Certification Sells

Applied Visual Communications (AVC) of Herndon, Va., doesn’t have a marketing budget to speak of. Yet the company has grown 60-plus percent in each of the last two years. “This is our marketing,” says CEO Carole Peters, gesturing to a computer screen that shows half of all the company’s employees hold InfoComm Certified Technology Specialist credentials, including 60 percent of all sales and tech staff. In fact, four hold CTS-I (installation) and four hold CTS-D (design) certification. Three of AVC’s team are dual CTS-I and CTS-D professionals — a rarity in the AV industry.

“Our message to our customer is, ‘We don’t practice on your system,'” says AVC President Tom Peters, a former President of the InfoComm International Board of Directors. At AVC, that means that the vast majority of employees (not including office support, etc.) are expected either to hold a CTS or be in the process of attaining it — at the company’s expense.

“It’s a huge differentiator and helps with our customers,” Carole says. In 2011, 90 percent of AVC’s business was repeat business. “Often, employees come here who wanted the opportunity to get their CTS but couldn’t,” Carole says. “We tell them, ‘We need you to be an expert.'” (And AVC is proud of its staff’s accomplishments. Pictured, left to right, are Tom, Carole, Melissa Taggart, InfoComm Senior Vice President for Education and Certification, and Bobby Stanley, InfoComm Director of Certification, in front of AVC’s Wall of Excellence, where it displays its employees’ CTS certificates.)

I visited AVC recently and talked to Tom and Carole because there are times when I’m scanning discussion threads online and I see AV professionals debating among themselves the merits of CTS certification. Is it worth the time and effort? Does it really matter?

There was a time when the answer to both those questions may have been “no.” Back when CTS meant little to people who didn’t have it, and when it wasn’t recognized by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). But both have changed. CTS does mean something to clients and other contractors. “Very few clients were aware of CTS when we started doing this,” Tom says. “But consultants have been setting the bar. We had one client who said to participate in a project, the AV integrator had to be a Diamond-level CAVSP [Certified Audiovisual Solutions Provider].” That means half their technical, sales and customer service staff must have CTS certification, which AVC’s does.

And what of ANSI accreditation? Tom says it’s a plus for both employees and clients. Employees see how many other established trades are ANSI-certified and take pride in the fact that their professional credentials are on that level. According to ANSI, just 10 percent of about 4,000 professional certifications are accredited. And according to InfoComm’s own CTS Surveillance Survey, nearly 90 percent of CTS holders value their credentials; 80 percent view CTS as a sign of professional achievement.

And clients know ANSI. Again, according to the latest CTS Surveillance Survey, 63 percent of respondents said their CTS gives them increased value and credibility to their customers. “It’s helped close deals,” Tom says. “It makes a statement. Could we have done all this without that third-party, [ANSI] validation? Probably. Would we have felt as comfortable without it? Probably not.”

“All this” includes AVC’s three-year warranty on the workmanship of all the AV systems it installs — previously unheard of in the industry.

Like AVC, Bridges System Integration of Sterling, Va., is a Diamond-level CAVSP. It’s only been in business since 2010, but the company made a decision from the onset to emphasize certification. “We put pretty much everyone through the CTS-D program who touches engineering,” Brent Berger, one of the company’s founders, told me. “Historically, CTS has always been important to the employers I’ve been associated with.”

Any pushback?

“When employees have pushed back, I’ve told them that if we’re going out there and positioning ourselves as a premier integrator, the only way to objectively look at it is through certification,” Berger said. “And the only meaningful certification in our industry, especially from a design standpoint, is a CTS-D.”

Berger said his clients, which are mainly in the federal government, are just learning about the significance of CTS certification. There are AV professionals at some of the prime contractors that Bridges partners with that value (or sometimes even have) CTS credentials, which is good. With ANSI accreditation, he expects awareness to build.

So what about you? If you’re a CTS, why? If you’re not, why not?

And what are your next steps? About 75 percent of CTS holders say they’re considering pursuing their CTS-D or CTS-I. Are you?

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.

One Response to “Certification Sells”

  1. I’m not a CTS, yet. I already had ten years of successful A/V design and installation projects, and an engineering degree, before ICIA started the CTS program. So a CTS just looked like ICIA trying to make a buck for themselves. But now that InfoComm has gotten the CTS established and somewhat recognized it looks like a necessity, particularly when people like myself must become re-established in the A/V field (due to closings of local companies). Where I live the few A/V companies left are only interested in people who already hold CTS. We are not fortunate to have companies like those in the original article who are willing to invest in their own employees – we must earn and pay for certifications ourselves. But I do agree that certification does give credibility. It’s odd to be told that despite years of demonstrated experience and a 4-year college degree I need a CTS to be employable. It’s like saying that gee, even though you have more than an Associate’s degree we can’t hire you without an Associate’s degree. Whatever, I can play the game. I still see little value in a CTS but a simultaneous CTS-D and CTS-I look credible. It’s just a matter of time and money.