This was my second year attending InfoComm, the AV industry’s National Convention, and my first time wearing an IMS name badge. My take-away is that the extensive up-front planning by the IMS team was worth the energy. It yielded quality meetings and a broader net cast over this massive event. InfoComm truly is a jungle; our job as an experienced AV integration firm was to explore and conquer it in less than three days.
If you’ve never gone, you might be thinking “just go and check it out”… like I did my first year. It seems easy enough to schedule a few meetings and walk the floor after all. But InfoComm is a behemoth, with 10,000 new products you want to see that are spread across 500,000 square feet of floor space, with nearly 1,000 exhibitors and 30,000 plus attendees wandering much like tourists in a new city. I’m not typically directionally challenged, but inside the Las Vegas Convention Center there is no sun or GPS, and with every booth towering larger than the next, there certainly were moments of intimidation. That said, the InfoComm app served me well this year. I am glad I downloaded it ahead of time!
InfoComm surely will chew you up if your best plan is no plan. Even the simple task of scheduling a few sessions ahead of time via Outlook presented a challenge given the 3 hour time zone difference (Eastern v. Pacific) and the fact that most cell phones adjust for the time change once you land in Vegas. A 10am meeting is not necessarily at 10am; so think carefully! Thanks Mike for talking me through this one rather than teaching me the hard way. There were ongoing changes to the schedule by both IMS and our select vendors, as we attempted to accommodate as many schedules as possible. It left me cross-eyed some days. It was rigorous no doubt for IMS Ops Manager Mike Shinn who facilitated the schedules of eight IMS attendees and countless vendors. Fortunately, a couple of live strategy sessions helped crystallize the overwhelming number of events that were planned and ensured that we were prepared and our vendors were expecting us at exactly the right time.
Armed with a plan and a reliable schedule each morning, the IMS team covered more real estate than simply floating past booths of interest. Moreover, IMS attendees possessed an understanding of key (individual and company) goals as we approached the action-packed week ….even if we, the new hires, didn’t fully grasp what we were getting ourselves into. Stepping into the convention center that first day, I realized I had forgotten the madness of it all!
I attended 3 classes this year: Integrated Collaboration (hosted by Paul Depperscmidt of Cisco), Changes & Outlook in Digital Signage Use (Lyle Bunn, Consultant), Driving Revenue Growth with UCC (John Anataiele from Polycom). This year’s classes filled in gaps, provided continuous professional growth, affirmed what is current in the industry, and what to watch for. This year’s classes seemed to confirm that what I am hearing and seeing on the street will in fact increase in demand and become mainstream. For example: Cisco’s Paul Depperschmidt stated that 70% of meeting rooms have no video conference or collaboration today. That the deskless worker out in the field is a big growth faction. The young generation is driving business needs and they want a software solution to AV. Our industry is working on their game plan because there are security/IT effectiveness/ and cost control considerations. As I see it, we are looking up at 4k quality video, but learning to simplify its delivery… wireless displays and networked distribution products are a testimonial to Paul’s comment. All the while industry professionals are breaking down silos and re-inventing everything we know about the AV/IT/Telecom Infrastructure in the background. I would have enjoyed more classes so I can be an expert resource to my customers. I am anxious to learn from colleague on what he learned in his VCC course presented by Rich Kowalske. I am sure to listen for classes being offered during the year through distributors or via InfoComm webinars.
Beyond my classes, new to me certifications like AVAQ are available and a big congratulations goes out to Ed Easley, Install Manager at IMS as he learned volumes of new material only to quickly apply this new knowledge to the real world. He mastered the course material and now is an AVAQ-I Certified Quality Technician.
Other industries take advantage of Audio Visual technology to demonstrate their wares. At InfoComm this eye-catching technology is what all 1,000 vendors are showing off. Each booth is more flashy and intriguing than the next. Like a kid in a candy store…..there’s eye candy at every turn. There are so many choices. Which do you pick? Thank goodness we had that plan. At each booth the vendors can SHOW me not simply describe it, or talk theoretically or throw around tech specs around a brochure. I am able to see the forest for the trees….what is the company’s suite of products, core competencies. I get to see what new, as well as what’s been selling well. I can see it touch it feel it interact with it. This year 4k was real and everywhere. So were video walls. Wireless screen sharing software made its debut, and there were plenty of content design options for signage applications. While in the booths, I can wear the customer/end user hat, as well as that of an integrator. This year there were more non-equipment solutions: Network based, software based, cloud base, hybrid options.
