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When Experience Pays

If youve been around custom home theater long, youve probably heard someone say that you should be in the business of delivering a home theater experience to your clients rather than just selling them products and services. Thats a nice platitude, but what exactly does it mean?

Practically speaking, there are things you can do to make sure your clients basic desires are met, but these things change as you move through the four distinct phases of a home theater project: sales, design (including engineering), installation, and calibration. This month, lets explore phase one: how to sell a home theater experience.

Start with a good demonstration. This is the best way to prove to prospective clients that you can provide them with something exclusive that their friends will recognize and remember. Conduct these demonstrations in your own showroom, one that showcases your highest quality work. Be sure to focus on the performance of the room as a complete unit. Do not mention specific equipment and accessories unless absolutely necessary. You also need to have existing clients who are willing to demonstrate their systems as well as provide a positive testimonial of their experience with you.

Select appropriate program material for your demonstration. Keep each selection short and resist the temptation to only use loud, frenetic passages to demonstrate the sound system. Carefully pick out clips that showcase the clarity and precise placement of sounds and the subtle details in the picture.

Actively lead your prospective clients through the demonstration by telling them specifically what to listen to and look for before you start. For example, tell them to listen for a particular line of dialogue or subtle surround effect, and then ask them after the demonstration to describe what they heard. Take a similar approach with something like shadow detail in the picture.

After the demonstration is over, talk to your prospective clients about the design and engineering capabilities of your firm, or firms that are partnered with you. Have plan sets and drawings ready to show, and explain your design and engineering processes. Dont dwell on these technical matters too long, though, or your prospective clients may become bored. Think of documentation primarily as eye candy and pick what you use accordingly.

Part and parcel with your design and engineering presentation is something that has been met with unjust scorn in residential custom installation: independent consulting firms. Simply put, you need to use them even if you dont think you need them. Youre welcome to accuse me of self-promotion, but listen to me anyway. You may not be aware of this, but commercial sound and video contractors, who do for mega churches, arenas, and performing arts centers what you do for homeowners, use outside design and engineering consultants in virtually every project. If, as a contractor, you tried to bid on a job without expert consultants, you would be hard pressed to ink a single deal.

Finally, address your prospective clients inherent apprehension toward venturing into a big project by answering two questions that they will likely ask themselves. The first is, Am I making a good investment? Your demonstration and client testimonials should be a big help on this one, but be sure to also point out all the advantages of having a home theater. Take off your salesman hat for a moment and just talk about how much fun home theaters are. People like other people who are excited about their products. Its only natural for your prospective clients to assume that they will enjoy the end product as much as you do, and youre the right firm to get them to that point.

The second question is, Will I have continuing service if and when things go wrong? This is where the custom nature of your firm shines. Explain how your support and service program differs from any type of support your prospective clients would receive from a big box retailer or Internet vendor. You can certainly be available at times when other places are closed, but it doesnt stop there. Your firm will always be there to make sure every system you sell is up to date and resolve any issues that occur during the updates.
Selling the custom home theater experience is important, but its only the first piece in the puzzle. Next month, I will offer tips on how to design a home theater experience for your clients.