Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Lessons from Marvel’s AVengers for the AV Industry

Tony Stark - Iron Man

Technology can make or break you.  We learn that Tony Stark can invent anything and often invents things just because he can.  Similarly, in the AV industry we implement technology for technology’s sake.  From the comics and movies we learn that if we implement technology without fully researching it and without finding out the purpose behind the tech we end up in trouble.  If we implement technology without researching the problems that it will solve then we are doomed to fighting the technology later.  Eventually, Tony Stark (Iron Man) fights against some form of his technology (or at least in 3 of his movies and hints of it in the upcoming Avengers movie). In AV we find that when we implement new or unproven technology we end up fighting against it later.  Think back to when you implemented a “leading edge” technology and you were left hanging in the field because the product didn’t support a feature you believed it supported.  You might as well have been fighting against Ultron.  Sometimes, leaning on proven age-old technology is the best route.  “The old ways are the best ways.”

Captain Steve Rogers - Captain America

What makes Captain Rogers suitable to be Captain America?  Was it size and skill?  No.  He had heart and determination.  Our lesson for the AV industry is that the companies that stay true to their purpose and passion are the ones that stand the test of time.  I also have to say that the secondary lesson that Captain America has to teach us is the importance of “shield.”  When working in AV, the signals are much more susceptible to outside interference and shield(ing) is more important than in data.  There is a lot more checksums and error correction in data than in AV.  AV needs shield(ing) a lot more than data.  So whenever there is a doubt (like Captain America) use your “shield.”

Thor – Son of Oden – The Right Tool for the Right Job

Sure, Thor only has a hammer, but it is the right tool for the job.  In AV we can learn from Thor that we need the RIGHT tool for the job.  We often skimp on tools and test equipment to save a dime and often spend a dollar later.  Ask your technicians and project managers to document the time wasted because they don’t have “The Crusher” (the translated name for Thor’s Hammer).  You will be surprised to learn how much time and money you are wasting because you tried to save a dime in test equipment or fancy tools.  Thor’s lesson is an expensive hammer is sometimes worth its weight in gold.  As a side note, we could learn that one should expand their toolbox to include more than just a hammer.  When you only have a hammer every problem looks like a nail.  Thor addresses this problem by surrounding himself with team members that round out his tool collection (both on Asgard and when on Earth).

Bruce Banner - The Hulk – Might Means Right

When you have brute force behind you, how can you be wrong?  There are some instances when knowing you have the strength of an entire industry behind you, you just know that you can do anything.  From the Hulk, we can learn that the sheer size and strength of our industry is an attribute we often downplay.  We tend to ignore the fact that we are a huge industry of incredibly knowledgeable professionals.  If you look at the history of InfoComm® you learn that it dates back to before 1939 and that AV has been around much longer than that.  You also learn that there are over 10,000 CTS/CTS-I/CTS-D holders.  The AV industry is a Hulk of an industry and when directed properly, “Hulk, will smash!”  When we consider that we have added Unified Communications and Collaboration to our skill sets and that we have the strength of the likes of Cisco and Polycom behind us, we are clearly the big green giant in this fight.  Of course it helps that Bruce Banner is also the world’s leading scientific researcher in his field.  We should learn that when we are not our giant alter ego, we can still gain the respect of everyone around us by being the trusted advisor and knowledgeable guy in the room about our subject area of expertise.  So I guess there are two lessons to learn here; knowledge is power and power is power.

The Role of S.H.I.E.L.D.

The two overall messages we can learn from Marvel’s AVengers for the AV industry is the value of balance within the team and the need for good leadership.  As a team, the AVengers are unbeatable.  Each member has their strengths and weaknesses and the team plays builds on the strengths of each member and covers each other’s weaknesses.  The leadership that S.H.I.E.L.D. (Strategic Homeland Intervention Enforcement and Logistics Division) provides wraps the whole AVengers team together and allows each member to leverage their strengths while still working within the strategic plan of an overarching structure.  Even superheroes need purpose and direction that can only be provided by good leadership.  Once leadership sets the direction and establishes the environment of success, they need to get out of the way and let the true heroes do the work.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Stop Selling My Products

“Stop selling my products” – This would be my new tagline if I were to move back into sales.

This may sound like a stupid statement for a sales person to say but bear with me for a little bit.  I can think of a million resellers that can sell my products exactly the way I prescribe.  For example, If I sell videoconference systems, I believe that they would be sold and installed by many AV and IT resellers alike.  The end result with thousands of AV/IT resellers will be almost identical.  Once all of the problems with network provisioning and space planning are all worked out, the room usually ends up with a display or two at the head end of the room, a camera placed below above or even between the two screens, loudspeakers placed in the ceiling and microphones in the ceiling or on the table with a speakerphone.  Of course there are subtle variations to the deployment based on some of the accessories I can offer as a manufacturer to allow for some level of customization.  But, no one, almost no one, will offer a completely different solution.  So why would I tell you to “stop selling my product?” Let me answer that by asking you a question: what value are you adding when you integrate my products exactly the same way that I prescribe?  Are you doing anything I can’t do if I were to hire a sales force and integration team of my own? 

Once this off-the-shelf videoconference room is built, what are the common complaints that the users will have?
  •           The local participants yell at the ceiling or the table when speaking to the remote participants instead of speaking naturally and looking into the camera
  •           The users can’t share documents with the other end easily and naturally
  •           The people on the far end cannot look around the room and look for reactions as they would if they were in the room
  •           Desktop sharing and remote collaboration are not seamless with remote users
  •           Local AV integration does not consider the remote users – there is no option for dual screen so that camera and content will be an option
  •           Local whiteboarding is not included as part of the remote sharing features
  •           True collaboration is not the overriding application
  •           The room is not intuitive to use and people would rather travel
The list goes on.

