By Ron Callis
Business is tight! Now that a difference between those firms
prime source of home improve- that had a serious, disciplined
ment dollars, the home equity approach to their internal pres-
loan, has dried up substan- entation and execution systems,
tially, the phone isn’t ringing and those who do not.
so much off the Yellow Pages
This is the kind of market that
separates the serious, well- I’ve been watching integration
managed integration businesses businesses succeed and
from the overblown trunk- watching them fail for the last
slammers. Now that business isn’t seven years – and I’ve spent a lot
just falling out of the sky because of time thinking through
you’ve got a phone book ad and integration business processes,
a pretty car-wrap job on the to figure out what works and
company van, it’s easy to tell the what doesn’t work.
Ok, not too many professional integrators are That’s not going to set you apart.
making their estimates on the back of a napkin
any more. Maybe that was always an Instead, come in with a system – a fully-developed,
exaggeration. But lots of integrators are still professional-looking method – for identifying the
doing things they way they did it back in the customer’s needs and wants (both stated and
stone age: Scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad unstated), and defining the job parameters and
or sheet of graph paper. scope of work.
This has three benefits:
1. It looks sharper and more professional
2. It can lead comfortably into an ‘upsell’ situation that otherwise might come up.
3. It idiot-proofs the intake process – so even a relatively junior salesman can still catch all the
important points on the first interview.
Think about it:
Custom installers will go to almost any length to
make a home entertainment system attractive
and elegant. We and the client work hard to
‘blend the system seamlessly into the décor.’
Because presentation matters.
We all But too many firms go to present
proposals to the same client that’s prepared to
spend thousands or tens of thousands or even
more on a system to make it beautiful, we treat
presentation as an afterthought.
Excel spreadsheets have their place. But thanks
to advances in CAD technology and
programming advances, it’s now possible for context may be in the installers’ head. But that just that. And when push comes to shove, those
integrators to make a quantum leap forward in might not be enough when the prospects eyes integrators are going to be the ones getting the
their proposal presentation. glaze over looking at the proposal. big jobs.
Think of it – your customer thinks in terms of It’s possible for your proposal to be a If you’re not one of those
solutions, not in terms of products. But too many professional, sophisticated-looking document
proposals consist of a list of products and prices, integrators, you need to be.
that overlays the integration plan directly over Or you’re going to get dusted.
without any mention of the context in which the precise floor plan for the house. In fact, there
these products are going to be installed. The are integrators out there who are already doing
That’s not just the Because documentation is strong, the best
proposal and companies out there are able to brief the client on
pricing. You should the job, step-by-step, throughout the entire
have an organized project. If difficulties arise, solid documentation
system in place allows the integrator to present them as a
that tracks the consultant, sitting ‘on the same side of the table’
project from the proposal stage right through all as the client.
the change orders, all the way to final completion.
The best systems allow for change orders to be “
integrated directly into the working floor plan, at
every step. That way, you, the client, and your
installers are all operating from one master
document, freshly updated, at every step of the
process. Everyone is literally on the same sheet, and
surprises are rare or non-existent.
Create an asset not a job.
I’ve seen this happen with dozens of firms: a of it, still, sure. But Microsoft exists and functions
talented, bright, charismatic technician at another apart from him now. Marshal arts instructors
company will leave his employer and strike out on frequently teach their
his own, starting his own company. Typically, he’ll That’s the difference between creating a job and
do well for a time. He’ll recruit and train a small students to think
creating an asset. Great businesses, both large and
crew, and he’ll have short-term success keeping small, will continue to run without the owner’s through the opponent’s
them busy. He’ll grow rapidly to a certain point – continued intervention.Think of it – that’s the only body and punch at a spot an
and then growth stops. The reason: He’s not a way you can pass on the business to children, or inch behind them. This
manager yet. He’s still a glorified technician. sell the business to fund a comfortable retirement. eliminates hesitation and
Or fund a prolonged period of sickness or increases power.
That’s fine, for some of us. If tinkering disability. If such a catastrophe hit a business run
with electronics gear and trouble- by a technician, all would be lost. He’d lose his Integration businesses should do
shooting is your first love, go to it. But health and his income at the same time. the same thing. And the
know that if that’s what you spend a big documentation lays the
chunk of your time doing every day, you But a business run by an owner, who understands groundwork for it. Because the
limit your company’s growth. that his goal is to create an asset rather than a job, documentation is so strong, the
has a fighting chance of surviving, and providing. best companies are able to present the
Instead, consider making the leap from technician Your mission is to transcend the limitations client with a beautiful project book – a
to manager. Managers create and manage imposed by the technician mentality and become keepsake documenting the project (with
systems – and then set them to running by an owner of capital – in the best sense of the photographs and a narrative of key decision
themselves, without your personal intervention. word. And the key to successful ownership is the points). This is a powerful showpiece for the
Think of it – Bill Gates could go on a 6 month close care of your business systems – systems that clients’ friends, and is a classy way to finish a
vacation tomorrow – and Microsoft will still be are scaleable and replicable. Then you find good project that leaves everyone feeling good.
there when he gets back. Bill’s an important part managers and technicians to run it for you.