Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What Makes a Great Company Great?

This is my last week at Kramer Electronics. To say the least, it is filled with mixed emotions. I am very excited about the next phase in my career and the great things that I get to be a part of at Atlanta Soundworks. I am happy that I get to join the ASW team because this is a team known for great service and extremely high quality in all of their projects. At the same time I am sad to leave the people I know and love at Kramer. Parting Kramer will be with such sweet sorrow (I should know…this is the second time I've done it and of course is has to be the last time (there is no going back after this one…)).

I have decided that this week’s blog will be to share why I believe Kramer is such a great company. Who knows, you may find some attributes that you may want to focus on building into your organization. I believe there are 5 key areas that make Kramer the great company it is. These 5 areas are: knowledge, skill, attitude, genuine care factor and a great team spirit. Last week I shared what a great leader Kramer has, now I want to share what a great team he has built. Try to look at this piece as more than a commercial for Kramer and see it as a case study and some insights as to how your company can improve in some areas.

Each of the areas where Kramer proves their leadership and character is recognizable and repeatable in any organization. The first three are easily identifiable and they relate to Steven Covey’s Habits of Highly Effective People. Oddly enough they aren't one of the seven habits. I found these traits at the beginning of the book where Covey defines what a habit is: “The intersection of knowledge, skill, and desire. Knowledge is the theoretical paradigm, the what to do and the why. Skill is the how to do. And (attitude) desire is the motivation, the want to do. In order to make something a habit in our lives, we have to have all three.” When I was the national trainer for Kramer I started a campaign where I simply stated “ASK Kramer”, because even back then I saw that attitude, skill and knowledge were Kramer’s watchwords. Ever true today as it was then Kramer people, through an almost contagious way, have the attitude, skill and knowledge to be the great company they are.
  • Attitude: Kramer’s collective attitude is one of ambition and drive. The drive is to solve their customer’s problems (they continually strive to “do the right thing”) and their ambition is be honest and helpful partners in all they do. 
  • Skill: The skills the people at Kramer have are unmatched in the industry; they don’t just sell products, they solve problems and truly partner with their integration partners. Each sales person is an industry veteran, technically savvy and industry certified. Kramer doesn't just put another pretty face in front of you (although everyone there is a good looker), they make sure each person in each meeting adds value to the relationship and that everyone contributes to the company and their partners. 
  • Knowledge: Kramer people know what they are doing. The engineering and field support team excels at being incredibly knowledgeable in current and emerging technology and applications. The technical support team has a great blend of awesome customer service and technical guru-ness. 

The last two of the five characteristics have to do with the collective personality of the organization. These characteristics are the family spirit and the genuine desire to do good things and make a difference in their world (as individuals and as a company). These are highlighted when Kramer takes up a charitable cause. For me personally Kramer has helped me to raise thousands of dollars for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. But, it goes beyond charity. Kramer (as a collective) has the desire to do great things in our industry.

Kramer is a family. Each person at Kramer is a valued contributor and is appreciated for their uniqueness and own way about them. Just like any family, we have the crazy uncles (or a few of them – including myself), the strict aunt, the reserved cousins and so on. We have the full spectrum of personalities in Kramer, but the overarching character is of genuine care. Kramer people care for each other, support each other and care for and support their customers. In most businesses people say “it isn't personal, it’s just business”, but at Kramer there is very little separation. Business is personal, and why not? Kramer has many partners (ASW included) where the business is a family one and it is personal.

Lastly, Kramer cares. Kramer is a company based on a spirit to do good things. Dr. Kramer states in the company’s mission statement “…to provide and uncompromising level of service…” I believe this comes through in almost every communication and interaction between Kramer people and their partners (customers). This is something you can’t fake. You either care or you don’t and Kramer does a great job of making everyone in the organization want to care about what they do.