My point here is that, as a sales person, I would prefer my product not be sold as off-the-shelf items that are simply put in rooms as-is.  I would rather a full needs analysis and program report/design phase be completed and my products be fully integrated in a completely unique way.  Here is an example: what if there were an integrator that designed a videoconferencing system that treated remote users as if they were “In-The-Room.”  In addition to the room videoconference system, this system could have a camera (or two – one for a full room scan/peripheral view and one for eye-to-eye contact), a microphone and an LCD screen built into a chair (or a few chairs) for remote participant(s).  In this integrated solution, the local user looks at the chair (now “occupied” by the remote user “John” and makes eye contact, speaks to him with a normal voice.  John can now even use the pan tilt and zoom to look at others and address them directly.  His chair can even swivel and tilt to show some of the same body language he is showing on his remote end.  You can even add a document camera that is mounted into the ceiling so that local room participants can slide documents across the table to John.  Heck, at this point much of the local system becomes a simple matter of AV switching, so sharing a whiteboard or other local content is just another camera.  If you add online collaboration capabilities similar to GoToMeeting or even free versions like TeamViewer or SplashTop then sharing the desktop and true collaboration are not foreign concepts.  The last and most important feature that most certainly needs to be integrated by an AV/IT integrator is the control aspect.  The control system is what will provide the ease of use and the user interface.  An integrator that does such a solutions based offering is the type of partner I would want as my customer/partner.  Of course, there are current robotic solutions on the market now that offer similar features.  But even if I don’t sell that robotic type of product, my hope is that you will integrate my products and build a better solution than the off-the-shelf one and that you will add your value to the equation. 

My hope as a sales person is that you will add value that I don’t have and that together we can meet end user needs that even the end user didn’t know that they had.  Together we should know how to connect my product features and functions to how they benefit the customer and address their pains.  If together we can identify explicit and implied needs we can complete this whole sales cycle instead of just pushing products.  If I, in turn, provide service and support that make your unique skills and knowledge shine and if I can help your deployment and service painless and profitable, then you will choose my products over my competitors.  My bottom line: “Stop selling my products and start truly integrating them.”  When this happens, we all win and the biggest winner is the end user.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Connecting and Volcanos – My Two AHA! Moments This Week

Another great week with a class of incredibly talented AV geeks getting their CTS credentials.  This was another unique class because it was for a manufacturer, so the depth of knowledge in projection and image quality was unparalleled.  I learned a lot from this team of professionals.  Along the way I learned some things I didn't expect to learn.

In a couple of late night conversations with a very high executive in the company I was training, I was asked some very pointed questions and statements.  These conversations ended up hitting me in the core of who I am and what I am doing.  In this few days’ worth of time, I ended up learning more about myself than years of therapy.  The highlight of what I learned has to do with Connecting and the Volcano.

Connecting – One of our late night conversations was more of a question and answer session.  The executive I was talking with wanted to learn more about me and the company he was working with.  So he asked me a lot of questions. The question that hit me the hardest and made me realize I was on the right track with grAVITation TECHnologies was when he asked “what is it that you are trying to do, are you trying to make these people understand and learn the CTS topics and pass the test or are you trying to help them learn more about the industry and best practices?”  I thought for a second and answered. “Neither. I am trying to connect with them.”  As those words came out of my mouth I realized why I do what I do.  Yes, I love to learn and I love to share my knowledge.  Yes, I love to teach and see people improve. But, above those things, I love to connect with people.  My satisfaction comes from people coming up to me years after a class and telling me how I changed their life or their approach to something and how something I said stuck with them.  I love the idea that when I spend time with people in any environment (classroom, office or on the road) that I get to connect and we SHARE information and grow TOGETHER.  By answering that seemingly simple question, I learned (or reminded myself) more than I had realized in a long while.

The Volcano – As our discussions went on, the executive I was talking to referred to me as a Volcano.  I took this as a compliment because I see volcanos as powerful.  I also liked this statement because the result of volcanos erupting can be beautiful; tropical islands and luscious and fruitful lands.  It wasn't until I got home and pondered what he was trying to tell me.  I now think that I learned a small bit of what he was trying to say (and I am sure there is much more to this).  I ended up contemplating on this a lot more and even doing some research.  I realized that this new friend was telling me that I have a balance of many talents and traits (like the volcano has all the elements: earth, wind, fire, water and air).  The challenge someone like me faces is that I can be forceful and dominant in letting go of these elements at times.  The result is not the island paradise I was hoping, but a wasteland and destruction.  The beautiful paradise takes a long time of rebuilding.  However, If I hold back and allow the forces to remain in balance and only release in small doses when the time is right and only when I need to show appropriate passion about key things, then people will get from me what they need and I will get what I need - connections.  If we continue to consider the actual volcano as the metaphor here, there are many beautiful cities that exist near active (although dormant) volcanos.  I believe this is because the inhabitants gain much more than they perceive the risk to be.  I learned that I may have the force of a volcano I must learn to control that force and remain dormant (and control the eruptions) so that I can provide a luscious and fruitful area around me. Otherwise, the volcano can destroy the environment. 

Who knows?  I could be completely off on what my new friend was trying to relay to me, but the good thing is, it doesn't really matter.  I took what I could from it and learned something and hopefully I will grow a little more because of the week I spent contemplating connections and volcanos.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

My Incredible Week with the Industry’s Best and Brightest - USAV APEX

What did you do last week?  Did you take on a big and challenging project or find a new million dollar customer?  I still think I can top that.  I spent my week with some of the industry’s top integration firms’ and manufacturers’ best and brightest operating executives and next generation leaders.  Was there a secret InfoComm or NSCA meeting?  No.  I was at the USAV APEX Integrator’s Summit.  We spent the week in awesome seminars, group discussions, panel briefings, technology showcases and social events.  In this blog you will find some of the highlights from this great week.

