industry, December is slow time. You have a choice of taking some well-deserved time off or taking a hard look at this past year and figuring out what you could do better. Follow these simple steps for your year-end review and you just might have time left over for a vacation. If you have a leadership team - this is a group exercise. Try to rotate at least one new person into the group each year to keep your perspective open.

The following steps are the bare minimum, and with a little pre-meeting preparation your management team can discuss these things in one day. Go away somewhere from the office if you can. If not, at least let the rest of the office know you will be hunkered down and post specific times you'll be available for them. Most important, as you work through items 1 through 4 - keep a list of potential action items, key issues, or changes the team feels it needs to make. Don't worry if the list is huge. In step 5 you will get to prioritize those items, and some things will have to wait till next time.

Step 1: Review your financials. Work with your bookeeper or accountant to forecast through December and print out both the 2007 projection and 2006 actuals. What categories improved and what got worse? Do you know why? What data do you wish you had? Now is a good time to start measuring things differently.

Step 2: Set some financial goals for next year. Be reasonable and don't just focus on revenue or profit figures. Think about all the things that affect them. Determine which expenses you can improve and commit to that. Analyze what customers or segments you can grow and commit to that.

Step 3: Discuss with your team what worked this year and what didn't. Do you need more effort in some areas and if so, what will it take?

Step 4: Review your personnel - including yourself. Who is progressing and who is not? What can the leadership team do to help? Do you have gaps in talent that need to be addressed?

Step 4: Look around. What is going on in the industry that might be affecting your firm? Are there any trends that you should be anticipating? Are there technology changes that passed you up? What has your competition been working on?

Step 5: Prioritize. You discussed a lot of things - now agree on no more than five initiatives. Decide first what you need to do to improve or maintain existing success. This is highest priority. Next consider one to three initiatives for the coming year and discuss whether you have the resources to go after them. Your final list of Action Items has to describe the issue, the project that addresses issue, how you know when you have succeeded, who is in charge of the item, and when it will be done.

Step 6: Follow Up. Commit to a date and time every quarter to review your progress on the action items.

Step 7: Share the results of the meeting with the company. The more people who know what your priorities are, the better chance of success.

These steps will also work if you want to review yourself. Just be a little creative on who your competition is (hint: it's you), and the industry might need to be your company. Just remember that the goals you write down, share, and review are much more likely to get done than the ones you keep to yourself.

Tom Stimson, CTS

Q: We can't hire or find enough qualified installers. We've even gone to neighboring cities and offered to relocate. Any other suggestions?

AV is a unique industry in a lot of ways, but work is work. Hiring good workers should be our highest priority in personnel. What concerns me is that too many companies feel they need to hire trained personnel - and right now. The only trained AV personnel you will find are the ones that your competitors let go or couldn't keep. Unless you are the industry leader everyone wants to work for (and therefore don't have this problem to begin with), transient techs will look at you as a stopover on their way to the big leagues. And, it is very rare that someone else's failure will be your success. That's not to say there aren't great techs in transition - that shouldn't be your whole plan for adding personnel. Put that energy into keeping the ones you've got.

The long term solution is to hire good work ethic, spirit, attitude - whatever you call it - whenever and wherever you find them. The key to making this work is to make training part of your culture. Let go of the notion that each new hire has to be working billable hours on day 1. Make them an extra person for the first two or three months and let them soak up that OTJT (on the job training). Move them around the company and find out what they are good at. Having two or three of these folks in the system at the same time actually improves your chances of success. The new hires can see what is working for other new hires.

The key to this method is the probationary review process. After one month, sit the new hire down and ask them what they've learned. Give them some tips for being successful. After three months, have a formal review and make a decision on whether to keep them on forever or let them go now. If you feel that you need to give them more time before you make that decision, you probably should have let them go. If you keep them, give them a good raise and a set of tools. Then get them ready for their CTS by end of year one.

I can hear the complaints now - we can't afford to do that! Do the math. If you can hire two good prospects (or three) for the cost of one trained tech and end up with one good tech at a much lower rate - what was your total investment by the end of the year? Start with good people, add training, take care of them, repeat.

Q: I am not sure we have the right sales commission structure in place. What works best for staging companies?