I just hope that I am able to bring what I have learned from this great company on to my next big thing. In closing I want to tell everyone at Kramer: I will miss you all and I will always consider myself “part of the family”. Thank you to each and every person at Kramer for making me a better person.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Art of Career Stewardship - Knowing the Importance of Balance

Before I begin the message of this blog I will make a brief announcement:  It is with both great excitement and tempered sadness that I announce my upcoming departure from Kramer Electronics (15 November).  I have accepted a position as General Manager at Atlanta Soundworks (an integration firm here in Atlanta).  With Dave Bright's (President of Kramer, USA) support and blessing, I will be taking my career to a new level and growing in new ways.  This blog serves two major purposes.  Purpose #1 is to acknowledge Dave's management style and to share what we can learn from it. Purpose #2 is to announce that I plan to apply all that I have learned from Dave.

And, now, the blog...

There is an interesting cartoon recirculating around social media where two business men are conversing and one says, “what if I train my employees and then they leave?”  The other responds, “what if you don’t train them, and they stay?  This illustrates one of the toughest dilemmas in personnel management.  I think we can agree that employee development is very important and a good management practice.  The dilemma is when you do support your employee and their growth and then they end up growing beyond the needs of your company.  How do you address this?  In the following passage I will give my thoughts on how to support your employees beyond the standard needs of the business.

I have learned that one of the best approaches to employee management is to first recognize that every employee will leave your company; EVERY employee leaves.  The sad truth is that death makes this an undeniably true statement.  That being said, death is the rarest form of employee departure.  Thank God for that.  Knowing that every employee leaves gives you freedom.  Just knowing that keeping an employee forever is a completely unrealistic goal frees you from the burden of trying to keep good employees forever.  Knowing this, you can focus on the more honorable goal of being as good as a leader as you can for as long as you have them.  The result of that is, most often, loyal employees that stand with you as a leader through the test of time.

Another way to look at this is that good managers serve their company by trying to keep their productive employees, but great leaders act as in the best interest of employees and strive to bring out the best in them.  Great leadership through service to employees results in the best employee performance and productive results for the company, win-win.  I have heard this management style referred to as career stewardship.  I love the term.  But, career stewardship is an incredible balancing act. 

As a manager your employees have entrusted you with their career paths.  They have put their faith in you.  They believe that you will look out for their development needs and keep their best interests in mind (as long as these things are aligned with the business goals).  However, your management has entrusted you with their business and they are counting on you to always do what is best for the business. The good news is that these two points are not in conflict.  You can serve your employees and meet the organizational business goals.  In fact, these two points are absolutely dependent on each other. 

The last illustration I will give to this point is where I work.  Kramer Electronics, USA, is led by Dave Bright.  As President of Kramer US he is charge of all aspects of our business.  He looks out for our profit and losses and provides us with strategic direction.  He is an incredible business manager and leader.  But most importantly, he is each and every employee’s biggest advocate and cheerleader.  He has done more to contribute to the development of his employees and helps to develop their career paths more than any other leader I have ever had.  In working for Dave, I have been fortunate enough to work for someone who is truly dedicated to his employees and always does what is best for them.  The business result of this leadership style has been consistent sustained growth for Kramer and very loyal employees.  I believe that if you were to ask anyone who works for or has worked for Dave, they would tell you he is a great example of a true career steward.

I'll end this blog with a special thank you to Dave Bright and to say that Kramer is a great company to work with and for.  Thanks again Dave and thank you to everyone at Kramer.