THE PEOPLE:  First I want to share a little about the people I spent the week with.  I would like to do this from a different angle than usual.  So, here goes: I spent my week with some amazing people.  I spent dinner with an awesome proud father of a downs syndrome son.  This father was one of the most driven project/program managers I know and to learn that his home life is so challenged taught me more about how driven and caring this man is than I ever knew.  I sat at lunch with an inventor that holds 3 patents.  This same man was so intent on listening to what others had to say and so willing to learn from others you would have never known that he himself was one of the best instructors our industry has to offer.  I sat in a session and learned about new ways of thinking from the fashion industry (really, the fashion industry?) and I learned an awful lot from this session and this instructor was awesome (and as an instructor myself, you know I don’t say that very often).  At yet another dinner, I sat with someone who built their own video walls 15 years before ANY manufacturer ever build one.  I spent time with a couple of AV/IT firms that are well down the road of converging their AV and IT departments.  These companies confirmed for me that the investment in people and showing loyalty matters.  They care for their people and care how their people progress in life.  This investment pays off in dividends with returned loyalty and unmatched service to their customers.  I also spent time with a few family owned businesses and learned more and more about the passion that goes behind starting, owning and running a business of passion instead of profit.  From this group of people, I learned more about the passion in this industry than any big trade show or big stage keynote speaker could have ever taught me.  I was blessed to be with some of the industry’s most passionate people who were willing to share their knowledge and insights.

THE PROGRAMS:  During these meetings and training sessions we discussed the major programs and support that the USAV Group offers its members and how the members support each other.  This was another huge lesson for me.  The way this group leverages the collective knowledge and experience amazes me.  USAV as a whole is of one character.  The executives from the group have clearly gone through a painstaking process in selecting their group members, in that, every member is of a very similar character.  With this, the group as a whole emotes one collective message – we care and we share.  I learned from this group that there is such a thing as healthy competition.  By the nature of the business these businesses are competitive, but these particular companies have found a common ground where they can share information, methods and best practices for the betterment of each other and the industry.  With this collective mindset, they are able to share resources across the country and throughout North America.  The big lesson I learned here is that as a group these integrators are much stronger, smarter and more effective than if they were working separately.  I am proud that they allowed me to be part of their meeting and their group.

What a week.  My only complaint about the whole week was that although I did take third place in the bowling contest, I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a prize for overall bowling high score or fastest ball.  But, in all seriousness, I love learning and I love being in great company, so this was the perfect week.  Was this week better than completing a huge project or finding a million dollar customer?  You bet it was!!!

Monday, August 18, 2014


What perfect timing!

The same day that I had the awesome pleasure of being in front of a best and brightest class of 22 CTS candidates from the Atlanta market of the AV industry, my 5 year old grandson started his first day of kindergarten.  Today we both had a great day of back-to-school.  Once again, I was reminded why I love what I love doing.  Being a consultant and trainer allows me to blend passion and profit.  Passion is the most important part of that equation.  I imagine standing in front of a class of professionals that are looking to further their careers gives me the same nervous joy that a new kindergarten student feels on his first day of school.

Today our family was doubly blessed.   We are once again reminded that doing what you love is what really matters in life.  The message I really want to share here is the message I received from seeing my grandson in the photos today and the message I received from my class today.  The message from both my class and my grandson was one in the same: "always find the joy in learning.

"Back-to-School is such an exciting time because it helps us to remember that life-long learning is challenging and tough but it is also fun and exciting.  It should be looked at how the kindergartener looks at the first day of school; with wide-eyes and seeing nothing but the opportunity and fun.  If we approach just about any situation with the right expectations then at least 50% of the outcome is already determined and that outcome can be awesome.  Given the opportunity, we should sign-up for all of the training and professional development opportunities we can.  And while you are at it, why not sign up with grAVITation TECH? www.grAVITAtionTECH.com

Happy learning! - Max

Saturday, August 16, 2014

With Collaboration The Shoe Maker’s Kids Will No Longer Go Barefoot

There is an encouraging shift happening in the AV Integration industry.  This shift is happening at the integrator level and at the manufacturer representative level.  If you are a not a part of it, you will absolutely need to be or you will be left behind – barefoot and in the cold.  This shift illustrates the importance of living according to principles or a code.

The principles or codes I am referring to are:
  1. Anything worth doing is worth doing right.  If you are going to show and tell a customer about something, show them in the right setting and show it in its best light.
  2. If I believe something is going to be good for your business, it must be good for mine first. This means I won’t try to sell you anything I am not willing to use myself.  If I want to encourage you to use my product, it had better be something my organization uses to better our business.
  3. Those who don’t know, teach - is a dead wrong principle. The only way to truly share information and knowledge is through experience.  If you have not lived the joys of having collaborative technologies solved your pains, you will never truly be able to relay the message of how it can do so.

In the case of collaboration, this means the ability to demonstrate the way it works for your company to improve business and it needs to integrate seamlessly.  Over the last decade or so, I have served as a national trainer and in a national business development role.  I have to tell you that you would be amazed at how many AV/IT systems integration firms, including ones I've worked for, do not use collaborative tools in their daily operations and do not have a decent demonstration facility.  These shoe maker’s kids are going barefoot.  The good news is that this is now changing though.  Now, as I travel around consulting and training with my new company, I am finding more and more companies upgrading their demonstration facilities and their internal processes and operations to include collaborative and unified communications solutions.

Dos and Don’ts of Making the Shift from Barefoot Shoemaker to Wearing Italian Leather Versace:

  • Fund and resource your Demo Facility as if it were a customer project
  • Stick to the schedule, require change orders, no cannibalizing, etc.
  • Assign an owner of the project/room (briefing center program manager)
  • Go through the full needs analysis rather than just slapping together all the free gear
  • Consider the functionality of the room first then determine the equipment
    • Yep, seems redundant from the one above, it’s important!
  • Use the room; this is not a museum.  Demonstrations must be well practiced and natural.

  • Treat your demo facility as a lab (nothing gets swapped without proper change orders)
  • Do not test equipment or code in this room. Let manufacturers determine what goes in the room (users decide through a needs analysis)
  • If demos of new equipment are to be done in the room, it should be done through guest interfaces.  Do not “take apart the room for equipment demos from new manufacturers.”
  • Try to show everything in one space (it is important that the room have function first)
  •  Having a single room do too much makes it confusing to demonstrate and makes it confusing to the customer.  Even using “vignettes” is risky.
  • Simulate – if you are demonstrating global videoconferencing or collaboration, do not simulate a videoconferencing with someone by doing it from room to room.  Customers catch on quickly and will keep that concern locked in the back of their mind.  Demonstrate the capability from out of the gate.

