Learning to Love a Professional AV Salesperson

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Learning to Love a Professional AV Salesperson


Love-a-pro-salesperson-small.jpgNobody appreciates a professional, trained and skilled salesperson more than a fellow salesperson. Meeting up with a pro salesperson who knows product and craft and who is willing to dish out meaningful, client-centric advice is a pleasure for everyone in the buying process. Recently, I endeavored to buy a new iPhone 5S for no reason other than that I was up for a somewhat affordable upgrade and it had been nearly two years with my trusty iPhone 4S. I didn't try to be the first on my block to get the new, Bond-like fingerprint-controlled phone. I waited many weeks while away on trips to Denver (twice) for CEDIA 2013 and Rocky Mountain Audio Fest in order to let demand settle down for the trendiest of cell phones. Time didn't help my project: most stores simply didn't have the phone in stock, assuming you could get a person on the phone to ask the simple question (Best Buy, I am talking about you). Other stores had the phone, but not for Sprint, and they acted like you were crazy for using any provider other than the ones they had to offer you right there at that time.

Additional Resources
• Read more original commentary like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more AV dealer and installer news from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Learn about a particularly dedicated audiophile salesperson.

The Apple Store in Santa Monica was the worst offender. They have the most stock, but in the event that you can get someone on the phone (the employees will hang up on you automatically if you call in when they are too busy), he or she will not confirm whether or not the store has the inventory, nor will the store hold one for you. The Apple Store forces you to come into the store and wait aimlessly with a newly blue-shirted (ironic, isn't it?) so-called salesperson who can show you some tricks on the phone, but that's where the store employee's usefulness ends as: a) you are left to fend for yourself on the massive wall of accessories (which can't leave their 10-foot circle at the front of the store), or b) you can stand in line at 11:00 a.m. with a dozen people waiting to actually buy the phone. Let me be clear: I don't fly Southwest for this reason, and I sure as hell don't expect this "cattle car" treatment at the world's highest-dollars-per-square-foot retailer. Let me promise you, if you are shopping for diamonds at Tiffany's and want the salesperson to show you some china, they will gladly take you to see whatever product you like.

Ultimately, I got my iPhone, thanks to the Sprint Corporate Store in Santa Monica and a forward-thinking manager there, but the whole ugly process of buying a phone got me thinking about the troubles we have in the specialty AV business. I think sometimes we forget how wonderful it is to have someone work with us who truly knows his or her craft, someone who has read the reviews on all of the products on your shopping list, someone who isn't afraid of dropping a few "trial closes" on you but knows how to take in the data and work toward a sale.

These people still exist in specialty AV, but in many mainstream venues are, sadly, getting replaced by clerks. Untrained clerks that have no flexibility to help you, like the not-so-genius at the Apple store. Moreover, these employees aren't motivated the way traditional salespeople are, because they make an hourly wage that doesn't change very much based on their performance. Back in the day, when I was a 16-year-old in retail, we made $300 to $400 commission selling a bag phone. Trust me, you were psyched to close one of those deals. To one-dimensional bean-counters working for a private-equity-owned company, the idea of slashing commissions and/or marketing budgets is often too tempting to resist. In the case of Circuit City, that's precisely how the company enthusiastically went out of business. A trained, motivated appliance salesman in a middle-America Circuit City location could make upwards of a six-figure living by successfully selling many of the best brands in the world of appliances or AV gear to the droves of people that walked into the store, but some wonks on a Lear Jet decided to force these top producers into working for a meager hourly wage, despite the fact that their performances demonstrated that they were worth more. What happened? The people who could truly sell things quickly found work selling a better product, and Circuit City went Chapter Seven and had to sell off the Lear Jet, along with everything else, while losing 33,000 American jobs at a time when the economy could least afford it.

Not all products sold today require intensive sales support. Perhaps I would have been better off just ordering my phone from Apple.com. Then again, there are times when you want to touch and feel the goods. Would you buy $10,000 speakers without an in-person or at least an in-home demo with a satisfaction guarantee? I doubt anyone would, so somebody has to pay to floor the product, set up the system, cover overhead, and beyond. For this level of risk and, we'd hope, a professional presentation, these types of retailers deserve to make a modest return on their investment. Assuredly, there are out-of-state dealers who would like to take your "order" and sell you the product like a clerk would, but they've done little to actually earn your business in a meaningful way, other than whore out on pricing. You have to decide where you want to invest your money - with a local dealer, out of state, or online. Is it worth saving $200 from Amazon on your next Epson or Panasonic projector when an online retailer like Visual Apex will offer you extensive support both before and after the sale, with installation, calibration, screen selection, and more? It's a personal call, but having support is something that is of some value in most deals. Is it worth driving across state borders to save thousands upon thousands of dollars on a sale if the retailer won't work with you on price or your trade-ins? For many, the answer is an enthusiastic "Yes!"

The big-box AV retail world needs to be most afraid of specialty online retailers. They market hard and know inherently that they have to offer service above and beyond the call of duty to earn the mainstream customer's business. Orb Audio, Aperion Audio, SVS, Outlaw Audio, Noble Fidelity, and many others come to mind in the specialty audio-video space when it comes to extraordinary support. Salespeople with these companies will take the time to explain advanced subwoofer placement and tuning, even when you are buying an entry-level $300 sub. They will take calls and emails to help you get the most out of a $600 AV receiver. They will discuss the complicated configurations of an AV preamp from sources that they may (or may not) have tested until they get things perfect.

The best brick-and-mortar retailers always offered value-added service, and most specialty stores still do. What is this service worth to you? Is this the type of flight that's so short that it's worth flying Southwest, or do you want a more high-end experience with premium check-in, a Diet Coke before takeoff, and the other niceties? It's your call, because there is a place in the market for Virgin America, as well as Southwest. In higher-end, value-oriented AV, getting the most from your system isn't always as simple as A-B-C. If you like having a support system - be it an online chat, phone support, a dealer willing to visit you, or someone offering you premium trade-ins for your gear - ask yourself what that's worth to you and support the companies that are selling to you the right way.

Additional Resources
• Read more original commentary like this in our Feature News Stories section.
• See more AV dealer and installer news from HomeTheaterReview.com.
• Learn about a particularly dedicated audiophile salesperson.

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