Thursday, January 31, 2013

LED Sign Sales 101: Sell your company first, product second...

- Deacon Wardlow

I was speaking with a client last week, discussing sales approaches. The company is carrying a new line of product and his sales team is apprehensive about the change. “I get where they’re coming from. We don’t have anything sold to point the client to as far as experience goes, and that makes me nervous,” he revealed over lunch. The problem with technology and selling new systems is the ever changing nature of the product and the reality someone has to take a chance. I told him the product doesn't really matter. The client doesn't come to the company for the product (honestly, they could get it just about anywhere), they come to the company for the expertise and experience they believe is represented with everyone there.

Companies undervalue themselves all the time. I often see this heavily in the consulting-side of things. Consultants charge fees which are much lower than they should be because they lack the vision of what they’re delivering. They underestimate the overall value of what they deliver and how their direct work will greatly impact the client's growth and success. Companies (especially sign businesses) are the experts and consultants to their clients and they seriously undervalue everything the whole team delivers. Engineered and designed job prints are drafted for a quote to a customer who might not buy anything at the end of the day. Work is done (site surveys, location studies, etc.) which a client won’t get charged for if they decide to go with the competition or just drop the job completely.

A sign company brings a lot to the table. Most sign companies are designing and creating an entire image for the business (often from scratch) and yet they only charge for the sign work. When you’re speaking with a client, look at everything which goes into creating that sign for the job. If you review all the work completed to get a sign finished and installed and look at the actual cost of the sign, you’ll realize a lot of the work is under-priced. While I'm not advocating you make them pay for this (and raise the rates), definitely show them what you're doing and how much you bring to the table for them.

Take a moment sometime and ask an advertising company how much they charge for a graphic, how much do they charge for logos or an ad campaign. You’ll be floored at their hourly rate for work which might never see the light of day. They've figured it out. They’re saying, “Our time is valuable and we demonstrate the value so you can feel it’s worth the money.”

Don’t worry about the new product on the block, figure how it fits within your company. Make sure it’s a solid fit and the manufacturer meets the needs your company has to ensure the end-user is completely satisfied at the end of the day. Your client’s image is your business and whatever you put up was sold because the client believes in you, not some manufacture of a widget. Take the lead, show the value and make sure you get what you deserve. Too often we undersell ourselves and by doing so, we leave the table feeling a little unhappy. When you build off the value of your business (your expertise, experience, knowledgeable staff and solid crew), you’ll find you win more deals at better margins than when you sell on price or product alone.

*I invite you to comment here and/or email me directly with requests at Vantage LED has white paper resources and more educational material on the website (, please check it out when you have a moment. Note all posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated. 

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Digital Signage "How To": Securing Wireless ( WiFi ) Communications for LED Signs

- Scott Hofheins

An increasing number of  businesses, organizations, and public entities are seeing the value in LED and Digital Signage. The number of LED Signs on the streets has increased quite a bit over the last 10 years. With this growth, comes a greater need for manufacturers, dealers, and end users to make sure these signs are secure from outside parties who would use the sign in a manner not consistent with the owners intentions or local laws.

An overview of many of the communications options available can be found in my previous post. However, I would like to focus on Wireless communication because it is the most common option currently in use. I have purposely written this post using general terms to avoid anyone using it as guide on how to cause trouble.

There are three basic concepts to remember: Wireless Security, Software Security, Network Security.

Wireless Basics
Most signs are supplied with 2 wireless devices. One unit connects and resides at the sign, the other at the building connected to the users network or computer directly. (In some applications, only one radio is used)

These radios communicate to each other and create a “wireless cable” from the building to the sign, allowing end users to manage their sign without having to run an actual cable out to the sign. These radios can use a variety of frequencies and security methods to connect the sign to the end user.

  • 900 MHz: This has been used for many years in wireless communications between devices. Many traffic devices and networks use this frequency because of its range. However, it has a much smaller bandwidth capacity than the other options so most new LED signs do not use this anymore.
  • 2.4 GHz: This is the most common wireless frequency in use today. Most home networks use this frequency for their “WiFi” connections. Most laptops have a 2.4 Ghz WiFi card built in.
  • 5 GHz: This is gaining popularity, but is still much less common than 2.4 Ghz. This uses some of the same “WiFi” standards as 2.4 Ghz, but is inherently more secure because it is less common. In my opinion, this is the best frequency to use because it mixes the speed of 2.4 Ghz with the security of 900 Mhz.
Wireless Security
WiFi security has greatly improved over the years. Encryption and password based security is much better and easier to set up than ever before...but only if you actually use it. Here are some things to remember:

  • Factory Settings: A good manufacturer will change the factory settings on the wireless devices to it’s own secure settings. These should not be published in any public documentation, but only available to the end user and/or sign dealer supporting the signs. Part of the reason we saw those “Zombies Ahead” signs a couple of years ago was due to unchanged factory settings (See Deacons Post). As an extra precaution you can always set your own security settings for the radios, but remember to document these changes. You could get in a bad situation if your computer crashes and you have to re-enter the settings.
  • Quality Devices: Make sure your manufacturer uses established, well tested wireless products. You do not want your sign using a sub-par device with weak encryption and security options.

