State of the art technology continue to provide electrical contracting firms with opportunities. Customers need help selecting, installing, maintaining and upgrading their voice/data/video (VDV) systems. As these systems become increasingly integrated, interdependent and complex, the electrical contracting firm should try to become the customer's preferred supplier of VDV services.

Standing out in the crowd

Many qualified firms are competing for your customer's VDV business. To become your customer's preferred supplier of VDV services, your firm must stand out. With products, this is referred to as “branding.” Branding is differentiating the services that you provide from those of your competitors. Branding represents the added value that your firm provides to your customer.

Consider our daily product decisions. Name brand products abound, many that we purchase everyday and many that have equal substitutes. Yet, when we purchase these products, we often pay a premium for a particular brand even though there are other cheaper and similar products within reach. We tend to select a particular brand over comparable products because we believe the branded product is better in one or more ways. It could have better ingredients, design, packaging, availability, placement, or service, etc., that makes it more attractive. It could also be our previous experiences with that product or the experience of others that convince us to choose it over another brand. In any case, purchase decisions are made based on a variety of considerations and not just the underlying product. Otherwise, we would always select the lowest priced product.

Branding your firm

The same is true with your customers. Many electrical contracting firms can't understand why their customers consistently select the firm with the lowest price to install, maintain or upgrade their VDV systems. When asked, the firm can usually explain why the installation or service it is offering is better than its competitors. Often the explanation has nothing to do with the actual materials and equipment installed but the quality of the installation itself and the service and support provided before, during and after. If the customer doesn't understand the added value that the electrical contracting firm provides over its competitors, then the only difference that the customer will see is price. In the absence of any other differentiators, the customer will always select the lowest price.

Understand your customers

To brand your firm, you must understand your customers and what services they need and value. Don't focus on the physical VDV system installation because chances are the customer believes that there are a number of qualified firms to do this work, which is why he or she is currently bidding it. Instead, you should focus on the added value that your firm can provide.

This value may include your firm's design and management capabilities, a better trained and experienced work force, a firm that has a reputation of customer service and satisfaction, and better quality materials and equipment that will result in better system performance and reduced downtime. For example, your firm's ability to provide customers with a one-stop shop for their power, communications and control needs keeps the customer from having to deal with multiple firms for interrelated systems and the headaches and frustrations this often causes. The key is to understand what your customers value so that you can effectively market your services to them.

Marketing your VDV services

This is not about selling. Marketing is about educating your customers about the services that your firm provides and how these services will benefit them. This is why it is so important that you first understand your customers and what they want in their VDV systems. Customer education needs to be something everyone is involved in, not just upper management and the marketing staff. All the firm's field and office personnel need to understand the VDV services that the firm provides and be able to communicate these services to the customer whenever possible. This is particularly true of service personnel who are often in the customer's facility and the first to know about a customer need or an upcoming project. Investing in a marketing program that educates your customers about your firm's capabilities, services and dedication to customer satisfaction will help customers understand your firm's value. This action may give them reasons for selecting your firm to provide needed VDV services on qualifications rather than low price.

This article is the result of an ongoing research project investigating the future of the voice/data/video market that is being sponsored by The Electrical Contracting Foundation Inc. The author would like to thank the foundation for its continuing support. EC

GLAVINICH is an associate professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering at The University of Kansas and is a frequent instructor for NECA’s Management Education Institute. He can be reached at 785.864.3435 or tglavinich@ku.edu.