Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Digital Signage, Need to Know: Value Based Selling Is a Win for Local Sign Companies

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that 
gives everything its value.      – Thomas Paine

In the “bad old days” of the mid 1980’s an early dent was made in my car stereo business by the giant retailer Wal Mart. They sold Jensen and Pioneer and all the brand names that we sold and we swore we could never win against them. I saw my brother gesticulating wildly across the installation bay screaming “Run Chicken Little we are doomed- the sky is falling!”

The sky did not fall because almost no one buys on price alone. Most customers wanted installation and technology and Wal Mart could not deliver! New product reached Wal Mart about 2 years after it was introduced by the manufacturers, so while we received the new high performance gear and the "411" in about 30 days, so they never had a clue. The staff at Wal Mart was replaced so often that the car stereo department became totally self-service to the customer.

We used a three step program to ameliorate the price impact of the National Giant.

1)      Communicate, educate and partner with your customer.
2)      Demonstrate a huge service and technical advantage.
3)      Never say “no” to your customer.

You have to walk the talk to compete and if you need to become an expert, like your business card claims, well… today is the first day of the rest of your life. And tomorrow is the second!

Today, 2013, many local LED sign companies fear the National LED Sign Companies operating in their market. There are several and I won’t call them out by name, but you know who they are. 

Some blow into town and make a quick sale and promise a $200 install of the LED sign by the business owner’s electrician, only to disappear into the proverbial woodwork once the deposit is collected. Then like rising smoke- gone for good. Others operate with good product, a project management team and competitive price. But they too have many disadvantages, as compared to the local professional.

If the customer can see you “eyeball to eyeball” and shake your hand and go fishing with you (metaphorically speaking), why would they care about National LED Sign Company #1 or National LED Sign Company #2? The sign industry is really not an e-based phenom, or a "dialing for dollars" experience as many National LED Sign Companies try to make it out to be.

Customers want to know you, see the product, and discuss their requirements. They also want continuity where the person writing the sales order either is, or personally knows, the person installing and servicing the LED sign. These are all extra "values" that a local sign company can provide.

Value-based competition is the way successful local LED sign companies operate. When value improves, the end-user customer and the sign company benefit. The local LED sign companies that find creative, reassuring and unique ways to deliver superior value win. The local LED sign company is then rewarded with more business from the same customer and their referrals. Customers win too, as they receive an LED sign that continues to operate with near-zero down time.

Here’s what you must do to win against the National LED Sign Company:

1)   Carve out an uniqueness. What is your niche? Do you specialize in attorneys, schools, churches? Client uniqueness is just one way to separate your company from the rest of the pack. You need a unique selling/marketing point. I can’t make one up for you, but you probably already have one, even if you've never called it by name.

2)   Create an identity that warms you up to the customer and truly represents the service level you plan to deliver. GM had “Mr. Good Wrench” several years ago. What is your "street name"?

3)   Become a technical guru. At first, there seems to be an endless amount of technology to learn when dealing with LED signs. False! Most of the technology has nothing to do with LED sign itself. Simplistically stated, they are an aluminum box with "flashy lights". The technology requirement comes from the wireless communication, the computer controller and the network it’s installed on. You need to have someone who is more than comfortable here- someone who likes it! The guy running the printer in the back room may not be your LED guru. Also use a manufacturer who can support you with more than excuses and platitudes.

4)   Service, service, service and service with urgency. This means you must be empathetic to the customer, but more importantly- don’t sell junk or your life will be pure misery keeping up with service calls and trying to explain to new customers why their LED sign will work when many of the others don't.

5)   Don’t sell junk. Nothing destroys your credibility more than a city full of LED signs that work ½ the time. If you sell an unreliable product and make a small profit, your profit will be spent many times over on service calls.

In short, by doing some variant of 1-5 above, you are engaging in value-based competition. Add to that the personal attention you provide and the assurance that your customer will see you in church or “on the lake” and competing with National LED Sign Companies will be a non-issue.

If you are selling on price alone, you are in a death spiral. Look at the instruments and try to pull out while you can. No one wins in a price war. Again, as I've preached across many blogs- "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch" and every customer ultimately gets exactly "what they pay for"!

Reality-101 says you won’t win every bid. If an organization does not seek quality, is willing to install an imported LED sign that will look terrible from day 1, does not want your sage advice and thinks LED signs are like turnips- all the same… run. There are toxic deals where you are more profitable if you lose. I question whether or not any National LED Sign Company can truly sell a similar product cheaper. Do they or when the the extra costs for permitting, installation, electrical are added to the core price they lose their edge? Focus on what you do. Know what "they" do, but don't be intimidated. Many times a detailed explanation that LED signs are not turnips is all it takes to shake off a National LED Sign Company from your customer's door.

If you look at the enormous market that is the USA, there is no way any “National” LED Sign Company can do much in your town to take your business unless you let them. 

Not unlike David, the the biblical David (of Goliath fame), everyone reading this has “Giant Killer” juice coursing through their veins. Those alleged “Big Boys” are trying to be like you but they can't get it right and they don't know your customer. They are the ones who should be afraid- very afraid, of you!

These comments belong to me, Mike Prongue, and do not reflect the views, opinions, hopes or dreams of anyone else, anywhere else and this includes Vantage LED. I appreciate your constructive opinion which may be sent to me at michael@vantageled.com.  

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