The bottom line is that when we are willing to change a behavior and show our customers that we believe in what we are telling them, they are more likely to follow our lead.  Along with that, there is a huge value in showing the value in your solutions and not just telling or presenting them.  If collaboration and unified communications are what you are selling then what better way to show the merits and value for their use than implementing them in your business?

I use the analogy of the cell phone kiosk in the mall.  I love the fact that at such a kiosk, if you were to buy a cell phone, they activate it for you by picking up a land-line and placing a call to an office and providing their head office the information needed to activate the phone.  Wait! They call their head office using a land-line to activate your cell phone???  How much confidence does that instill?  Are you doing the same thing when you invite your customer to your office to show them collaboration and unified communications and your systems are not integrated and are aged and slapped together?  Time to “get your shoes on.”

The ‘living up to your principles and code’ is part of the MENTOR key from the 7 Keys to Selling Like Leonardo from the book Da Vinci Sales by Max Kopsho.  Pre-order your copy today at www.davincisales.com or book your Da Vinci Sales Seminar at www.grAVITationTECH.com.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

"So What?" Selling - Asking All the Right Questions

Ask yourself these questions so your customers never have to.

Among many attributes, it takes humility, an inquisitive nature and great listening skills to be a good salesperson. Those attributes seem almost obvious, right? Okay, I'll give you that. I think what takes a little more thought and may not be as obvious is the inquisitive nature requires more than just a curiosity about how things work, how people interact and how to creatively solve problems. You also need to constantly wonder what other people are wondering, especially what your customers are wondering. This is why I titled this blog "So What?" Selling. You need to be constantly asking yourself, "So What?" You should be doing this as if your customer is the one who actually is the one is asking it. So every time you mention a product feature or new channel program you should hear your customer's voice saying "So What?" Every time you tell your customer about a new technology or a new solution you need to assume they are thinking "So What?"

Your meetings with your customers will be at least 10X more productive if you spend time before the meeting rehearsing what your approach is going to be based on the research you have done on the customers pains and buying process. You can then focus your rehearsal around knowing the answers to their "So Whats?" The customer will thank you for not wasting their time. Notice that I assume you research the pains and buying process for the buyers prior to your meeting. I also assume you are meeting with buyers (decision makers) and that you rehearse your meeting. I have done countless sales presentations and training and I still rehearse almost every time to some degree.

Using the "So What?" method allows you to get to the three core questions sooner in the sales meeting / conversation. For this, you should have answers to these three core questions prepared before the meeting ever starts:

1. Why do something? Have you given the customer a compelling reason for action? Have you made the customer realize a pain or competitive disadvantage he/she wasn't aware of? This is sometimes a tough one to remember because when you are passionate about your products or solutions. They seem like a no brained solution and you may forget that you need to make a compelling presentation or "argument" for it to your customers. Not everyone sees the obviousness of the value of the solutions you provide as you do. You need to pretend that the customer knows nothing of our business and that they are always saying "So What?" This just happened to me when I was telling people about grAVITation TECH. To me, it was so obvious that our industry needed training that I didn't need a clear value statement, but my customer needed to hear it from me. I can't tell you how many lessons I've learned from my customers.

2. Why do something now? Have you convinced your customer of the urgency of the situation? Have you even tried to? Or did you just go with the customer's budget and timing? One of the keys to " So What?" Sales (part of the Da Vinci Sales model) is to assign urgency for the customer. You need to guide the customer in setting the expectations and understanding of the timeline. They need to have an understanding of the detrimental impact of waiting to implement your solution. By showing the customer the cost of not doing anything or delaying action, you assign urgency to the implementation of your solutions. Whether it is a continued lack or lessened productivity or loss of customers because of perceived lack of innovation (example being not invested in collaborative solutions), these examples need to be shown in strategic, political (competitive landscape), financial or cultural terms. These are the areas that people of power (decision makers) are focused. There are many ROI, TCO, ROO and other top end calculators (free from vendors in our industry) out there to use for this purpose.  These are typical in selling to C-Level people, but they are helpful in making the business case and showing your strategic literacy when working with all types of key decision makers.

3. Why do it with you? Have you made the compelling case for the customer to select you as a business partner? Sure people do business with people they like but that is after all the other things are said and done. And by the way, no sales person has a relationship quota. It is great if you make a lot of friends out there but you need business partners more. So have you given the customer the compelling reasons to do business with them? These reasons have more to do with the people, programs and processes within your organization. Have you given the customer reason to believe that your people will take care of them after the sale and that your programs and processes match their needs and wants? Make sure that you talk with their purchasing, operations and support teams to see what types of programs and processes you need to offer to support the after the sale "So Whats?" and make sure that is included in your offer up front. The whole idea is to answer the “So Whats?” before they are ever asked.

Just imagine that there is a little version of your customer sitting on your shoulder. That little version of your customer is there while you are rehearsing in the mirror the night before or while you are driving on your way to the big meeting. He/she is there saying: "SO WHAT, SO WHAT, SO WHAT?!?!?!" If you remember that, you are half way to the big sale. Remember, half the outcome is determined by the preparation. Keep listening to that "SO WHAT, SO WHAT, SO WHAT?!?!?!" Have your answers ready and you'll knock them dead!

"So What" Selling, is part of the Da Vinci Sales model. You can read more about Da Vinci Sales in the upcoming book by Max Kopsho. Pre-Order today at www.davincisales.com or book a Da Vinci Sales Seminar at www.grAVITationTECH.com.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Three BE’s of Moving from TECH to SALES

How many sales people do you have that transitioned from technical staff into sales?  How many of those people had proper sales training?  How many of your sales staff has had any formal sales training for that matter?   Does it matter?  Of course it matters.  Back a while ago in my blog I recalled the following: 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 they end up growing beyond the needs of your company?  How do you address this?  The key is to remember that at the core of the issue these two seemingly conflicting paths are in fact very much aligned.  In this blog I outline the complex issues that come with transitioning from tech to sales.  The bottom line is that sales people need training and techs transitioning to sales need it even more.