Software Security
A well designed LED sign system will also incorporate direct and indirect software security as an additional firewall to intruders.
  • Not Publicly Available: Avoid software that is available for public download. The only people who should have access to the sign software is the dealers and the end-users.
  • Secured Installations: Installations should be secured with an “Activation Code” or other security system to prohibit unauthorized parties from installing copies of the software. Avoid unsecured or generic software.
  • Cloud Based Options: This is a new concept in the LED Sign market, but there are options currently available. Internet based sign management can be another way to secure all your content because you can rely on enterprise level security and off-site hosting. This makes it much harder for anyone to do any real damage to the sign with local access.
Network Security
This is another key point to ensure protection. Your network should be reasonably secure and access restricted to your own personnel only.  
  • Secure your Computers: All of your computers should be password secured. Most windows based systems allow you to require a password to log into the system after the computer goes into the “Screen Saver” or “Sleep” mode.
  • Physical Access: Make sure you install the sign software only on the computers you have direct control over, and who’s users you trust. An extra security measure can be to have a dedicated laptop that is on it’s own network, connected directly to the sign using the wireless radios.
Wireless security is important for LED signs. Make sure your manufacturer is using quality hardware and unique wireless settings to avoid a “Zombie Warning” situation. Your own network should be secured with common sense security practices like passwords and restricted access. Your manufacturer or dealer should be well versed enough in the unique security needs for LED signs to help guide you in the best options for your specific installation. An LED sign is a large investment, make sure the security, options, and hardware quality reflect this.


I hope this post has been informative and helpful. As usual, I welcome ALL constructive comments. Please feel free to comment and add anything I’ve missed, or additional tips you may have regarding this topic. Please visit for many other resources, white papers, and of course: Great looking LED Signs!

**All posts/thoughts/writings are strictly the viewpoint of me and me alone and do not reflect nor speak for Vantage LED’s beliefs, attitudes, thoughts, etc. unless specifically stated.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

LED Sign Sales-- Why Cheap LED Signs Sell Well But Fail

“There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man’s lawful prey.”

-John Ruskin

My very first night in College was an Economics 101 class. The professor took the chalk (yes chalk) and wrote the Acronym on the blackboard “T A N S T A A F L” and then turned around and asked the class “who knows what this means?”

The answers from the class came slowly. First there was “nothingness” followed by a protracted round of cricket chirping. We thought he’d taken leave of his senses and not a single hand went up.

 “It means there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch,” He said, very proud of himself. I thought about it and nodded- true. 

In my humble blogger opinion, there are two reasons why “Cheap” LED Signs are sold:

  1. The need for more technical understanding of a quality LED sign and what benefits are created for the customer by these advantages
  2. Denial of the TANSTAAFL rule and the John Ruskin observation on the part of the seller or buyer.

When I write a blog, there is one concept I attempt to impart- Not all LED display are created equally. They may have similar characteristics- LED modules, a control system, some kind of cabinet and a method to communicate. But, if you recall the recently departed automobile brand “Yugo”, it had 4 wheels, an engine and a body. But when you looked at it or drove it, it really did not have any measurable “value”. How many proud Yugo owners wrote about their cars in Car and Driver  magazine?

The LED sign industry is simple in some ways, but if the seller does not possess the technical knowledge to explain why a USA produced brand that has UL Certification and a user-friendly software system with professionally produced content may be a superior choice over other imported brands lacking in these areas, then reason #1 applies. 

It’s easy in the short-run to make the LED sign sale on price alone, but much more difficult in the long-run to dispatch a repair truck every week to the job site and deal with the wrath of the customer.

Customers, unschooled in LED sign science, and looking for a quick-cheap way to do on-premise advertising,  may think that there is such a thing as a “free lunch”. Perhaps, more likely, is that they believe that the LED sign industry has outgrown the “John Ruskin rule”. The customer may think that the LED sign industry is similar to the Wal Mart TV department where you walk in and all the TVs look alike and seem to perform the same. The select a LG or a Sony or a Vizio and take it home and plug it in and it works for years without problems. 

The LED sign industry has not been commoditized. We do not sell salt and wheat. LED signs are not all the same despite what the "Shenzhen Telegraph" may be pounding out. 

A simple example of the impact of this quality difference- if the LED modules last 100,000 hours (11 years) but the power supplies and the control system fail in 30,000 hours (3 years, or so) due to inadequate design then what good is the 100,000 hour warranty on the LED modules? The sign has failed in 3 years.  If the LED display does not have professionally produced content, and the messages displayed on the LED sign next to the 80,000 car per day highway can’t be read… what good is it, at any price. Not all LED signs are the same.

LED signs are workhorses. They electronically plow every day, all day, and many continue to plow all night long too. They have to be superbly engineered to live in the outdoor environment of “dust, dirt, heat and cold” while fighting the visual impact of sunlight on their performance during the day. Unlike your Vizio TV, which operates once a day for an hour during back-to-back reruns of Gilligan’s Island, the LED sign can be on 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, 365 days per year.  As these LED sign workhorses  plow their “electronic field”, they have to plow pretty, to deliver superb content, brilliantly illuminated  in a bid to satisfy the discriminating business owner.

My suggestion to Sign Companies selling LED displays is to learn the differences in brands and learn the technology. Don’t let your customer be deluded into thinking that the cheapest LED sign is the best investment. That is seldom true in life due to the TANSTAAFL rule or:

“There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man’s lawful prey.”

I       I like John Ruskin's quote. 

       - Mike Prongue

      The usual disclaimer: all posts, reflections, writing, and other mutterings of opinion are mine, and do not reflect the opinions or beliefs of Vantage LED, unless I specifically state. I provide "food for thought", one opinion amongst 300,000,000 in the USA. What is YOUR opinion? Email me at and tell me what you think.