AV Matters
The Stimson Group Newsletter
January 2009
Vol 3 Issue 1
In This Issue
Staring Down 2009
AV Trends Survey
New Training Seminar
About The Stimson Group
Quick Links
Happy New Year,

I hope your Holidays were rewarding and that your New Year is optimistic. I am paying close attention to the many positive outlooks I am hearing from the AV Industry and what they have in common is an entrepreneurial drive that reminds me why I have chosen the career I am in. I put some of those thoughts into Staring Down 2009.

I have added another training seminar; this one for Rental Operations. The success of my sales training has revealed a gap between rental sales and operations that this course should fill in nicely.

Surveys are back this month. Yes, it's about the economy, but with business news changing almost daily and projects starting to disappear - this poll seems timely.

Finally, this month's Best Practices installment talks about the fine print, when to include it, and how.

Thanks for reading,
Tom (TR) Stimson, CTS
My Direct Email

Staring Down 2009

If you are unsure of what 2009 will bring, you are in good company. Unfortunately no one knows what's in store. Believe it or not - the fact that you can't predict anything is enough information to start working on improving your situation. When you founded your company or entered your first job, you were in a similar situation. Perhaps your confidence was high or maybe you were anxious and unsure, but either way you put your head down and did the things you thought needed to be done. Some were the right things to do and others you chalked up to experience. You didn't know what the future held and you were successful in spite of that. In 2009 I believe that many of us have to rekindle that start-up energy and stare down the waning economy like the optimistic entrepreneurs most of us are.

This means a lot of hard work. Some of us are rusty as we have gotten used to business just happening. Sure there has been selling and negotiating, late nights and problems solved - this is all execution. The hardest job of all is performing work that will pay off at some indefinite time. With all the recent sour news and forecasts, you might be wondering if hard work will still be enough to survive? You have to believe that it will be because the alternative is failure. Here's a couple of off-the-wall ideas to get you started.
  • Pull out your first business plan (no matter how long ago it was) and your most recent. You need to read them again.
  • Make a list of your business mistakes (that you can remember) and write down what you did about them. You might want to shore up those areas again.
  • Clean house. This can mean a lot of things, but I mean haul out the trash, throw away the magazines you will never read, and make your building as presentable as it was when you first moved in. (Integrators: reduce your inventories)
  • Visit the website of your ten most likely competitors. Be objective and list the positive marketing messages you see.
  • Visit the website of every customer. Ask what you could be doing better to help their success.
  • Call on people - customers, colleagues, suppliers - just to listen if possible. Sooner or later you will hear words that will bring a smile to your face.
  • Take that smile and spread it around. Your co-workers could use one right about now.
If you are a leader, then everyone is looking to you for direction. If you are a follower, then your leaders are watching to see if you can keep up. Perform tasks that will make you feel better about yourself and your company in the short term. Do them well, because hard work is its own reward. If you treat today like it is your first day on the job, then it definitely won't be the last.

- TR Stimson

Share your thoughts and comments with me: email
Monthly Business Trends Survey

We didn't have a December Survey because it would have been about the economy and I wanted to focus on the Holidays with family and friends instead. So guess what this month's survey will be?

I know that a majority of business people have taken a wait and see attitude towards the recession. Many of our customers have said they will make decisions about projects after the year starts. So here we are. This survey is short and sweet, but relevant to everyone. Please share your thoughts in the January AV Trends Survey.

If you want to catch up on all the past surveys, you can read the reports at my website:
Download past survey reports.

TR Teaching Training Seminars

In a down economy it's true that only the strong survive. What will you do to increase your strength? When every dollar counts, can you afford an inefficiencies in your process? How will you give your team the edge they need to maximize your business opportunities? Are you ready for 2009?

Sales Seminar: Projecting Your Strength
I have taken all my best sales advice and put it into a one-day, kick in the pants sales seminar presented exclusively for your team. We have two programs available: one geared for Stagers and another for Integrators. We'll cover these topics:
  • Business Development 101: Networking, Image, and Relationships
  • Segmenting Customers By Their Buying Style
  • Choosing the Right Proposal for Each Opportunity
  • Winning the Price War With A Tighter Scope of Work
  • Tools for Closing the Deal
  • Plus, for Integrators: Redefining the Sales & Delivery Process
Download more information here.

