Setting Your Goals for “Great Audio Sales”

By Doug Henderson
Published on: September 5, 2019

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I’ve been selling speakers since long before I had any thought that I could make it a career. Starting as a teenager in the 1970s, I was building them in my garage and sourcing drivers and components from New York City’s old radio row. I convinced a few friends to buy them, which kept me motivated. I then moved on to part-time retail positions in college and my basic tactics haven’t really changed that much over the years, and my advice is really quite simple.

The first step for “Great Audio Sales” is to make it a goal. That may seem self-evident, but most CI businesses today prioritize other aspects of a project. Yes, speakers are specified, but they aren’t really sold and as a result the ASPs are typically lower than they should be. The dominant – often the only – speaker type in a million dollar+ home is a 6.5” in-ceiling, right?  I always say, ‘you sell what you set out to sell’. But the converse is also true.

We have now reached a point where a $99 Amazon Echo is the most popular speaker in the market, which testifies to the sad fact that in the absence of being shown something better, most people are satisfied at a very low performance baseline. This is a terrible reality for specialist A/V retailers, as the ecosystem brands – Amazon, Google and Facebook, and to a degree Apple and Microsoft – have business models that don’t rely on the profits from hardware sales. They can literally afford to give the hardware away.

For CI dealers, these new AI Assistants also threaten other parts of their business. As I write this article, I can call out to Alexa to turn the lights on in this room or adjust lights in other rooms, and it functions as a whole home audio system, too. Of course, it also lets me quickly place orders on Clever. A key part of the ambition to sell better speakers is the commercial need to sell better audio, using Alexa and its ilk as sources.

The next step is 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. Or perhaps only in response to a customer asking for one.

“Our customers can’t hear a difference,” or “Our customers buy what we tell them to buy,” are two common refrains I hear.  I say both statements are complete bunk. Everyone can hear a difference!  And it’s more important than ever to make that plain. Make sure your showroom is set up to achieve this; clean and comfortable with an aim to succinctly take customers through different quality levels. Customers will buy what you tell them to buy only to a point – easily achieved perhaps with $350/pair in-ceiling speakers, but not very easily with four-figure CI models or five-figure free-standing speakers.

Next, take customers through a little tour of what is possible. You can do this in as few as three steps. One, “want to have some fun?  Let me play you our best system.” Who would say no?  Two, “OK, there are plenty of options, let me show you a couple of different concepts.” Play a top end in-wall/in-ceiling system. Three, “Now let’s see how well that translates to a more modest price.” Play a mid-range (not entry level) system. It won’t be nearly the same, of course (and that’s the point). But now you can begin to frame a realistic budget.

How much of “the best” is the customer willing to do without? In my view, installed and free-standing approaches are not mutually exclusive. I have both in my home – big free-standing speakers in my music/theater room and flush mounts elsewhere.  Every customer should have this enlightening experience.

Today we have full-resolution and high-resolution streaming sources which put nearly limitless content at your customer’s fingers. No more fumbling for a CD during a demo. That being said, I’d still suggest creating some playlists. Make them genre specific, to streamline customers’ choices. By all means highlight the fact that if they buy this system, all this wonderful music is now close to free! That is pretty amazing, isn’t it?

Coda. Don’t approach this process with any preconceived notions on your part or with the expectation that the customer is aware of performance differences. Do not bring “budget” into the discussion initially, because price has no meaning separated from value and value has to be established through a presentation. And that presentation revolves around a great demo.

You are not serving your customer well if you don’t give them a complete picture of what is possible at all price levels. You are certainly selling your business short if you don’t highlight performance at every opportunity. The “solution” based business is being overtaken rapidly by the mega-tech companies. They will claim the veneer of performance, as with the updated Alexa Gen 2 or the upcoming Apple HomePod, but their volume models don’t allow for real performance. Always remember, customers will step up to high performance based on your guidance, passion and a thorough demonstration of just how amazing great sound is and how much it can enrich one’s life.

Next week I’ll talk more about leaving money on the table and my favorite sizzle demo material.

Doug Henderson

Doug Henderson

Doug Henderson has had a nearly thirty-five year career in the high performance audio industry, starting at Dahlquist speakers in 1983, continuing for 22 years as principal of independent rep firm Audtek, representing a virtual who's who of manufacturers including Audio Research, Bowers & Wilkins, Meridian, Krell, Rotel, Sonus faber and others. Most recently he was for a decade president/CEO of B&W Group North America.

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