Are You Experiencing the New Normal?

New normal_450x300You’ve heard economic pundits describe the anemic growth we’re experiencing as “the new normal.” Whether or not it’s true that this is just how the economy will perform going forward can be debated. But in the AV industry and elsewhere, some things have fundamentally changed. And enterprise growth strategist David Nour calls this, simply, “the New Norm.”

David is a thought leader and consultant. One of his biggest achievements is the concept of Relationship Economics, which is the practice of finding quantifiable value in business relationships. He’s spoken at various InfoComm functions in the last year or so, and has been so well received, that he’s participating in a series of new InfoComm webinars and other events in 2013 in which he’ll explain the New Norm. It’s all part of InfoComm’s  AV Business Leadership Series.

Hey, I get as confused about this stuff as maybe you do. So I asked David about it.

Me: David, what is the New Norm and how does it apply to the AV industry?

Nour:  Significant research shows that an estimated 75 percent of your [AV companies’] target audience doesn’t believe your marketing and advertising. You know who they do believe? Their peers; independent perspectives from those without an apparent agenda or filters from corporate marketing, legal, or branding experts. Furthermore, disruptive technologies such as mobile and social are forcing business leaders to think and lead differently.

So how do you engage a prospect for your products or services that you don’t even know is in the market for your products or services? With access to far greater independent information than ever before, their buying cycle is shifting and every organization needs to think differently about how they engage and influence their target audiences. That’s where the New Norm comes in. To succeed in 2013 and beyond, your growth strategy must evolve from a pure push, to an intelligent market pull or gravity model. Once you identify opportunities, more discipline is required than ever before to proactively nurture and guide them toward the desired outcome. It’s not about selling more projectors or staging deals, but rather dramatically improving the outcome of each and every client. The New Norm will be as much of a cultural shift for many in the AV industry as it is focused on sales and marketing efficiency and effectiveness.

Me: In this technology-driven industry, where marketing messages often scream “bigger, brighter, faster, louder, more,”  it can sometimes be difficult to rise above the noise. What can AV companies do to stand out?

Nour: Shift the focus from input — all that you do, a.k.a. the “bigger, faster, brighter, louder, more” — to output, which are the outcome, business results, objectives, measures, value. Focus on value perceived (what signals are actually getting across?), value received (what are they in fact buying?) and value applied (did any of it work and meet — if not exceed — their expectations?) For my most recent book, I asked 100 CEOs a simple question: “How are your customers better off because of you?” Would you believe that 93 percent of them jumped right into how great they were and all of the cool features and functions they provided? I had to interrupt many to reiterate, “That’s not what I had asked.”

I believe many tech-centric organizations have succeeded to-date by leading with their tech supremacy. Don’t get me wrong; I love technical innovation. But when a market becomes so crowded with noise, your “bigger, brighter, faster, louder” only contributes to that noise. For AV companies to stand out, they have to find ways to elevate themselves above that noise. And value-based outcomes are the only way to do that effectively. If you focus on improving the customer’s condition, those who really matter will seek you out.

Me: You’ve talked before about how AV companies need to engage their customers more efficiently. What do you mean by “efficiently?”

Nour: So many companies, unfortunately, confuse vibration with forward motion. They jump through all these hoops, bundle all these products or services, go out of their way to deliver “exceptional” customer service. Nothing wrong with much of that, other than the fact that they have no idea what their customers actually value.

Let me give you a quick example. Apple used to ship out owner’s manuals with every product. It dawned on them that we buy cars and don’t go through owner’s manuals and, particularly with tech products, that an owner’s manual has a very limited shelf life. So for 100,000 products, they didn’t include one. Any guesses on how many people were bothered enough to call? Three. They saved over $2 billion by no longer printing owner’s manuals that most of us would throw in a box or shove on a shelf. They’ve taken all of those insights online. And they’ve added video, and made it real time, interactive, and much more user-friendly. I can’t help but wonder, what are AV companies doing that take up a lot of cycles and resources that they simply could stop doing and few would notice?

Me: In tight economic times, AV companies often deal with customers who say they’re facing budget challenges. Is it really all about money or is something else at play here?

Nour: In my experience, budgets are seldom a financial issue; they’re a priority issue. If the AV company has developed a trusting relationship with an economic buyer and has developed conceptual agreement on objectives, measures and value (OMV) — huge ifs that we’ll discuss in the webinars and at the AV Executive Conference in September — then the impact from moving forward will far outweigh the investment. Also, as we’ll discuss, value-based services present customers with the mindset of which option to move forward with instead of whether to move forward at all. Sessions five and six of the webinar series will be a dramatic shift in mindset for many in the AV industry.

Me: The AV industry can sometimes feel insular—everybody knows and does business with everybody else. That can’t be good for growth, can it? What do you suggest?

Nour: Sometimes the AV industry can become its own enemy for that myopic view. Visionary leaders are always scanning the periphery of their market — as well as drastically different markets — for challenges and opportunities. What are the top trends in retail? Healthcare is going through tectonic shifts. Education, manufacturing, tourism, energy —  these are all sectors where I believe the AV industry could uncover new opportunities. It will take an investment of time, effort and probably the most difficult type of work — mental — but I don’t know an industry that doesn’t need to evolve. The AV industry is ripe not just for incrementalism (doing things better) but real innovation, which is focused on doing things differently. Instead of fighting for the same piece of the pie, it’s time to start thinking about how we expand the size of the pie.

Me: The idea of AV companies adding more services to their offerings comes up now and then. Is that a step in the right direction or a distraction from delivering their core products?
Nour: Adding more services works if there is a market need. I’m a big fan of Bruce Kasanoff, who spoke at the last InfoComm 100 on his most recent book, Smart Customers, Stupid Companies, in which he counsels companies to get SMART: segment your customers by need; modularize your capabilities (including all of those additional services you’re offering) based on those needs; anticipate their future needs; reward employees for win/win; and transform your touchpoints from dumb (simple ads in magazines or billboards) to smart. Think of QR Codes, RFID, or other real-time feedback mechanisms. So offering more of the same simply adds to the market noise I mentioned earlier. Adding additional products or services based on a customer segment’s needs dramatically expands your mindshare — and wallet share.

InfoComm: Real quick: What’s your take on the economy in general and the impact it will have on AV companies?
Nour: The U.S. economy is estimated to grow 2 percent this year. Most executives I know, within the AV industry or otherwise, have a hard time getting excited about 2-percent growth. I think if AV companies are going to thrive, they’ll have to think very differently about their growth strategy. I believe the New Norm is the answer and hope AV companies will join us to broaden their abilities, skills, and behaviors in this new economy.

About Brad Grimes

Brad Grimes is the director of editorial services for InfoComm International and the former editor of Pro AV magazine. He has been writing about technology for more than 20 years. For more, visit the Blogger Bios page.

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