The rule of thumb for commissions - or any incentive for that matter - is to reward the behavior you want to repeat. Successful incentive programs tailor rewards to outcomes the recipient has some control over. Be careful what you wish for though. Sometimes the results can have detrimental effects. For instance, it is not unusual in sales-driven companies to base sales commissions on gross revenues. Rental & Staging companies should probably not choose this path. The tendency is to sell anything and everything and let operations figure out how to make money. The variable costs are almost impossible to manage.

Some companies choose to apply job costing methods that allow them to pay commissions by the show. This usually ends up in a battle between sales and operations over internal resources. Decisions based on job-cost can also be customer relationship killers. Would you cut corners on a good customer for the sake of one show? Perhaps the most detrimental effect of job-costing is that it promotes selling the available solution instead of the right one. In general I do not recommend job-cost based incentives as a primary means of commission.

Consider using a combination of volume and profitability. If you want more business, apply special new business commissions that kick in if existing business levels are maintained. In other words, don't sacrifice current business for new customers. If you want increased profits, figure which cost centers need the most improvement and base commissions on improvements in those areas. Jobs that underestimate labor are a huge drain on profits in AV Staging. Reward smarter selling.

Finally, firms with strong outside sales efforts that utilize show or project managers to maintain relationships should consider commission pools. Sales persons earn big credits for bringing in new work, and those commissions slowly convert to a bonus pool for the rest of the firm. Project Coordinators earn increasing shares for maintaining repeat business.

There is no end to the combinations of incentives that might work for you. Describe the behavior or outcome you wish to reinforce before you consider any commission plan. Remember that finding new customers is critical, but that keeping customers is cheaper and easier; and profit is always a company effort.

Please email us your questions.
Reader Comments
Last month I talked about the need for digital signage integrators to embrace content production. My good friend Mike White of Multi-Media Solutions took the time to share some of his views. Mike is one of the industry's most knowledgable innovators when it comes to digital signage and has completed digital signage projects for over 200 clients.

"I fully agree with you assessment of the absolute need to either provide in house content creation or partner with qualified organizations. Content is King and will always be the most important key to DS... but from my perspective, DS requires all of the elements to work. DS is only as good as its weakest link.  The critical pieces include Content Delivery (all the IT - Network Stuff), the choice of the right hardware, the quality of installation, the location for the sign, identification up front of expectation of the DS (what will be the ROI?) and how will it be measured and when will it be measured, having someone in charge of the DS network that has skin in the game so, the project (which proves to be a living organism) will constantly be nourished and fed by good content, good service and expanded in use - one of the keys often overlooked.

But I do think you missed the key reason why most integrators in the AV channel don't embrace DS.  I have personally talked to "without exaggeration" to over 100 plus integrators wanting to do DS or having tried to DS in a project. I even hosted a DS university at my office for USAV and 29 salesman from all over the country who came to my office for 2.5 days to learn the basics, and this is what I have learned from those experiences.

You can not dabble or try DS - you must commit to DS integration with a time line and set of resources. And this is the BIG ONE - you must have a dedicated person for DS or you will loose your shirt. Out of 100 plus players that I have talked to I would say that only 7 or 8 of them can say that they have done DS  successfully AND profitably. Most try, thinking this will be like any other vertical... like churches, school, GSA  etc... and they find out this is AV systems integration on steroids. You have to have all the tools: AV, IT, Content and be  comfortable operating at the C level in most of the projects."

- Mike White, CTS

Clearly Mike has earned his stripes in the digital signage world. He went on to say that he thinks there is a lot of opportunity for AV Integrators to succeed in DS - but apparently, dabbling won't get it done! Learn more about Multi-Media Solutions' and Digital Signage here.
Another Must-Read Book
The Tipping Point
tipping pointHave you ever wondered why - all of a sudden - things begin to change, ideas take off, or small initiatives become huge deals? Understanding what triggers these changes might help you light the fires in your work, community, and personal life. Malcom Gladwell has an engaging writing style and shares stories that make you think differently about changes you have witnessed or participated in. This is a great book to generate some outside the box thinking. Just the thing when you are planning for next year.

Order this book on Amazon
Art of SalesAbout Thomas R. Stimson, MBA, CTS

Tom Stimson is celebrating over twenty-five years in the communications technology industry.  As a Consultant, Tom helps companies build smoother operations, focus sales, and increase profit. For more information visit the website.