Meeting the Client for the First Time

In my previous post I talked about how you handle the first call with the customer. In this post, I’ll focus on the your first face-to-face meeting. I’m writing this blog from an AV support design engineer’s point of view — you may know them as sales engineers. In some cases, this support engineer will accompany the sales person to the initial sales meeting.

questioning2 [Converted]Here we are. The client has called and requested a meeting to discuss their audio and visual needs for a new conference/training room. This first meeting is very crucial in your future design decisions. It will help you decipher what the client is after and help the client weed out any preconceived ideas they had about the design or room use. During the meeting, not only will you be helping the salesperson but you will also put on an educator’s hat.

The most important discussion item is budget. What is it? You need something to go by. I’m not a huge fan of client statements like, “We don’t know what the budget is,” or, “We need you to help us define how much we need to budget.” But, it’s something you need to know how to handle.

The first of those statements reveals that I am not talking to the final decision maker but only to a messenger or, as I call them, buffers. The buffer is there to capture our ideas and and relay info to the true decision maker. The buffer does have a secret. They know the budget or at least the high limit. You rarely get to find this out during the first meeting with the buffer. Next time you meet, you discover the limit. Sometimes your first meeting is with the decision maker. Though rare, they do happen. The decision maker naturally knows the budget. You can usually get a number from them, but I have learned that this number is 20 to 30 percent lower than the actual budget.

In the second statement is the client’s sneaky way of getting you to design a system for them so they can shop it. Don’t we all just love that? When I hear this, my inner AV radar goes off. Admittedly, there are some clients who truly need your help. If a design costs X amount, that X amount could be absorbed into the total cost of the job you perform for a client. If the client decides to take the design you created and shop it, the client then needs to cover the cost of that design.

The next part of the meeting will deal with audio and visual needs. We need to know exactly what the client wants to do in the space provided. The following questions help to discover those needs:

  1. How many people will be in the room during conference meetings and training seminars? We are very concerned about this. If this is a large training room and the client wants to use it as a conference room as well, then our placement of video displays, cameras, and microphones will need to be considered.
  2. What is the lighting like? Are there windows? What is the ambient lighting like? Is it strong and what type of lighting is it? If the room will have video conferencing, then the type of lighting will need to be discussed. LED and fluorescent lighting can become problems if not used correctly.
  3. How many sources need to be viewed at one time? Depending on the room use, you could have anything from a single user in a presentation setting to multiple users in a classroom setting, and that will determine the type of video switching devices and connectivity plates you will need.
  4. What video resolutions and quality does the content require? Most AV companies seem to wait for the client to mentioned the quality of video they want and some dictate that by the budget amount they have set. I feel, and this is my own personal feeling, that we need to explain to them what resolutions will allow various video presentations. For example, one of our clients recently upgraded a war room with new projection, switching, and audio. The only request during our initial design meeting was 16:9 or 16:10 aspect ratio and WXGA resolutions. Two weeks after the install, we get a call because they could not view maps on the new system. I explained that the original design was based on the WXGA resolution they had required. We installed a new XYZ projector with a 1920x×1200 resolution and that solved the problem.
  5. What kind of media will be viewed? The options may be presentations, spreadsheets, maps, CAD drawings, or video. See #4 again. 
  6. Will there be a need for video conferencing and audio conferencing? This is where we need to see what the current dB level is in the room during its native state. This will be rather difficult if the room is new but counting the number of HVAC diffusers and HVAC returns and understanding the types of rooms that surround the space we are designing will help us figure out how many mics to use and where to place the cameras and how the audio system will be used.
  7. What type of furniture will be used and will it be permanently fixed? If this is a conference/training room, it is likely that the furniture will be mobile and that means that the room’s AV systems have to be very flexible.
  8. Where will the AV equipment go? This room needs to have its own power and HVAC feeds for thermal control. The distance has to be considered if the equipment will be placed in a different room than the space designated. This means that, if the client wants no rack or credenza to be locally placed in the presentation location, you need to know where the gear will live. Sometimes an MDF or IDF room will be used, but a server room with its own HVAC feeds and isolated power is the best place. Don’t forget to calculate your thermal usage if you are going to share server room space.
  9. Will there need to be presentation areas at the front of the room? Has the front been defined? Usually in a training environment there is a presentation or front of room location. This area will have the standard connectivity and there will be confidence monitors placed where the presenter can see them and use them.
  10.  Who will be using the room? Do they require any special equipment? Sometimes the training room or conference room is part of a community center or the client allows the community to use the room when it is not occupied. If that is the case, several different scenarios can shape the equipment selection. Anything from increasing the screen size to adding assistive listening is possible, so find this out early.
  11. What devices, outside of the AV gear, will need to be controlled? These may be HVAC, lights, blinds, or curtains.
  12. Does the client want active resource management and help desk? Some clients will want the ability to view the device information and make sure it is working properly. In addition, they might want to monitor the power consumption of the device while trying to obtain a certain LEED status or some buildings might insist on Green LEED status, requiring you to design around that. Know the footprint and do your homework before the initial meeting.

I have found that during the meeting, while the client is answering the questions above, more ideas and uses come out. Pay attention to this and make sure to document these ideas or uses. Most of the time, the client will completely revise their design or scope based on the questions you ask. If this is to be a complete remodel of the room, and the client is ripping up carpet or opening walls, make sure that you can get a schedule of the work to be done. This will help you in the future. Even though you’ve not been awarded the job yet, asking about that now only makes you look good in the client’s eyes.

In the next post, we’ll discuss what happens after the first meeting.

About Jay McCutcheon

Jay McCutcheon, CTS-D/DSCE-DE/DMC-E -works as a Chief AV Design Engineer for South Central AV, plays drums, likes beer and bourbon, and lives with his wife Sam and daughter Lily in Gallatin, TN.

One Response to “Meeting the Client for the First Time”

  1. Wow, I couldn’t have said it better myself! It’s nice to know we all face similar issues through this process. Thanks for writing this blog. I’ll be sure to keep up with your posts.