*NEW* Rental Operations Seminar: Delivering The Goods
How do you get control over the daily tasks of your business when they all seem to be last-minute and urgent? Delivering The Goods is designed to give your Operations team the tools they need to succeed in today's faster-paced business environment.  I will show you a few simple adjustments to your thinking and execution that will help you plan better, execute more accurately, and simplify your lives . The topics covered include:
  • Equipment packaging that will make Sales AND Operations happy
  • Logistics and Planning - How to maximize resources
  • Effective Production Meetings
  • Warehouse Flow and Layout
  • Crew Scheduling
  • Rental Management Software
  • Measuring Success
Download more information here.

Contact Tom about how to customize either program for your special needs.
 AV Best Practices:
Reducing the Fine Print

A frequent question posed by the many folks I meet at industry events is how to approach the fine print Terms and Conditions we often see in proposals and rental agreements. Sometimes the query is generated because a customer took advantage of a supplier. But more and more folks ask because they want to get rid of all the boilerplate fine print that adds pages to a proposal, agreement, or rental contract. And for the most part I agree with them.

Before I explain the how's and why's of my position, let me clarify the exceptions:

1. Companies that rent out equipment to end users - ie: the equipment leaves the owner's control and is transferred to the renter's control - need a signed T&C agreement that states the customer is responsible for replacement value, late charges, and damages. InfoComm, American Rental Association, and other trade groups have plenty of sample documents that can meet this need. It wouldn't hurt to have a lawyer look at them, but my lawyer said I should say that.

2. Integrators need strong terms and conditions agreements to back up their scope pf work. However, the complete language does not need to accompany the initial proposal. To see why, read on.

Now that's out of the way let me say this: anything you put in your proposal can and will be used against you. Whether you sell integration, digital signage, or rental & staging - a lot of legalese lays the groundwork for mistrust and encourages comparisons. In addition, if it looks legal, then your customer may feel compelled to have others (perhaps the legal department) take a look. All of this slows down the closing process.

The whole reason for terms and conditions is to clarify expectations, not to make it harder to come to terms. A proposal is a tool for securing the business. Too often a wordy T&C distracts the customer from seeing themselves in your proposal. Besides, who actually reads the fine print (picky, detailed people that will use it against you)? A page full of confusing words makes an impression without being read, but is that the one you were hoping for?

The solution has three parts. First, define Terms apart from Conditions. In my opinion, terms are a negotiable proposal item that can be used to propel the customer towards confirmation or closing. The most favorable pricing goes to the customer who confirms the earliest and pays the most up front. Conditions are things that should be hinted at in the proposal stage, but firmly rooted in best practices and industry standards.

Second, move the establishment of detailed T&C (if necessary) to the closing process. Study this "conditions" phrase that could be used in an initial proposal:
"[Your Company Name] applies industry-standard practices to...[insert policy name here]. A detailed policy is available upon request or project confirmation." (you could apply this to overtime, change orders, cancellation, etc..)

In effect you indicate that there are rules, that yours are no worse than anyone else's, and that the customer's time is too valuable to waste on reading yet ANOTHER company's version of T&C. Once the customer has accepted your scope of work and basic terms, then it's time to present the full boilerplate (and in plain language) T&C page in the signed agreement.

Third, write a better scope of work and mention services that reduce the need for conditions. For instance, a clause that simply says your Project Manager will verify all change orders in writing would eliminate the need for about four paragraphs of some boilerplate T&C I have read.

You can't leave all T&C out of the initial proposal. The most common mistake I find is not having an expiration date on the proposal. And you may have noticed that I think payment terms are an important closing tool. I like to present the pricing from highest to lowest. For instance, if the client confirms by the proposal expiration date then the price is $1000. If they accept two weeks earlier the price is $950. If they accept early and pay 100% up front the price is $900. Too often I see the sales process starting with the $900 price tag and then forgiving the caveats that should have earned the customer that special price.

T&C is an important business tool that defines the rules of engagement, but it should not be a deterrent to doing business with you. By writing Terms that lead to closing and outlining Conditions that will be formalized later - the proposal can once again focus on winning the business.

Share your stories, thoughts, or comments: email me.
PresenterAbout 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 through strategic planning, process improvement, and market research. For more information visit the website.