AV Matters
The Stimson Group Newsletter
May 2009
Vol 3 Issue 5
In This Issue
AV Trends Survey
InfoComm Courses
AV Matters Blog
Reader Feedback
Best Practices: Sales Checklist
About The Stimson Group
Quick Links
Welcome Back,
It seems to be raining everywhere I go, so it must be Spring. The year is going by very quickly. It's odd how even in a down economy, everyone seems so busy. We are all working harder than ever and often achieving less. It reminds me of being a startup company. I just penned a blog entry about the advantages of being an underdog that seems to apply. It's based on an article by Malcolm Gladwell that I think is also worth a read.

This month's AV Matters is a testament to busy-ness. How we use our time says a lot about us. I have just finished a ten work tour of the country and have visited a dozen locales over fifteen trips. It's time for a change. Over the next couple of weeks I will be preparing for InfoComm, catching up with my clients, and watching my oldest daughter graduate from High School. I hope your life is as fruitful and fulfilling!

PS- I am also filling dates for my Sales Seminar. July and early August are popular with Stagers so book soon!

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

Monthly Business Trends Survey
When will the Rental & Staging world buy equipment again?
This has become a popular question from manufacturer product managers. The downturn in purchasing came hard and fast in Q4 2008 and there hasn't been much encouraging news since then. April's survey tried to get a collective sense of what's to come. Like most of our little surveys, there were lots of comments, clues, and between the line results that warrant some study. Here's my quick take:

The results pretty much match the anecdotal reports I have been hearing in my travels: 1. Lighting and LED effects products seem to be on a lot of folks' minds. 2. Most companies are waiting for their business pipeline to return. And 3. Since few companies have a crystal ball, late in 2010 was a popular prediction for when they will make major purchases again.

Our essay question was about working with Generation Y. There seems to be a love-hate thing going on. Some love their inquisitiveness and computer-savvy and others have issues with the Y work ethic. See what else folks had to say.

Download the April survey report.

May Survey
In the spirit of busy, this is a short survey about saving money and controlling costs in a down economy. What areas have you focused on and where are the real savings?

Take this survey now.

Now More Than Ever - Get Some Business Done!
Tom Stimson delivers two business seminars at InfoComm09

InfoComm09 Show Logo

InfoComm International has invited
Tom Stimson back to teach two core competency business courses in Orlando June 18th. Don't miss out on the opportunity to learn techniques that will recharge the business of your business.

Growth Strategies for Audiovisual Firms will take the pain out of Strategic Planning and demonstrate how a clear message will fuel your company's growth.

Thursday, June 18, 2:30-4:30 pm - Course IS92:
Any employee in a service business has the capacity to retain or lose a customer. Growth can only occur if there is a clear vision that defines a firm's market, customers, and values. Attendees will learn how to align the goals of Management, Sales, and Operations so every worker can consistently contribute to their firm's success.

Rental & Staging Business Survival Kit is revamped this year with new challenges expertly dissected into business best practices.

Thursday, June 18, 8:00-10:00 am - Course IS56
: Learn about the key issues facing Rental and Staging companies-best practices in equipment utilization, sales and project management, warehouse operations, technician development, incentives and key business metrics. Get answers about rental software utilization, compensation strategies, commission plans, prioritizing capital purchases, and finding new employees.

Learn more about InfoComm 2009 here
Register for InfoComm here 
AV Matters Blog
As if I didn't have my hand in enough things, I have started a blog. It's a great outlet for my morning inspirations (when I have them). Here's a list of recent posts:
Read more entries on my blog

Reader Mail

Dear Tom,

Thank you for your article in Rental & Staging Systems (The Fate of the BIG Show), it saved a client!!! Like everyone else we are having to become more creative with our current clients as budgets are tight!!! I read your column and then called on a customer I have been trying to close on and she is now FIRED up about having us do her show because we found a way 'creative' way to solve a budget issue.

-Jim Allen, Integrity Audio Visual

Thanks Jim. It's always nice to hear when something helped! Sometimes we all just need to pick up the phone. -TR

Best Practices Series:
Before You Sell, What Is the Customer Buying?
A Sales Proposal Checklist
(note: this is a reprise of an online article from 2006. It ties in directly to my Sales Seminar)

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you have spent months courting a customer, touting your firm's expertise, providing demos, proposals, and elegant solutions to their biggest problems only to have the customer simply reject your bid on cost? Or have you aggressively sought a piece of business with low prices only to lose the job because the client didn't feel your firm could handle the business? Matching what you sell to what the customer is buying is one of the most basic and most difficult challenges faced by your sales force. Getting in touch with customer requirements is both a talent and a skill. It is a talent in that some people simply have an innate ability to sense another person's needs. It is a skill in that one can learn how to recognize some of these signs and make appropriate adjustments. Whether you are managing dozens of sales persons or just yourself, you need to continually review your Sales Checklist. These questions are designed to keep you grounded in your client's needs so that you don't miss the opportunity to complete the sale.