Friday, September 27, 2013

The Sales Process - Improve It or Lose It

In my most recent blog I discussed how the lack of empowerment can cripple a sales team and how the root cause could be higher up in the chain of command than you may actually think.  I also mentioned how the fix to this type of problem and many other organizational issues can be found by using the Six Sigma DMAIC methods for continuous improvement.  This week I will go into a bit more detail about the DMAIC methods and give an overview of Six Sigma. DMAIC stands for Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control.  As I write this I am already realizing that this is going to take a few blogs to cover, so consider this part one of a multi-part blog.  In this blog I will talk about where Six Sigma and the DMAIC method fit into sales and in the coming weeks I will go into detail about the DMAIC method.
                If you have never heard of Six Sigma that probably makes this blog a bit easier to read, but if you have heard of it, I will need you to let go of any possible preconceptions you may have and give what I am saying a chance.  The reason I say it may be easier to accept Six Sigma if you've never heard of it is because how Six Sigma was thought of five to ten years back.  Back then Six Sigma was often being used by a lot of organizations to justify a process re-engineering effort that was crafted by executive management and other boards to appease shareholders.  Way too often, these were implemented incorrectly and used as “house cleaning” projects to justify layoffs.  There was a lot of promoting of Six Sigma in the manufacturing world and it started to be known solely for manufacturing defect improvement through process improvement.  The two biggest misconceptions about Six Sigma and the DMAIC method are that it is just for manufacturing and that it is a way to reduce your staffing requirements (fire people). As you read on I will try to show you that Six Sigma is much more than a manufacturing line improvement project.  It can go the core of just about every organization and increasing productivity with existing resources not getting rid of them.
                What is Six Sigma?  Six Sigma is about continuous process improvement.  The name Six Sigma comes from the calculations that show us how close we are to meeting our customer’s requirements (the only real measurement that matters).  When we meet our customer’s requirements 100% we have zero deviation from our goal.  Since Sigma is the Greek symbol for a Standard Deviation we use Sigma to describe how close we are to meeting our customer’s goals.  The more Sigma, the closer we are to perfection.  Six Sigma indicates we have met our goals with 99.99966% accuracy.  Six Sigma also equates to 3.4 defect per 1 million product produced.  That is pretty close to perfection.  So, is our goal in sales perfection?  Sure, why not?  We can strive for perfection, even if we know it can’t be achieved.  Try being Catholic and you will know what I am talking about.  I am going to get some heat for that one, but I am leaving it in.  When Jack Welch introduced Six Sigma to GE he stated, “We are going to shift the paradigm from fixing products to fixing and developing processes, so we are producing nothing but perfection or close to it.”  When I look at a quote from one of the best business minds of our time I learn that there is nothing wrong with having that lofty of a goal.
 I started this blog about sales, so the question remains, what does Six Sigma have to do with sales?  I believe the act of sales is a process with a product.  When I talk about what a sales person produces I am not referring to the widget that they are pedaling, but rather the sales process itself, a sales person produces customer service.  Six Sigma is perfect for services organizations. If you ask me (and by reading this you are), sales (customer service) is definitely a process, that can be measured and improved. 
As I stated before, Six Sigma is about process improvement and sales is a process.  Six Sigma is about improving speed, quality and complexity.  Speed, quality and complexity are paramount to sales success (and the success of just about every other service related business) and therefore the process of sales (and other service businesses) is a prime example of a process that Six Sigma is perfect for.
As we look at what the Six Sigma DMAIC method will bring us, I feel I need to first tell you what Six Sigma and Process Improvement IS and IS NOT.  Refer to the table below to see what is and is not Six Sigma Process Improvement:

Six Sigma
Process Improvement for Sales
A system to deploy TOOLs to make sales people more effective and that removes barriers from their sales paths.
A tracking tool to determine whether your sales people are as busy as you want them to be.
Sales Reporting
A system or process that reduces tasks and activities that hinder a sales person's direct work in selling.  Any activity that is not directly related to sales needs to be removed.
A system that forces sales people to become report generators rather than sales generators.
Processes and Checklist
Process and systems that make sales people more effective by giving them tools to stay focused on the task of SALES.
Adding processes to account for sales people productivity regardless of the added burden the system will have on sales people.
Activity and opportunity tracking are not substitutes for supporting SALES.  The needs of the system should NEVER outweigh the needs of the sales team.

What I am trying to say is that A CRM system is not a substitute for good processes and process improvement is not a substitute for developing your sales force.  If you are considering process improvement and deploying a CRM system or if you are re-examining your process and CRM deployment you need to make sure that the processes and systems support the sales team and not the other way around.  I remember working for a VERY large company and one of the people I respect in this industry said, “if a sales person wants to submit a PO on a bar napkin then we need to have a system that supports that.”  At that time I was a gung-ho analytically driven IT type that was a stickler for the process and the confines of CRM system.  I learned then that the needs of the sales team far outweigh the needs of us sales support people (if you are not in sales, then you support sales).   The first and most important aspect of a CRM (sales reporting and data mining system) is that it supports the needs of the sales team.  I have seen too many times where a CRM system is implemented so that upper management had “visibility” and middle management has “accountability”.  If your system’s goals are visibility and accountability then your system might be missing the most important aspect – usability

Next week I will go into the details of the Define and Measure aspects of the DMAIC methods for process improvement.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Empowered Sales People Sell More

POWER – It can be given without loss.

