During the pandemic, the value of an integrator has never been clearer—but integration companies need communications strategies to let customers know how they can help.
By Tim Alevizos
“We don’t want to be a ‘hang ‘n banger.’ ”
“Sometimes it feels like we’re just order-takers.”
“The commoditization of AV is killing us.”
You know the value of your expertise: It’s real and irreplaceable. But, in recent years, many have struggled with customers failing to recognize their integrator’s unique strengths. The easy availability of information and products online has fueled a commoditization mindset. In larger organizations, the IT department has clamored to take over AV, further complicating integrators’ efforts to win a seat at the strategy table.
But something changed in the current climate: Integrators are less at risk of becoming order-takers because, in a pandemic, their customers aren’t sure what orders to give. Amid the most sweeping pivot the industry has ever seen, prospective customers need integrator expertise and strategic thinking more than ever.
Yet, even before COVID-19, opportunities were emerging for integrators to assert themselves. “AV can be a hot potato,” says Steve Grace, founder of AVH Technology Partners. “IT says, ‘We can handle it,’ and soon they discover—from acoustics to lighting—it’s much more complicated beyond technology.”
Related: What Is an ‘Integrator’ and How Many of Us Are There?
The strains of trying to transform a communications infrastructure at breakneck speed makes the integrator’s advantage even greater. With companies scrambling to master remote communication, “the IT people who think they know everything suddenly want to hand it over to an AV expert,” says Grace.
No one would say that COVID-19 has been a blessing, but chaos and confusion always create opportunities. Chief among them for integrators: the chance to provide leadership most every organization is clamoring for—leadership that IT, HR, architects, and designers cannot provide alone.
The Pandemic Is a Call to Action for Integrators
Georgia-based Automated Systems Design (ASD) quickly established its expertise related to COVID-19 by tailoring low-voltage solutions to address specific concerns surrounding the pandemic and detailing them on its website.
More broadly, ASD took into account the many ways COVID-19 and other forces changed clients’ cultures and behaviors. “We approach each project holistically, focusing on how to integrate technologies into a living, breathing ecosystem based on the new uses of that space,” says ASD Director of Engineering Samuel Lum. To that end, ASD proactively partners with customer stakeholders like IT and HR; it also takes the lead in connecting with architects, general contractors, and design engineers.
“Leadership is the key word,” says Christina De Bono, president of California-based ClearTech Media. “Clients have had to completely pivot their business models almost overnight, and we have huge value to contribute.”
Fairly early in the pandemic, ClearTech saw a message on Pepperdine University’s website a about investing in hybrid classrooms. “Immediately, we got to work developing an economical, portable, self-contained hybrid solution we called EduFLEX,” says De Bono. “Before they came to us with a problem, we offered them an answer. Within a short amount of time, Pepperdine contracted with us to convert nearly 200 spaces across four campuses for hybrid learning.”
Communicate How You Can Help
Keeping your ear to the ground and understanding customer pain points and business needs is just part of a savvy strategy. The other component: Communicating your expertise through a mix of strategic and tactical actions by positioning yourself as an expert, proactively offering solutions, and backing up your bravado with relevant content.
That includes case studies that clearly lay out the problems you’ve confronted and solutions you’ve provided. For example, as prospective clients adopt new ways of working and decide who they’ll partner with for the transformation, they’ll want to know whether you’ve created these kinds of integrations (or are aware of them). Case studies make the argument that you’re the partner they need.
If you don’t have a blog, start one and post regularly about your insights and achievements, stressing your ability to identify essential issues (business and technical) and devise solutions to address them. Think about creating white papers or e-books. If you don’t have internal resources, hire a freelancer to create one for you. Use it as a lead magnet. Send it to media outlets (which are perpetually content starved) and your customer mailing list. Make yourself available as a panelist for webinars and e-symposia. An added benefit: This content will spike your SEO.
What’s most important is the information—and the attitude—you put out there. In uncertain times, people long to be led. With the pandemic forcing a total rethinking of communication infrastructure, this is your opportunity to reclaim the mantle of leadership.
Tim Alevizos is a partner at NSCA Member Advisory Councilmember Supervox Agency, a full-service marketing resource with extensive experience in serving the needs of integrators and manufacturers.
This article originally appeared in the Q4 2020 edition of Integrate, NSCA’s trade journal.