Somewhere along the line audio sales people went from passionately saving the world from bad sound to not saving the world from bad sound – just trying to make a sale. Flat panel TVs and custom integration pushed selling great sound further from the mainstream. This is a generalization, of course, but I’ve seen far too many times when if the customer doesn’t specifically ask for a particular product or a demo they are either ignored or presented something only at a relatively low price point where the perceived resistance will be lower. In fact, I’ve always felt that the traditional A/V store design is flawed, with the great stuff at the furthest reaches and the less expensive gear upfront. Such an environment makes it much harder to expose people to the best. It would be like going through a car dealer starting at Hyundai, then Toyota and finally in the way back, BMW. It’s safe to say with that approach, you wouldn’t sell nearly as many BMWs. Every customer should understand what a really great music (or theater) system is all about, especially now when people’s expectations of audio playback are so low. Fortunately, I have recently been seeing constructive changes in this regard.
The salesperson has to actually play speakers for people with enthusiasm! For both CI and traditional A/V retailers, passion elevates a baseline sale to an aspirational purchase. Again, this seems self-evident. But I have observed too many cases within the CI and retail space where demos are rarely done. Or they are done dispassionately; perhaps only in response to a customer asking for one.
There is no shortage of great demo material, but I’ve always felt that as a salesperson you should own your presentation material, speak to it with genuine knowledge and passion. Enthusiasm is always the best sales tool and you don’t want to be a fake. My demo music list includes Joss Stone’s “Some Kind of Wonderful” from her first album (made when she was just 16); Tom Petty’s “Turn this Car Around”, a great sounding rock cut; and the 24 bit version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody (people have literally applauded at dealer events where I’ve closed with that. Imagine, applauding for a stereo!).
I always play what I enjoy but what is also well recorded. Relatively recent artists include blues guitarist/singer Joanne Shaw Taylor “Blackest Day” and jazz singer Gregory Porter “When Love Was King”. When it comes to movies, I like to use scenes that are little stories within the movie such that if you’ve never seen the movie, you can still be absorbed into the action. That said, it is important to set-up the scene, let people know the context and create some heightened interest before you push play. I try to avoid scenes where there is overt blood and guts although we all like lots of action. The opening scene from “Unbroken” as the bombers head into battle on a great system can literally leave you shaken; you care about those guys and you want them to survive so you are engrossed in the moment. The scene in “Oblivion” where Tom Cruise’s character lowers himself into the underground lair is another great bloodless action scene. I also like to introduce music themes in a movie demo, like “Come Together” from The Beatles-based movie Across the Universe. There’s really no shortage of amazing demo material and Hollywood spends millions to make movies look and sound great. Ask yourself, who wouldn’t want to own a great system to take advantage of the full at-home theater or music experience?
While there is no magic bullet to get customers into the showroom for a demo, you have to do good work every day with every customer. The facility should be well maintained with demo systems ready to go. This applies equally to non-retail CI showrooms. You get one chance to make a good first impression. I’m a big believer in story telling – the showroom should underscore the craft of the brands on display. The names won’t be familiar, typically, but there are some great stories behind them that can romance the customer. Host events –they don’t all have to be large – and use all the digital tools available to promote them, which are efficient and cost effective and of benefit even when people can’t make the night. It helps create an aura for the business. Practice passion every day. It’s contagious!