It has been said that there is power in choice. I believe this holds true whether you are giving choices or exercising them.  The result will always be some form of shared and transferred power.  One example of such power transferred through choice is when you need to convince a customer to buy your product.  Such a situation requires that you to give them the power of choice.  This is a lot easier said than done, because if we leave too much to choice we may not have what our customer chooses or wants.  A very delicate balance is in order.  That all seems reasonable enough, right?  Great Max, you have succeeded in stating the obvious you can now share the limelight with Dr. Phil.  

Here is my dilemma; what happens when you as the sales person do not have the power to give a reasonable amount of options to your potential customers? Whether it is price, product offering or support programs, I believe the customer must have choices.  In a case where you are limited in what you are allowed to offer, you are not empowered.  When you are not empowered the customer loses their power and you lose your customer. Here is why.  Everyone wants to believe they are dealing with THE person who can give them what they want and need. Think back to when you bought a car or other big ticket item. If you ever had to deal with the sales guy that developed a great rapport with you, listened to your needs and developed a solution that gave you what you needed and wanted, but when it came to a fair price he had to "get his manager's approval."  Didn't you feel like you were wasting your time?   

This does not change in complex sales.  Customer’s needs still remain the same.  All customers have the need to feel they have choices and if they don’t get them from you they will find somewhere else to get them.  Regardless of the relationship you've built, the support you give and extra effort you go through, you need to be able to offer the choices and you need to be THE guy you customer can get everything they need from. Of course our customers also need to know you are willing to solve problems (as addressed in one of my previous blogs).

If you are a sales manager reading this, I plead to you now.  Please give your sales team the power they need to make your whole organization successful.  When you create this environment of success (where choice is the number one sales tool) you will flourish in the rewards.  If not, you simply have a team of purchase order takers and administrators.  Don’t get me wrong, order entry and administration are the heart of an organization, but without pro-active sales people who have the power to offer choice the organization is limited to transactional business at the maximum bandwidth of the person who controls the choices.

Here are 3 steps to helping you determine if you are empowering your team:

1.  Ask yourself (or better yet your team) if you are you a bottleneck. – Are there sales and/or negotiations that are not taking place because you need to be a part of it?  Are you aware of every detail of every opportunity?  If so, could you be too aware?  A microscope does not help a team as much as a pair of binoculars.  If you spend too much time looking at what is going on you will never see what is coming. 

2.  Check to see if you create an environment that allows risk. - Does your team feel they can stretch and/or make a mistake and know that you will have their back?  If your team member does the wrong thing for the right reason, will you support them?  Your team needs to know that you will always support them as long as they act in accordance with their conscience and the collective goals and strategy of the group.   As long as they are doing what they believe is right to help your company win the kind of business you need, the team needs to know that you will support them.  If this holds true then the course corrections you need to make when something goes wrong won’t always be to reprimand a sales person for a mistake, but rather to correct the lack of empowerment and understanding of organizational goals that you have allowed that enabled the mistake to happen.

3.  Where is the power? - Are you a middle-man?  Do you have to constantly (more than once or twice a week) check with your boss about budget, strategy or positioning?  Do you even know what your cost is and profit goals are?  You can’t transfer power you don’t have.  This is a bigger problem than just acting as a buffer.  A team that knows you are not the decision maker is just as demotivated as you are and this must be addressed.  If you find yourself being bypassed by your team and your leadership is allowing this to happen, you may be in that tough spot of being a middle-man.  This needs to be addressed head on and tactful conversations need to take place ASAP.

If you have taken the time to evaluate whether you have transferred your power to your team and created an environment that breeds success or not, you are half way there.  Here is what I mean by that; the Hawthorne effect states that anything studied changes its behavior.  So, by merely evaluating yourself to see if you empower your team, you will empower your team.  If you already empower your time, stop here and share/comment how you do it and (if) why it works.  If not, decide to change it and change it.

