Analogy Alert! Don’t Do This

Worried young man being accusedDo perform a proper needs assessment prior to embarking on an AV project. Don’t sell the client a solution that you know doesn’t meet those needs — or a solution that it just plain less-than-good. If you don’t have the right solution in your arsenal, you don’t have the right solution in your arsenal. Putting in the wrong solution may reflect or more than just you.

What gives?

My wife and I were having dinner recently with her best friend, who lives in a distant (distant) suburb of Washington, D.C. Her friend works on research contracts for the government, has two kids, and works out of her house every now and then. She needs a broadband Internet connection (as so many others do).

I’ve omitted the names of broadband service providers to protect the guilty (or innocent, as the case may be). In my wife’s friend’s area, there are a couple viable competing broadband services — neither of which serviced my wife’s friend’s house when she needed the connection. But Service Provider #1 had a plan: to connect her home via a cellular network. You know how you can turn your smartphone into a hot spot and several WiFi devices can share your connection? That’s essentially what Service Provider #1 sold my wife’s friend as a broadband plan — data usage limits and all.

I couldn’t believe my ears. I’d heard of such things, but never encountered them in the wild. I Googled it. One of my former employers, when Service Provider #1’s service first came out in 2012, called it “a totally uncompetitive home broadband service.”

Now, I understand that some connection may be better than no connection. Ubiquitous broadband is even an issue on the President’s radar. And it’s also incumbent upon my wife’s friend (read: the client) to explore better options, such as (egads!) DSL or when Service Provider #2 might be able to bury a line and get broadband to her home. (Service Provider #2 has a bit of a rep in these parts, but it turned out they could get a line out to her house quickly, which she found out only after Service Provider #1’s cellular solution started to show its true colors.)

My wife’s friend works at home. Usually, she needs to run a VPN over her connection. She moves large research files. Her kids both go online — for school or entertainment. I don’t claim to know if they stream a ton of video, but don’t we all stream a little? Needless to say, her home “broadband” stunk out of the gate and stinks today. Which isn’t necessarily a reflection on Service Provider #1’s products. I happen to use Service Provider #1, but a different solution better suited to my needs.

Oh, and after allegedly telling my wife’s friend that there would be no contract, there’s a contract. And as you might expect — because I assume many of you have a data plan on your smartphone — the cost of her plan is high for what she’s getting (or not getting).

What should have happened?

In a world where solution providers compete to offer solutions that their clients need, and to create exceptional experiences that reflect well on them and their industry, Service Provider #1’s sales representative would have asked my wife’s friend the right questions; found out how she’d use the solution; understood what other options might be available; fully described the proposed solution and its parameters; and disclosed the limitations of said solution.

Yes, this is an isolated example (it’s also just an analogy). Service Provider #1’s solution may be the only option to some clients. And if a sales person’s company created the product in the first place, it’s hard to expect they wouldn’t sell it. My point is that in the end, here was a customer purchasing a solution that was doomed from the beginning not to meet her needs.

I’m preaching to the choir here: In AV, do the needs assessment. Match the assessment to the solutions at hand. If there’s no decent match, look harder, or find a partner. But don’t sell a solution  you know will underwhelm. Don’t do this.

About Brad Grimes

Brad Grimes is the Director of Communications for InfoComm International and the former editor of Pro AV magazine. He has been writing about technology for more than 25 years.

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