This article is also for the many people who are now being required to make the transition from tech to sales.  There are a myriad of reasons for having to make this transition: tech bench work is going away; earning potential is higher in sales; the needs of the business has changed; etc.   If you are making that transition, you should read this just to get an idea of what you should and should not focus on.

First we should define what ‘technical’ is.  Technical is anything that is not soft skill.  Administration, operations, design, engineering, install, service, customer service, IT and so on are all technical.  We often limit ‘technical’ to people who are wrench turners and code writes, but remember if you work a process, write checks or other similar jobs you are technical too.  This article is for you as you transition to sales.

I am currently in the final stages of writing my book and it will soon be published (October 2014).  The book is titled– the Art and Science of Da Vinci Sales.  The subtitle is The 7 Keys to Selling Like Leonardo (How to Move from Tech to Sales for People Who Hate Selling).  You can find more information at www.davincisales.com.  The core theme of this book is making the successful and lucrative transition from a tech focused life to sales and doing so without selling out.  What does it take for a technical person to be successful in sales?  In this blog I will just talk about 3 steps to begin or refocus your transition.  You will have to contact me to schedule a seminar or buy the book when it comes out to get the 7 Keys to Selling Like Leonardo to completely answer this question.

Making the transition requires the three BE’s:

Be True to Yourself:
Don’t try to emulate a salesperson as you understand them or that you see in your organization.  People buy from people they like and nobody likes a phony.  If you are faking your personality or pretending to be someone you are not just to ‘act’ like a sales person, your customers and partners will see right through it.  That boisterous egotistic sales attitude works for some because that is who they really are and their customers are gravitating toward the fact that the sales person is being genuine not that the person is slimy or slick.  We may read it that way, but that statistics show that the ‘used car salesman’ is successful not because he is a tricky person, but because he is confident in whom he is and comfortable enough with whom he is to stay true to that person with everyone he meets.  Stay the same person you are, all that needs to change is your activity and some of your goals and targets, not your personality.

Believe in Your Products and Solutions:
If you are selling fur-lined sinks (sinks that have a fur lining) or fur-bearing, egg-laying, milk-producing pigs or any number of products or solutions, you have to believe in them to sell them well.  Sure, those products don't make much sense, but if you believe in them you can sell them.  Don’t get me wrong you can get away with convincing people to buy stuff without really believing in it, but that is usually short lived.  If we look back to what step 1 says, when you are true to yourself your customer can tell. When you believe in what you sell you are being true to yourself.  You are emotionally invested in your products and solutions and your customers can tell.  If you do not believe in what you sell you have a choice to make.  You have to learn to believe in what you sell or sell something else.

Be a Trusted Advisor:
You need to leverage the fact that you were a technical person.  Just because you are making the transition to sales doesn't mean you are no longer a technical resource for your customers.  If you were to ask a large group of people who consider themselves strictly sales people and have little technical background what they would like to do to improve their career, most would respond that they would like to get more technical training.  You, as a former technician turned sales, have an advantage in sales.  Do not let go of that advantage.  Most sales training programs teach sales people to work on becoming a trusted advisor to their customers.  With your technical background, you are and can remain a trusted advisor.  Stay current on emerging technologies and keep your certifications up to date.

My book, Da Vinci Sales, goes into much more detail on how to make this transition.  I also have a 3-day boot camp for technical people to make the transition to sales and a 1 day seminar.  I am available now for your company to book one of these sessions.  Contact me at max@grAVITationTECH.com.  A career in sales is a very rewarding and an extremely fun one for technical people.  I have had the pleasure of working in sales for a long time and I have enjoyed it immensely – even though I hate ‘sales people’(hopefully you sales people know what I mean when I say that - because you know I love you if you are problem solvers instead of 'sales people')

Happy Selling,

P.S.  By the way; Eskimos do need ice cubes, so what is that all about?....

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Snatching the Pebble – InfoComm 2014

InfoComm 2014 is now my favorite InfoComm of all time.  Although InfoComm 2010 is a close second, since it is the year that I won Educator of the Year and that I saved a stranger from choking to death at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse by using the Heimlich Maneuver.  So, how did 2014 beat 2010?  2014 is the year that Grasshopper snatched the pebble from the Master’s hand.  At InfoComm 2014, I watched my daughter present her first (of hopefully, many) seminars at InfoComm.  She helped with a panel of experts on AV/IT Security.  Now, I may have a slightly skewed opinion, but I think she stole the session.  Below is the lesson I learned from her and one I think we can all take something away from:

It was during the Q and A portion of the presentation and one of the attendees asked a very pointed and compelling question.  The question had to do with why they should go through all of the trouble and added expense in offering IT security in their bid response when it isn't specifically asked for in the RFP and none of the other respondents are offering it.  The question led toward the conclusion that responding simply adds expense and complexity that burdens the cost and doesn't offer return on investment (in terms of increased profit).  Each of the panel members gave great technical responses having to do with the need for IT security and the responsibility technology providers have in this area.  But, my daughter Amanda’s answer was in the form of an analogy that at first didn't seem to fit.  Amanda started off talking about as a U.S. Marine, when two Marines are competing for the same spot in a unit (or a promotion) they are put in the middle of a circle of Marines.  These two Marines are left to grapple it out (wrestle).  The winner gets the job (promotion).  Amanda then brought the analogy home.  She asked “why not think of IT Security as your choke hold”.  IT Security is your move to “choke your competition out” so that you win the job.  Wow, it took breaking it down to a simple wrestling match, to remind me that when all is said and done we are competing for work.  It is not a simple equation of determining whether or not we are making enough margin or not, but whether we can “choke out” the competition.  After all, it will come down to you losing or you winning; you can choke them out or get choked out.