InfoComm is a great place to deepen existing relationships and foster some new ones. Spending time with the reps, the execs, and the products all lend themselves to strategic speculation…. Will these players improve my position relative to market need and sales revenue, employee and customer support, will they fill a gap or resolve a problem, and can I help them the way they need? Will they help the company open customer doors and/or gain us repeat business because of quality or price or innovation? Which vendors have the same values and business mindset? Are they easy to work from the corporate level and at the field level? A willingness to support customer for demos or post-sale support is a big plus to the sales side of the house. One-on-one time with manufacturers was clutch! We gained insight and they gained our attention. Shared connections; manufacturers get to know IMS beyond specific individuals. Evening events secured time to get to know one another personally and helped us get real, street level if you will. Often the sales team knows the front line reps but not their inside support team, even though we may engage often.
Many of the vendors came in full force like Haivision….with execs, engineers, product development, marketing, sales and more. Time with them gave me a sense for their corporate culture and I felt welcomed into their community. The IMS team broke down into sampling size groups. We were able to spend time with the manufacturers that we work well with, like Milestone whose product lines include Da-Lite Screens and Chief Mounts, as well as Crestron and Panasonic, both power houses in the AV industry. Then there was Planar with whom we want to foster a deeper relationship with in the near future because of their displays and video walls that offer the quality IMS and many of our customers are looking for. I extend a great big thank you to the vendors who went the extra mile and took time for IMS. You are now a first string go-to resource for me. I will look for sales opportunities where your products fit comfortably with my customer’s needs. I am afterall a connector!
A case can be made for the sales team to travel booth to booth as a horizontal pack (sending the sales team one way, and engineering another way, and such) or as we did it this year more vertically with individuals from varying roles in the company attending meetings as the face of IMS: Horizontal teams may move through the booths more readily and quickly determine if they can sell it or design it or support it. But vertical groups may uncover if we can do all three and that’s the goal. Presenting various individuals from all realms at IMS to a vendor creates a deeper relationship with each manufacturer. When we de-scope (or decompress) after the convention, we will gauge if we can effectively sell, design, AND support the wares of any vendor fully as a company. If we agree, then we are all invested in the outcome of each sale.
As a new hire, on board with the company for only two months, learning about my team and having them understand me is intangible and invaluable. There is something about learning how your teammates process information and respond to stimuli. We may only show a certain side of our personality to the professional world, but there are layers underneath that contribute to our success and individuality. If I am being honest, I was happy to learn that my team is not as stiff as I first thought! Also I was glad they were willing to share some details about their family lives and personal interests. Hopefully, they found that traveling with a female wasn’t especially high maintenance and that I, too, can relax and enjoy the great food and fun found everywhere in Vegas! So even if we were relegated to being on our best relaxed corporate behavior while wearing resort business casual attire, I feel attached to the team.
At every booth and in every class, I listened to technical jargon well above my pay grade or at least beyond my skill set, yet hearing others who successfully digested it and could translate it intelligently further entrenched me into this tight-knit industry. Of course, don’t dismiss the value of Osmosis. Much was gained, clearly I know more than I did coming into the show. Was it from the stories, or the demonstrations, or the dinner conversation? Did it come from talking it through while we waited for cabs, or listening as an associate painted a picture of a real world installation? I may not have the tech talk down, but I have a greater awareness now, a higher understanding of how AV people and things work together. Perhaps I can’t formulate the exact place or person from whom this knowledge stemmed, but I am wiser for actively participating with my team.
De-scope sessions and common folders on our shared server equates to greater knowledge by all attendees. Our knowledge base is an asset that is rather unique and elevates IMS from other integration companies. We consistently represent IMS as a team, and create our own brand by nature of shared experiences. Time spent at InfoComm helps IMS and its individuals determine the most appropriate products & services moving forward. What offerings can accommodate the likely business triggers, wants, and budgets? Which offerings are available now and coming soon, and which organizations want to work to support us?
Continued participation in industry events such as InfoComm will provide an edge against our competition that might not plan appropriately, or use their time effectively when there. I believe its key that IMS continue to have a presence at InfoComm, especially as the industry is re-inventing itself.
-Shantel Sage is a veteran sales professional who has spent five years selling professional AV solutions. A recent addition to the IMS Technology Services team, Shantel had brought energy and a client focused sales style to IMS.