As my network into the AV Integration industry expands, I have begun to notice a trend in how people approach system design and sales. There seems to be three main approaches to how a sales and engineering team goes about designing and selling AV systems into their perspective market. I think all three have their merits, but also each has their downsides.
AV Approach 1 - "The Clean Slate"
The first approach I would call the “clean slate” approach. This methodology centers around going into each sales opportunity with an open mind in regards to how the system will go together and what equipment will be utilized, both in make and manufacturer. These integrators will take a lot of direction from the customer in regards to which brands that they would like to use, even if it may not be the ideal product for that application. I find that these integrators are typically smaller firms who don’t have strong direct manufacturer relationships and may be part of a purchasing group or alliance. These integrators typically are centered around a handful of core customers in which they rely heavily on to keep their businesses profitable. Since these firms are spreading around their purchasing across a large amount of manufacturers, they don’t receive the best pricing or other program benefits. This makes them extremely vulnerable to a larger integration firm with larger purchasing power who could easily underprice them. The key to their success is on the service and support of the customer. Where these integrators fall short in purchasing power, they make up for in relationship building and overall account service.
Audiovisual Approach 2 - "The Template"
The second approach I will call the “template” approach. This methodology centers around having key core manufacturers that when combined can handle almost any design need. These integrators have carefully selected and partnered with 2-3 major manufacturers for each major system component (audio, video, control, cabling, etc.) to streamline their purchasing process. These integrators rely heavily on their past experience and knowing what works well for what application and which parts and manufacturers work well together. These firms can lead a design conversation with the customer and help them build a system based around their preferred (or house) brands. I find that these are your medium sized firm who build their business based on their reputation and experience. As long as these firms are performing well, they have a cycle of customers who keep their businesses profitable. Since these firms have formed some alliances with manufacturers, they utilize special programs offered by the manufacturers to help keep their costs competitive. These firms are more focused on system performance versus lowest price, so they heavily rely on the manufacturers to protect and reward them for their loyalty. The key to these integrator’s success is their relationships with the manufacturers and vendors paired with their reputation within the industries or markets where they work.
Audiovisual Approach 3 - "The Package"
The third and final approach I will call the “package” approach. This methodology centers around having pre-built packages that can fit into most applications. These firms have pre-designed systems that they sell based on the application. When working with a customer, they simply drop in their “systems” into each room type or need. These integrators have typically narrowed down all of their purchasing power into a single manufacturer for each major system components and only sell those manufacturer’s products. I find that these are the largest integrators who have maximized their business’s profitability around purchasing power. Since these firms already know the systems that they are going to sell, they can purchase in large quantities to maximize the best price possible on the market. These integrators are high volume type businesses with their target customers being ones who have buildings that are comprised of two or three general types of meeting spaces that pair seamlessly with their pre-built packages.
All three of these models can and do work in today’s marketplace and all three can be argued for and/or against. Also, these approaches don’t always apply to just the integration firm. These general approaches to system design can also apply to the design/consultant community. I am interested in hearing from my peers in the AV industry as to which category they fall into and their feedback on the pluses and minuses to these general approaches to AV system designs. Lastly, please share you feedback on how these design approaches impact the AV industry as a whole and the reputation and role of the systems integrator.