Clients will often tell us that they want to “do their homework” by checking out the products we’ve recommended and by researching our company before signing a contract with us. But we need to do our homework, too. Obviously we need to know the products that we sell inside and out and other options that are on the market. But, we also need to know about other dealers as well.
One of our longtime clients is building a vacation home and asked us to quote a system for AV, security, networking, and lighting. We put the proposal together and even included a modest discount as he has been a not only a longtime client, but also a strong source of referrals. He then let us know that the builder provided him with a quote from his preferred integrator, offering a competing system. The other quote was 60-percent less than ours. I was blown away by the price difference and the client offered to share the quote with me (with the dealer name blanked out).
When I looked at the other proposal, I realized that there were a lot of holes in it. For example, the dealer included wireless access points (WAPs) and told the client no power outlets would be required for the WAPs, but there were no PoE switch or injectors included in the proposal. Additionally, the other dealer was doing essentially four one-room solutions instead of an integrated solution.
I was now getting concerned. My client was looking at an incomplete proposal. I mentioned this to the client and asked for the dealer name so I could do a little research. My client had done a lot of research on the other control brand (a very solid brand, and I have no issue with competing against another capable product), but hadn’t done any research on the dealer installing it.
I struggled for a good 30 minutes to find any reference to this integrator in Google searches. Because I did know the control brand he was using, I called the manufacturer to at least confirm that he is an authorized dealer and found out that he isn’t; he must be buying from another dealer, somehow two-stepping the product. And then I finally found a listing in some business service that gave me a name, address, and date of founding. The company is two years old, but with such a lack of online presence and without being an authorized dealer, they lack legitimacy.
I’m not sure if we can compete with the other proposal based on what I have learned so far, and we may not win the project, but without having done my homework, I wouldn’t have known any of this. All I can do at this point is make my client aware of my concerns and present my best effort at why he should work with us. I will never talk badly about another dealer, but I will ask my client to do some homework on the other dealer with online research and client references.
The lesson I’m taking away from this is that we may not be able to win every job (although I’m confident we’ll win this one) and that there are a lot of dealers out there who may not have the knowledge and expertise to get the larger, more complex jobs done. Some companies are stretching to reach into more luxury, higher-end work, but aren’t prepared for the networking and automation requirements.
It used to be that you could start an AV business with a drill and level (and at the lower end of the market you probably still can), but to work in the middle market or luxury space, extensive knowledge is required, and many clients don’t realize this. They see a quote for $10,000 and your quote for $25,000 and can’t understand the differences. We have to help our clients understand the difference and make an informed choice. Sometimes that $10,000 quote is the right one for their needs and other times it will leave them feeling unfulfilled. The best we can do is help them with education and make sure we do our homework on the competing product and dealer to make sure the comparison is fair and accurate. It is not that dissimilar from competing with online pricing.