Who is the Decision Maker?
Knowing who makes the decision is as important as knowing what they are buying. That cost-conscious, detail-oriented, nit-picking purchasing agent is just doing her job when she qualifies your proposal and presents it with so many other companies'. You will have a distinct advantage if you know who the real decision maker behind the buyer is and know what is important to her. In general there are two types of proposals, qualified and blind. Qualified RFP's come from sources familiar with your product or services. They may be the result of your direct efforts at securing business or from passive marketing by your firm. Blind proposals seem to come out of nowhere from sources that do not seem to know much if anything about your firm. More importantly you may not know enough about the client to make a focused proposal. RFP's from corporate buyers are the most common unqualified lead and some may not be worth your firm's time. In fact, if you have to make a blind proposal you have basically two choices: One is to walk away because proposals are time-consuming and sometimes expensive. The second choice is to bid your greatest strength. Bidding your strength is your most efficient proposal because it requires the least amount of creativity.

What makes your customer profitable?
Your customer is in business to make money just as you are. What they do to make money does matter to your proposal. In fact it may hold the key to what kind of proposal you should make and to whom you should make it. Selling to a manufacturer that operates on 2% margins is different than selling to a service company. Does the service or product you are selling have the potential to increase their profit or will it simply add to their overhead? However, a successful shareholder's meeting or product rollout can have an immediate affect on your customer's financial position.

Is my firm ready or capable of meeting their current needs?
Or more simply, are they buying what we're selling? The obvious point is that we need to ask our customers what they need and try to meet that need. The hidden message is that as salespersons we need to understand what our firm can provide. Just because they are buying doesn't mean you have something to sell. No one wants their time wasted and you probably don't have resources to squander on dead-ends. If you can't align their present or future needs with your product, then say thank-you and move along.

What is this customer buying today?
Today means now, as in the encounter you are just about to have. It may be a phone call, an email, a drop-in visit or the delivery of a marketing piece. Before you execute, do you know what that customer is wiling or capable of buying from you? Sometimes today is not a "buying" day and you need to be selling the future by working on the relationship. If the proposal you are about to submit does not fulfill their current needs, then make sure that you are laying the groundwork for their future needs.

Have I addressed those needs in this proposal?
Sometimes in our excitement and basking in our success at relationship building we forget the basics. Sure, this customer may like you and think your firm would be great to work with, but is that what's in your proposal? Spell it out for them. Explain why your offering will accomplish what they want. It is entirely possible that your need to propose something different that what the customer is buying today. It may be that this proposal is an opportunity to build for future business. If so, make sure you are taking full advantage of that opportunity by pointing out your intentions. If not, then you run the risk of appearing unacquainted with your target.

Do I know what my assumptions are?
Contrary to a popular axiom it is all right to make assumptions provided they are grounded in reality and appropriately addressed. For instance we can infer certain things from an RFP such as intended outcome, level of quality, or importance of price. Take the time to review what you think you know about the customer and this particular proposal and look for hidden assumptions. Assumptions are questions we either forgot to ask or believed we already knew the answer to and therefore neglected to ask. Some assumptions are inevitable. Eliminate the ones that aren't.

Do I know what I am unclear on?
You will never know all the answers, but you need to understand what it is you don't know. For instance, if you are uncertain about the time frame in which the service or product will need to be delivered, will that affect your proposal's costs? Have you allowed for this uncertainty? Are there some contingencies you need to include in the proposal or perhaps do you need to list your assumptions to qualify your proposition? There is always risk in doing business. The higher your risk, the more profit you should be entitled to (in theory anyway). A well- defined RFP should give you a good idea of your level of risk in that project. Savvy customers will frame their RFP so that the level of risk they are willing to absorb (or pay for the privilege of avoiding) is clear. Evaluate the RFP for clues about the customer's assumption of who is taking the risk. Your strategy may be to absorb that uncertainty or it may be to define the level of risk you plan to admit. Make sure you haven't exceeded your absorption limit.

What questions will the customer have?
If you know the answer to this then perhaps that should be incorporated into your proposal? There may be compelling reasons to leave information out as well. Many executives will tell you that they would rather see a short one-page proposal than a three-inch binder of documentation. Corporate buyers on the other hand often prefer the thoroughness of a detailed proposal because it gives them more information on which to base a recommendation (and justify their involvement). Make sure you know who the decision-maker is and sell to that person. In either case, your proposal should generate one or two good questions. A good question would be "How can you finish this project so quickly?" to which you answer, "Hire us and I will tell you." A bad question would be "Why did you propose using this solution when the RFP specifically asked for something different?" That is a question that should have been addressed in the proposal.

Successful selling is more than winning jobs; it is about building relationships. The foundation of a good relationship is trust and it begins with listening. When you can show your customer that you have listened to their verbal and non-verbal cues, they can begin to trust that your suggestions and ideas are offered in their best interest. Missteps in your presentation can quickly undermine any trust earned over the preceding months or years. To avoid sending your customer a danger signal, always review your presentation against your Sales Checklist and remove those faith-busting errors.

Copyright Tom Stimson 2006. All rights reserved.

Thoughts? Comments?
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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 figure their next step and then helps them execute their plan. For more information visit the website.