This brings to light a bigger issue that we need to be reminded of - How would you define your competition?  If you use words like: healthy, friendly, play well together, not really in the same business, etc. than you are sadly mistaken.  If you believe your competition is healthy or friendly you are confused.  We as competitors may be cordial and professional, but it is competitive.  We need to always think in terms of winning and losing.  Sure, play fair, do what is right, but win.  Play to win.  Choke out your competition and the only way you can choke out your competition is to have a winning (choke out) move.  This week we taught some people how to make IT Security their (choke out) move.  It doesn't matter what your move is.  Just have a move and do it better than anyone else.

You must play to WIN! 

Monday, June 2, 2014

Do What You Love, Love What You Do!

This past week I was one of the luckiest workers in the world.  Why?  I was doing what I love and I was doing it for a living.  Life is good.  It helps that I am married to a perfect woman and that I love my wife and kids.  It helps that I am a grandpa to the most awesome little grandson in the world.  But, last week all of the stars aligned.   Last week I was also doing what I love for work too.  This past week was the inaugural training event for grAVITation TECHnologies, LLC.  I was reminded what I really love doing and what I believe I was meant to do - training.  I love helping others advance their careers and to grow in their knowledge in AV/IT technology and business matters.  It probably helps that I am a ham and I love an audience.  Being somewhat technically savvy and a fairly good communicator and a wannabe comedian makes training my sweet spot.

What is your sweet spot?  Are you doing what you love?  Are you doing what pays a fair wage?  Are you doing what you can do better than anyone else?  If you can answer all of these questions with YES, than you are in your sweet spot.

I am grateful to Pro Sound and Video in Florida for helping to remind me where my sweet spot is.  This class was full of 20 awesome professionals that helped to bring out the best in my training technical abilities, communication skills, facilitation expertise and strong passion for training.  To them I say a huge THANK YOU!!!  Pro Sound and Video in Florida (and Los Angeles, CA) is a full service design-build audiovisual, communications and collaborative technology integration firm that provides solutions in entertainment, travel and tourism, corporate, government, house of worship and sports complexes.  This class was made up of an awesome team of people from Pro Sound and it was a great group to spend my first event back in the training saddle with.  I strongly recommend Pro Sound for your upcoming integration projects.

Finding your sweet spot

Doing what you love:  This is not just limited to the one thing that you think you were meant to do or the one thing that you dream about.  It does not have to come to us like American Idol contestants or actors that are finally discovered after waiting tables in Hollywood.  This can be that thing that just brings you peace or makes you feel complete and/or content.  What is it that allows you to feel well rounded and like you are contributor?  It can be the thing that answers the question, do I feel good and happy about what I do?  It takes a lot of work to find what you love doing.  You have to try many things to really find the things you are good at and that are good to you (those are usually the things you love).

Doing what makes a fair wage:  You don't have to make big money doing what you are doing, but it should be fair.  Are you making a comparable wage to what others make in this field and can you live comfortably doing so?  You should not have to sacrifice too much to do what makes you happy.  It would be counter to the goal if you have to sacrifice your way of living for happiness.  Happiness is balance and therefore requires a fair wage.  There are ways of finding the right wage for doing what you love by adding things you love as added responsibilities to what you currently get paid well for or vice-a-verse, adding things you get paid well for to the things you love doing.  It does not have to be an all or nothing.  I was a sales person for a long time and I loved it only because I was able to incorporate a lot of training into my sales techniques.  Because I could do both, I was paid fairly and was happy at what I did.

Doing what you do better (or different) than anyone else:  You will be able to do what you do best for a long time and remain happy at it for a very long time if you are doing it different (and add value) or better than anyone else.  You need the competitive edge to do something for a long time and make money at it.  If you can't compete at what you love it will have to remain a hobby and if you are trying to do a hobby for a living it can become very expensive.  In business if you don't know what you competitive edge is, you can't win.  If you want to do what you love for a long time, know how you do it better or different than anyone else and focus on that.  If you have ever been through my training you would likely agree that I do it like nobody else.  My training sessions are very unique.  I can almost guarantee that you will have fun,  That is my competitive edge.  If it comes down to it, I will educate you better than most AND you will have fun doing it.  I am, after all, (as one dear friend puts it) the "2010 Edutainer of the Year" (His spin on InfoComm Educator of the Year).

Bottom line is I love what I am doing and this week I was reminded of that.  I re-caught the bug and I am back 100% training and consulting.  Why? Because I love it!  I am one of the lucky ones who gets to do what I love for a living.  Now hurry up and book your training with grAVITation TECH so it stays that way!!!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Generational AV/IT – Security Matters

This week my daughter and I have been working on our presentations for InfoComm.  That’s right.  This year we get to present together for the first time ever.  Some of you met my daughter when she was about 8 or 9 when I first came into AV and now she is teaching in AV and IT.  This is a big deal for both of us.  WOW! - time flies.  We are presenting about Secure AV.  Our portion of the topic is about AV/IT conversations and the generational difference in AV/IT technologists of today and the ones of my day (old dogs). 

I was an IT manager back in the day, more years ago than I care to admit.  Back when I was an IT manager our favorite phrase was “not on MY network”.  And, back then I could do that.  It was MY network.  The users of MY network had privileges on MY network, but I was in complete control and most of the technologies and protocols were a “black art” to my users.  If a user had a problem, I could go to the server room and “reverse the polarity of a tachyon beam and recharge the dilithium crystals” and all was fixed.  All that usually meant was that I rebooted something, but they didn't need to know that.  Not to say I didn't have it rough. C’mon, I was a network manager on December 31st 1999 and stayed one through January 1st 2000.  I had my trials.  But, there was beauty in that my customers had no idea what I did.

