I spend a good portion of each week quoting and designing systems. Each quote is different since each client is unique in their wants and desires. I do have products I use regularly, but I always try to find the best solution for the client. The adage that comes to mind all too often is, “There is more than one way to skin a cat.” (Such a terrible visual).
Where to start? A million years ago I worked for American Eagle Outfitters—you know, the clothing store in the mall? To this day I remember in the American Eagle training; we were taught to look at a customer as they walked in. What were they wearing? What bags were they carrying? This could help you to make the sale. When I go to a client’s house, I take into account the house itself (this does not mean I quote expensive things to people with larger houses). If the client already owns a Pioneer Elite TV, I know they have an appreciation for high-quality products, and I will quote around that device. If they have a Visio TV, I have a good idea that they’re not going to go with a higher end 7.2 surround. This is not black and white. It is a starting place. You must then talk to the client and get their input.
What do they want? Do they have a budget in mind? (Usually the answer is no) Have they seen a system at their friend’s house they like? How long have they been looking? You need to have a quick interview to see where they want to land. Some clients are smart phone users and some still use VHS tapes. Without asking what they watch and listen to and how they currently use the system, you are much less likely to quote a system that will fit their life.
What is the right equipment for the room? You’re the expert. You know what will work long term. You know the best products for the money. I take all of this into account when starting to build the system. What would I do if this was my house? If the living room opens up into the kitchen with vaulted ceilings, I might start with a soundbar option versus a full surround sound option. (Again, taking into account the above.) If the room is an enclosed family room and every Friday the homeowners host a movie night, then surround sound is the way to go. I believe in balance; the equipment should look good in the room and function well.
How does the client like to communicate? So you’ve put together the best system for the client. Now you have to present it to him or her. Today I had to mail a quote. Can’t tell you the last time I had to do such a thing. Snail mail…yeesh! Most of my clients work very well with email. There is a fine line of giving enough information without inundating them with too much verbiage. I’ve seen quotes that no “normal” person would be able to understand—they read like stereo directions. For me, I try to keep everything concise and give “life” examples. I know that there are fellow integrators out there that would tell you never to send a quote over email—that one should quote in person. I have found this to be true on larger quotes, but for the smaller stuff (smaller surround systems, TV above the fireplace) I have had a high close rate (on the ones I really wanted) with email.
I currently have one client that calls me almost every day regarding his ongoing project. We’ve been working on this project for over six months. Although I would prefer email, I make sure I answer his call to give him any information I have. Afterwards I’ll follow up with an email so our conversation is in writing and I can keep all my ducks in a row.
I have another client who prefers to text me. This may be out of line for some integrators, but if that is the way he wants to communicate, fine by me! He knows I’ve received the message and can get a quick response. It is crucial for you to find out what is comfortable for the client and work within that comfort zone.
I cannot express how important communication is. I have now started requesting communication right off the bat at our first meeting. That way, if I have not hit the nail on the head, they’re more likely to let me know. Once I know what is off with the quote—price, equipment, timeline—I am able to fix it and close the sale.
My goal is to be my client’s AV partner. I do this by building the right systems for them and always charging a fair amount. I make sure they are part of the process and that the system fits within their needs, budget, décor, and lifestyle.
What is your process? Share with me in the comment section below.
Heather L. Sidorowicz is project manager/designer for Southtown Audio Video in Hamburg, NY.