Know Your Non-Negotiables

I have a key philosophy in working with what appear to be price-sensitive clients: we don't negotiate; we educate. Instead of just being a discussion about cost, it becomes about needs and wants, which much more often than not leads to the solution that best fits the client’s lifestyle and budget.
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Why is it that when we go into a client’s home, they sometimes question every component of the systems we’ve designed for them? When car buyers go into a Mercedes dealership (or a Kia dealership for that matter), they don’t ask to have BMW wheels put onto their S-class sedan.

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We were recently referred to client to replace his outdated Crestron system that is 10-plus years old. We did the walkthrough to understand what he currently had, what he liked and disliked about it, how he lived and entertained in the space, his budget, and if there were any “must-haves,” “nice-to-haves,” and “never-want-to-haves”—the typical first-meeting client questions.

We went back and put together our proposal. We spoke about a week later and the client had clearly done a bit of homework, and I could tell that he had also spoken to other integrators. At first he asked to use another HDMI matrix switch, not a Crestron DM switch, as he had been told that they were pretty much all the same and he didn’t want to spend more than he had to (I get it, no one wants to spend more than they have to!). He also sincerely questioned the managed network I had put into the proposal, asking why we weren’t using an Apple Airport Extreme, or even that new Eero network that he had been hearing about (probably through their Facebook ads!). The questions and challenges kept coming.

That was when I started in my key philosophy in working with what appear to be price-sensitive clients (let’s be honest: everyone is sensitive at some price). We don’t negotiate; we educate. I began discussing with him that we have three things that are required in all projects we undertake and are non-negotiable:

  • An enterprise-grade network. The network is the backbone/infrastructure/foundation on top of which everything else is built. If we don’t have a solid network, nothing else can be relied upon to perform well.
  • IP Power. We have to be able to do as much as we can remotely, and an IP power conditioner that allows us to reboot both on a schedule and remotely is absolutely mandatory. The one time you make the concession and don’t go with it, is the one job that is going to have the modem that freezes up every week.
  • Crestron control. For our company and in my experience, Crestron has been the most reliable control system, their support is second to none, and they stand by their product.

I then explained in greater depth how the system would perform and gave him a demonstration. As I do with all of my clients, I presented the proposal face-to-face, in the Crestron showroom, so I can get them excited about the equipment and the experience.

Satisfied with why we needed the things we proposed, the client then began asking us to reduce our pricing on items to meet the pricing on these other brands. That was when I returned to my key philosophy: we do not negotiate; we educate. I let him know we can value-engineer the system to reduce cost, but we charge retail pricing because we offer a full-service experience. For example, we could use a smaller managed switch with some unmanaged switches in the network. We could use lower-cost processors. And we could reduce the number of inputs and zones, sacrificing expandability in the matrix switch: instead of a 16x16 that would allow future components to be added on, we can go with an 8x8 and if new sources are to be installed, others will need to be removed.

We spent a lot of time discussing the options, but with a core understanding of what our “must-haves” were for a successful project, and our stance on price negotiations versus value engineering, the conversation became a lot more productive. Instead of just being a discussion about cost, it became about his needs and wants, which much more often than not leads to the solution that best fits the client’s lifestyle and budget.