Today my daughter and son are both working in the IT world.  As much as they both tried to get as far away from IT as they could, they got sucked in.  I couldn't be more proud.  My son is a NOC engineer for a large email marketing company and my daughter is a security analyst and network/communications specialist for the United States Marine Corps.  As a Corporal in the Marines and a network security specialist her job has its challenges, but adds the fact that her customers build their own high speed networks at home so they can game, stream, video chat and countless other bandwidth and network intensive tasks amazes me.  Those same customers come to work every day and demand that they be allowed to BYOD or access their files from home on some of the world’s most secure networks.

So if you ask me if there is a generational divide in AV/IT from today and yesteryear, I say, heck yes!  And I sure do miss the good old days, but I am glad I kept my certifications (CCNA and CCNA Security) up to date and that I kept learning.  I recommend all my peers (you old IT/AV folks) do the same.  Times are changing… security, security, security.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Delegate Don't Relegate - Leadership

I was recently told by a business owner and successful entrepreneur that they were not "a leader".  They admitted they know technology and operations but lacked true leadership skills.  Their solution to this challenge was to hire outside to bring in "leaders" for their team.  I can't help but think about how sad that is for this business owner and for their employees.   How cheated the employees must feel to be led by someone who doesn't consider themselves a leader and how much the boss misses out on when they don't take on a leadership role.  It is a blessing and responsibility to be in the role of leader.  In an earlier blog I talked about career stewardship, but i didn't get to go into detail about how an important part of that stewardship responsibility is guidance and direction (in a nutshell - leadership).  As part of that stewardship responsibility it is the business owner's position (or anyone who grows into a leadership role) to grow into that role.  Your team is counting on it and you owe it to them.  You can delegate some of the aspects of leadership, but you can never relegate your leadership in its entirety.  If you do, you risk having less respect than if you had never taken that role.  You owe it to your team to respond to the position they have entrusted you with by acting in their interests instead of pawning it off to someone else.

Here are three key aspects to delegating your leadership and not relegating it completely:

1.  Vision and Values - You should actively participate in the vision and values determination.  The entire team must know that the direction of the collective is set by you.  Of course a group of managers should be used to guide the direction of the team, but you as the leader should set the pace.  No one should wonder what you believe the company is capable of and what you dream for them.

2.  Goals and Targets - As the leader in your organization your team needs to know exactly how you are measuring their success.  This is not only in terms of revenue and margins, but other measurable and objective means of setting targets and goals.  These need to be short, mid and long range goals.

3.  Mission - This isn't just the blah, blah, blah statement on a plaque or on the website, but what is your company's make meaning?  More than compensation, people want to know they belong to something bigger than themselves.  Can you put a message behind what your company stands for? Can you lead that "mission?"   This is important.  You need to be the one to be able to bundle the company message.  The mission should be your banner. 

You need to be able to verbalize these three topics before you get into the weeds.  Too many leaders can rattle off the small details of the organization, but don't have these leadership aspects down.  The vision and values, goals and targets and the mission should all be cast the same way a mission is cast for the crew of an aircraft carrier.  Every member of the crew plays a part in determining where the aircraft carrier is heading.  Engineering, navigation, operations, quartermaster and so on all play their part.  All of these crew members must know the overall mission in order to play their part in determining the direction and making it happen.  If they do not know the vision, values, goals, targets and mission, they are left to driving the ship without a plan and all hell breaks loose.  The entire team works better when the plan comes from the top and the plan is well communicated with commitment and care.

You don't have to have great charisma or an Executive MBA, but you do have to step up and use what you do have.  Use your strengths and gather the strengths of the rest of your management team to build on.  Your team is counting on you to lead and delegate and not relegate.  Your job as a leader is to lead.  You can delegate some, but you cannot relegate at all.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

grAVITation TECH - Consultant = Jobless. So, Why Now?

Someone asked me why I started grAVITation TECH now?  Isn’t it risky to start a new business now?  Hell yes, it is!  But, it needed to be done now.  I recently read an advertisement in Popular Science that summed it up for me.  The ad read: “Gravity: The Most Dominant Force in the Universe? - Gravity rules the universe. It governs the rising and falling of tides, and it holds celestial objects in their orbits.  Without it, everything would dissolve into a gas of randomly interacting atoms.”  It was an advertisement for a master’s course in physics, but it spoke to me in volumes about what I wanted to do in AV and IT.  To me AV and IT are at the center of grAVITy (hence the company name grAVITation TECH).  All our marketing, product development, systems, solutions and training will have to center around AV and IT.  There is a need for AV and IT knowledge and consulting now more than ever.  This AV and IT knowledge has to be objective and proficient.  That is why I started grAVITation TECH now.

We have talked about the convergence of AV and IT for well over a decade now.  But, now it is hitting our businesses where it really matters.  It is not just a disruptive technology or a buzzword.  It is a get up “slap your mama” and change everything in your business to the core problem.  We used to see AV and IT as a problem where Pro AV integrators were losing one-off boardrooms and a few hang and bang conference rooms to IT integrators.  That problem was manageable.  Seemingly overnight, the problem grew to soft phones at every computer and skype replacing desktop phones and boardroom conference room systems. 
AV quality became less and less of an issue as bandwidth on demand and smartphone video conferencing and jabber became the collaborative standards.

With IT taking the lead in these areas I decided to take the leap and go into consulting and training to help AV integrators, manufacturers and consulting firms to bridge the gap and help them gain a better understanding of what AV and IT have to offer each other.  I stand by my early assertions that AV still has a lot to offer the IT world.  IT managers do not want to learn acoustics and lighting.  They do not want to have to understand presence and production.  AV’s value in the equation will remain, but it will change.  How the Pro AV Integrator understands and reacts to that change is the key.  My job as a consultant is to guide them in that change.

One piece of advice to the Pro AV Integrator is, and I have said this many years ago and I still see it raise its ugly head, do not have your internal IT person head up your IT market development efforts.  It is just bad all the way around.  I see it time and time again.  Ask yourself this question: would you use your CFO to manage someone else’s finances or your accounts payable to pay someone else’s bills? No. So don’t use your IT guy to define someone else’s IT/AV problems.  Dedicate a sales engineer and market development team for this purpose.  You’ll be glad you did.  It is a forest through the trees thing.