For tips on to make these changes and other organizational improvements check back next week.  I will be writing about some of the key ideas from the Lean Six Sigma process improvement methodology and how those can be applied from a sales management perspective. 

Happy Selling,


Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Project Management and Life Lessons

Project Management and Life Lessons

I am a life-long learner.  Recently, I have focused a lot of my evenings and weekends to gaining more knowledge (and certifications) in more areas.  I recently added the PMP certification to my list of certifications.  I spent some long evenings studying and memorizing things I thought I knew from years and years of experience.  There is one thing that holds true of about almost every certification I have obtained.  That thing is that regardless of how much you know (or think you know) and how much experience you have, you always have to study for a certification exam.

I would like to share with you a small, but (to me) significant revelation I had while I was working on my PMP studies.  The revelation came to me one night when our instructor said that a project is a living and dynamic entity that must be taken from its beginning to its end.  To me this seemed to be giving projects way too much in the realm of personal traits and since I was recently reminded by my sixth grader is that personification is used too much these days, I was hesitant to take this information to heart.  But, then I gave this a lot of thought.  I realized that if we as project managers did just that (give our projects a persona), we would be more inclined to properly guide and develop the interests of the project and protect the project in ways that we wouldn't otherwise. 

If we approach our projects with a sense of needing to address the projects needs and developing its path to success as if we were dealing with a living thing, it would enable us to feel free to defend its best interests even in the face of having to disagree with or offend others.  If we look at project management as our responsibility to always do what is best for the project, we can direct it efficiently, interact with resources and customers clearly and manage the outcome effectively.  In this mindset we can even close the project early if needed to so we would be doing what is best for the project and not necessarily what is best for ourselves.

When I gave this more thought, I found it was a logical and effective way to address projects and I decided it was worth sharing.  I hope this helps someone out there who is struggling with a conflict in their project.  I now have a better understanding and respect for the passion project managers have for their projects.  Some treat their projects as “their baby” and now I see why.  Great project mangers give their projects a persona.  They develop and guide that persona and have hopes to one day, watch it grow and flourish under its own power.

To me that is a project management life lesson.

The author:
Max Kopsho, CTS-D, CTS-I, PMP, CQT, CCENT, CCNA, CCNA Security,  MCSE, DSCE 
Lean Six Sigma Green Belt

Max has worked in the AV industry for over 15 years in various management and technical roles.  Over the last 26 years Max has acquired an extensive background in supporting A/V systems, computer networks, telecom, and VTC systems.  Max developed one of the industry’s first networked AV solutions and that product is now deployed in a single network with over 15,000 network attached AV devices.  Max has made considerable contributions to the InfoComm Education area in AV/IT and CTS preparations.  He was awarded the 2010 Educator of the Year for InfoComm. 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Solving Problems

Are You Solving Problems or Solving Your Customer’s Problems…

I don’t remember where I read this, but I’m sure it was Zig Ziggler or some other guru of sales: “Solve big problems, make big money.”  This sounds simple enough right?  Well, I am going to share with you my biggest "aha" moment.   I was giving one of the best presentations of my sales career.  This presentation eventually resulted in an $85M projector and network equipment sale.  Sounds great, huh?  It all came down to luck (preparation meeting opportunity).  

Let me take you back to that day.  I was giving this once in a lifetime presentation and I was on it.  I was overcoming objections and painting awesome pictures of increasing profits and productivity.  When all of a sudden my customer stopped me and said the most important phrase I have heard in my sales career.  He said, “You are solving a problem I don’t have.”  BAM! he hit me with it and I was stupefied.  Fortunately for me, I had a customer who was willing to teach me as we went along.

Bottom line is that after all was said and done, I learned one more time to shut up and listen.  

I think we should start a new sales university.  We will just call it STFU.  You go ahead and fill in your own blanks for the acronym.

Happy Selling,

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Objection Handling "Ya But..."

