I knew I was in for a rough meeting this past Wednesday morning when the man in the chair across from me exclaimed, "so what is this digital signage software of yours, and why should I care anyway?" I was late, admittedly, and the customer was clearly in no mood to be regaled with tales of my infant son, his 4 am feedings, and the fact that I was already wearing my third shirt of the day despite it being only 9 am. Worse, it was plainly obvious that he knew all about digital signage, being the owner of one of the largest systems integration firms in Florida. He was baiting me, or so I thought.
The perfect storm awaits
I hadn't planned to meet with "Jim" that morning. (That's a pseudonym, though I doubt he reads this blog anyway.) In fact, I hadn't even heard of him until the afternoon before, when Mike, our VP of Sales, came into my office to tell me that he had just gotten off the phone with what sounded like an ideal prospect. The company had been in business for a while, already fielded a pilot project, got good results on the advertising side, and needed new technology for the complete rollout -- which was supposedly fully-funded. These relatively rare "perfect storm" candidates have the right combination of resources, experience, and urgency to close quickly and get a lot of value from our products. And having done a pilot in the past usually means they're not too much trouble from a pre-sales support perspective. I was pretty excited. "There's one catch," Mike said at the end of his story. "His dad is the money man, and he's still skeptical of the market. They're local, the son reads your blog, and they want to come up and talk."
Which brings us back to the early morning meeting, and an IT pro's demand that I explain the basics of digital signage to him. Where to start? "Well, you of course know about the technology..." I began. "Look," he said, cutting me off. "My son has been running his network for six months now, and was bugging me about it for a year before that, so I know the ins and outs pretty well. He did OK selling the advertising, and his margins are OK too. But I can't see it getting any scale -- it's too expensive, and you can't keep track of all the people!"
Keeping track of the people
The expensive part I was comfortable with -- that's a pretty common complaint in our industry. But I wasn't sure where he was going with "keeping track of the people." Guessing that he had just read our blog article from a few weeks ago about tracking shoppers in the store with cameras, I jumped into my privacy spiel, explaining that surveillance wasn't necessary, and it could be added on later if advertisers were demanding it. He gave me a funny look. "Cameras?" he began, "I'm talking about the people running the network." At that point I think I must have given him a funny look, too. "You know," he continued, "getting the content onto the screens?" This time figuring that he was referring to our digital signage ecosystem article, I launched into my talk about building a team and defining critical workflow processes. A minute into it, he stopped me again. "Sure, in the office, I get it. Make the content, review it, show it to the advertisers. Got it. But getting it to 200 stores takes a lot of people. They're in 10 cities -- we can't have one guy drive around like we do now!" His mood was deteriorating by the minute; he clearly thought the meeting was a waste of his time. I, on the other hand, was hopelessly confused.
Enter the sneakernet
"Didn't you say this was a digital signage network," I asked, "the kind that uses computers connected together on a network?"
"Yeah," he said.
"So who's driving around where?"
"The drivers have to take the content to the stores so it can be scheduled."
"Scheduled on the network?"
Then it dawned on me: they had been servicing two dozen local stores by driving to each one with a laptop and a DVD full of content, connecting the laptop to a local server at each store, and then uploading the content and scheduling it to play on a single media player that was somewhere else in the store. They had somehow missed the point of the "networked" solution they were using -- namely that it worked over a much larger computer network, the Internet. With $2,500 of computers and $3,500 of software at each location, their budget was bursting at the seams. They assumed a small army of laborers would be needed to drive DVDs around the state. In short, they had been testing a network that had all of the shortcomings of an IP network and a "sneakernet" combined.
No wonder the guy was skeptical. And cranky.
A common challenge
The moral of this story is that these people weren't dumb. In fact, another two hours into our meeting it was clear they were actually pretty tech savvy, and understood the fundamentals of the digital signage business better than most people I talk with on a daily basis. But because of some preconceived notions, some misconceptions on my end and, from the sound of it, a less-than-scrupulous sales rep from their old technology provider, they had missed a pretty obvious and critical step. This lack of accurate information had skewed their budget projections and ROI calculations, and called into question the feasibility of the entire project. Granted, their situation represented one of the biggest misunderstandings about digital signage that I've come across. But we face these kinds of challenges with each new visitor who picks up the phone to talk with us, every day of the week. And I'm sure we're not alone.
Do you have an entertaining story that you'd like to share about a project? Did a customer surprise you with their unique perspective on things?
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