My closing thought on why I started my consulting firm now instead of waiting:  AV and IT are at the center of our technology universe.  Are you prepared to manage the combined forces of AV and IT?  If you hesitated at all in your answer or there is a hint of doubt, you might need my consulting services.  And that is why I started my firm: to serve.

Thursday, April 17, 2014



Max Kopsho – VP/CTO - grAVITation Technologies, LLC

This blog is dedicated to the friends I made at Atlanta Soundworks.  ASW has such a talented group of people and an ownership team with such generous hearts and caring attitudes.  I will miss you all dearly.  Although, I was not able to do all I had hoped to do in the short time I was there, I did learn a lot and I was reminded of one of the most important aspects of leadership: teamwork.  I hope my team at ASW remembers me as someone who tried to develop the TEAM.  Without that team, I would not have survived even that long (short as it was).

What does it take to make a team?  TEAM - from a leader’s perspective you can look at the word team to help define what a team needs from you.  

Here is the pneumonic that I am referring to when I say that:
T = Trust
E = Empower
A = Acknowledge
M = Mentor

Trust - Your team needs your trust.  If you spend all of your time double checking everything your team does, they will wonder why it is you hired them in the first place.  Many of the greatest leaders I have ever known have said, “I only hire people smarter than myself.”  Which by the way, if you do the math that makes the CEO the dumbest person in the company, but I digress.  But, joking aside I am stating you should only hire people more trust worthy and smarter than you.  And then TRUST THEM!  You should not be able to do the work of all the people who work under you, nor should you try to.  Sure, you should be able to direct all the work that is done under you, but God forbid you are actually able to do it all.  If you could do everything that is done by the people who work for you, then the people who work for me have a pretty narrow capability set and low bandwidth.  Could you imagine what would happen if the people who worked for Jack Welch could only do what he was capable of and if everything they did had to be checked by him?  GE would be crippled.  Jack Welch was able to trust a team of leaders, who in turn trusted a team of leaders, who trusted… and so on.  I do understand that all of that trust comes from having been proven in the first place, but for God’s sake let your people prove themselves and then get the heck out of their way.  You stifle creativity and limit growth when you do not trust your team.  You ultimately lose people over lack of trust and you will lose them quickly.  Trust is the root of every relationship and no matter how good you are in every other aspect of the relationship; you will lose any relationship over trust issues.  Loss of trust is the one relationship showstopper.  It doesn’t matter whether you are the one who is not trusted or the skeptical one, eventually the relationship will come to an end.

Empower – Empowerment comes hand in hand with trust.  Trusted people are allowed to make decisions and act.  Trust alone, without power, is futile.  Empowerment is the verb of trust.  It is the spirit in the organization that allows people to KNOW that they can act on the trust they have been given.  Trust is lip service without empowerment.  JW Marriot empowered its people with $1000 each to make a customer satisfied.  Without question each employee could make the judgment call and spend that $1000 to make things right for the customer.  Do you allow your employees the decision power to make things right?  Are they trusted AND empowered?

Acknowledge – Awards and Rewards are nice.  Heck they are the new buzz right now.  I want to emphasize that we need to make sure that we recognize, appreciate and show GRATITUDE.  The acknowledgements at the front of a book are full of the gratitude and appreciation expressing about those who got the writer to where he/she is. Don’t just check a box with employee of the month or the required number of thank you messages for the day.  Take the time to acknowledge those who contribute to what gets you to where you are.  A good exercise to do this is to reflect on a week or month and think about what got you where you are.  Run all the ‘what if’ scenarios.  I hate to think about the whole ‘what if Jane got hit by a bus’ scenario  I use ‘what if Jane won the lottery and she wasn’t here this week?’  What impact would that have had?  Look at those ‘lottery’ scenarios for as many people as you can for the week and acknowledge those people who “got you there”.  Acknowledge people publically and privately.  There is something to be said for a private note once in a while.  Yes, public recognition is nice, but a note between you and an employee means more sometimes.  It takes the element of the boss showing off out of the equation.

Mentor – It is one thing to direct people to do what needs to be done. It is a whole other thing to do it with them.  In my last couple weeks at ASW, I had the luxury of going onsite for an install with a team and out on a couple of sales calls.  What a blast!  I forgot how much fun spending time in the field and being with your team is.  Don’t lose this.  Being with the people who are getting it done and mentoring them, learning WITH them, is vital to developing as a team.  That is what mentoring is, learning WITH the team.  Learning is a shared experience and the leader should learn right along with the team.  That shared experience is what allows the mentor to talk about where they gained similar knowledge and other experiences that may apply and draw out experiences that their team has.  The mentor and mentee relationship is a mutually beneficial one and is quite rewarding and fun.  It is the number one reason I love training; because as a trainer, I am always learning from my students.   

My Next Big Thing

Max is now a partner/owner of a new independent consulting firm for AV and IT manufacturers, integration firms and consultant firms. He provides consulting in channel development, sales training, sales process improvement and sales program development. Max also provides consulting for product development and product management. Max's training and certification programs have been globally recognized by industry and he now consults with top companies to provide channel education program development, execution and management. He carries some of the top certifications in networking and audiovisual technologies. Max has worked in Unified Communications for over 14 years in various management and technical roles. He has worked in product management, sales and sales management, channel marketing, field technical services and training. Over the last 26 years Max has acquired an extensive background in supporting A/V systems, computer networks, telecom, and VTC systems. Max is Senior Faculty for InfoComm University and serves as a Subject Matter Expert on an as needed basis. In 2010 Max was awarded InfoComm’s Educator of the Year Award and has helped prepare over 800 students for the CTS exam. Max has been the keynote speaker for several partner events throughout the industry and at the Machine-to-Machine (M2M) Conference, where (as Product Manager) he was awarded a Bronze M2M Product of the Year Award for Networked AV for ChristieNET. He also teaches the National Systems Contractors Association (NSCA) University and for the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) annual show.