Have you caught yourself in a ping-pong match of sales expertise vs. seemingly never ending objections? Your customer puts up a objection; you knock it down with a great sales prowess. Up comes another objection; away you blow it – today you are the Zig Zigler of Sales Ping Pong. Back and forth this goes – heck, we all know you are a great sales person so you can keep going for a long time if you have to (and today, you are really on it). At what point does your rebuttal become you being a “butt-for-all?” When does your defensiveness, just start sounding like you are being a butt? IMHO (in my humble opinion) the answer is - right away. Especially if this conversation is taking place in email. If you have to spend your time in an email defending yourself, your product, or your company in an email you are most likely sounding like a butt to the reader. What do I mean? A customer says “Thanks for the info, but we are happy with our current vendors and have no interest in changing at this time.” Now you answer - “ya, but…” maybe not those words, however (by the way “however” is just a fancy “but”) if you use that tone (the “ya but” tone) you are most likely sounding like a butt. So what should you do?

Here are 3 key ideas some sales guru friends and I came up with that may help:

1.​Head down the same path they just took you: “we are happy with” – This customer is willing to tell you that they like how they are doing business. Take this time to learn. You didn’t stop learning when you graduated college right? Every day is a learning experience, so take this opportunity and have the customer help you continue your life long learning experience. Ask them; what is it that makes you happy with this particular vendor or any of your vendors for that matter? How can Kramer get there with our customers? If there were one thing we could change or do better for our partners what would it be? Can you give me an example of what this vendor does? - of course the risk here is re-enforcing their decision to stick with this vendor, but what is the alternative? “thanks anyway”. They already told you to take a flying leap. If you are looking for a safer way to do this, you can use questions that are more general and geared toward what Kramer can do and not what this vendor is currently doing. Give them a little freedom to get creative with their answers so they can improve on what that vendor is doing – given the opportunity.

2.​Thank them for their honesty – remind them that sometimes you spend with potential partners who aren’t as honest as they are and they lead you to believe they will do business with you only to find their was never a chance. Ask them; since they are being so honest – if you can ask them questions that go along the lines of point #1. In the discussion that brought up this subject this week I totally missed this point. It took Alan and one of our esteemed RSMs to bring this one home. It is really important to thank our customers and potential customers for thinking so much of us to remain completely honest with us. One of the things I worry about more than when my wife being mad at me and telling me everything I do wrong is when she stops talking to me. So, remember to thank our customers for telling us everything we do wrong, because the alternative can be that they don’t talk to us at all.

3.​Plant a seed for later communication – Set a date that you would like to contact them and set a flag in Outlook to do it. Let them know you understand that currently you don’t have anything that may interest them and appreciate their response/time (the alternative was they ignore you). Ask their permission for you to contact them when we launch our next highly differentiated product line, pricing, or programs –(i.e. SummitView – “the only product of its kind in the industry”) and ask for permission to send materials on current materials now. One way to ask is a loaded question: i.e. “Thank you for your quick response to my request for a meeting. I understand that you are currently not interested. I would like to send you some information on Kramer and contact you again in 3 months when our more unique products in simplified control and integration have launched and you may have less conflict to consider in this particular product category. If this will not work please give me a call to let me know.” - most likely they will not take the time to call and have you not send the stuff.

The author:
Max Kopsho, CTS-D, CTS-I, MCSE, DSCE – Kramer’s Director of Group Sales and Consultant Relations

Max has worked in the AV industry for over 15 years in various management and technical roles. Over the last 26 years Max has acquired an extensive background in supporting A/V systems, computer networks, telecom, and VTC systems. Max developed one of the industry’s first networked AV solutions and that product is now deployed in a single network with over 15,000 network attached AV devices. Max has made considerable contributions to the InfoComm Education area in AV/IT and CTS preparations. He was awarded the 2010 Educator of the Year for InfoComm.

Saturday, January 5, 2013


AV/IT - Convergence or Disconnect?

As a national trainer in the U.S., one of the great things about the job is I get to travel around and meet all kinds of people in all kinds of places from all kinds of jobs.  One thing I have definitely learned is we all talk very differently and we even listen differently.  Where we come from, what we do, and our experiences change the way we hear or the way we listen.

Below is a quick chart to give you a quick reference to the kinds of things that we take for granted in our everyday conversations with IT guys from an audio-visual perspective.  These are just a few of the many things that you’ll encounter, but it gives a good start.  My recommendation is to take a format like this and build on it so that you analyze your own terminology and sanity check it for how IT guys may understand it or read into it.  You’ll see that some of the things we say in audio-visual may have a different meaning to an IT guy or at least these things will evoke an immediate reaction that you may have to work around or hurdle as an objection.

What the Audio-Visual Guy Says
What the IT Guy Hears
(or his Immediate Reaction)
What We Audio-Visual Experts Should Do
Use the term audio-visual from the start to avoid confusion.
IP and Telephony
(high cost, long nights and lots of pains)
Avoid the term convergence unless used with audio-visual and IT all together.
Transporting huge amounts of data to lots of users at the same time over corporate network until it crashes or bandwidth is brought to its knees
Ask the questions up front about if/how streaming is used on the network now.
Open Architecture
No security
Clarify that interoperability and security are not mutually exclusive and ask what security requirements there are on this network (i.e. FIPS and AES).
User Friendly
No levels of control or delegation
Ask questions about delegation when addressing user needs – clearly separate user needs from admin needs.
Email Integration
SPAM ready
Ask SMTP, POP3 and how this will work before you say “this can email you if there is a problem.”
As a network guy, this is my in to ask a million questions…are you ready?
Ask about public vs. private and how SNMP is used on this network.
Uses Static IP Address
We don’t do that
Ask if static IPs are allowed and know if the devices you are proposing work with both DHCP and static.
Manage Devices on Your Network
Not on my network
With a 99% or 99.9% uptime requirement know your STBF and SPOF requirements.
Capture and Record
My users don’t go in front of cameras
Many IT guys are very aware of how their users won’t use a room with a camera, ask them.
Asset Management
Usually has to do with data not devices
Use physical inventory and tracking as examples so they know you are not referring to data.
Full Duplex Communication
Do networks operate on anything less?
In a network there used to be half duplex as a common mode, so talking up full duplex in videoconferencing isn’t a big deal to a network guy because all network stuff should be full duplex by now.
Management Software Provided
Yeah! Yet another software package
To update and track
Sure the software package you offer may be free of charge, but is it solving a problem they don’t have?  Make sure they need a software package first.

The overarching way to avoid these confusion-causing communication errors is to ask many more questions.  No one knows more about the customer’s network and network integration needs than the customer and their chief technologist – find that person and work on an ongoing basis with them.  As consultative solutions providers we are best suited to use that person’s knowledge to gather the information required to provide the solution they need.  The more we learn about IT, we realize we need to ask more questions.  Seems a little counter intuitive at times, but it holds true. 

We (as an industry) spend a lot of time talking about the importance of learning more about IT.  Taking courses provided by InfoComm like the 3-day AV/IT integration course or taking classes from allied industries are a great idea, but what do you do with the information once you start getting it?  I recommend you add it to your toolbox.  You may not be designing networks, but it will help you ask logical questions and interact with the whole team better.  The more we learn about IT the more we realize (just as in audio-visual) we need more information from and about the customer and their application in order to provide a good solution.  Every application and every solution is unique. 

Maybe the best approach is to think about when you have had your more positive consultative experiences in your life as a customer.  The people who were best suited to serve you were the ones who asked the most questions.  Based on the result of the experience you probably learned that these questions didn’t stem from their lack of knowledge, but moreover from a better knowledge of their trade and from a true desire to know how best to apply that knowledge to your particular needs.  There is no better way to understand those needs than to ask questions and to do the complete needs analysis.

Bottom line is you can’t fake genuine care for how the project turns out.  If you do genuinely care how you are going to meet customer needs you will do well.  This takes time; time to learn emerging technologies that affect them, time to learn their language and time asking the right questions and investigating their needs.

The author:
Max Kopsho, CTS-D, CTS-I, MCSE, DSCE – Kramer’s Director of Group Sales and Consultant Relations

Max has worked in the AV industry for over 15 years in various management and technical roles.  Over the last 26 years Max has acquired an extensive background in supporting A/V systems, computer networks, telecom, and VTC systems.  Max developed one of the industry’s first networked AV solutions and that product is now deployed in a single network with over 15,000 network attached AV devices.  Max has made considerable contributions to the InfoComm Education area in AV/IT and CTS preparations.  He was awarded the 2010 Educator of the Year for InfoComm.