Selling Digital Signage: Part 2

October 15, 2010 by Dave Haynes

Click for Part 1 …

Guest post

Lesson One: Avoid the Technology Trap …

Digital Signage is not a technology sale; in fact, in many ways it’s really the farthest thing from it.

The Message Vacuum

Mark Emmons

One of the most often mimicked and yet probably least understood phrases in Digital Signage is “Content is King”. I’ll take that axiom one step further… Content is the Only Thing! Think about it this way: Imagine a large digital signage network built with the best hardware and software

available today, installed in all the ideal locations, but the display screens are blank. There is no message being communicated. No one watches the lifeless black screens. It’s the best technology currently available, but what value does this network provide for the customer?

Now in contrast, picture another network. This network is cobbled together using what we might consider to be obsolete hardware and outdated software. This network is technologically challenged, but in contrast it is delivering well-designed, dynamic content designed to address

and deliver measurable real-world results based on the network owner’s (or end-user’s) stated objectives. Consumers, potential customers are interested and are watching these screens.

Which of these two scenarios do you think will produce the more successful network?

From a different perspective, when a marketer wants to advertise on TV they review the spot as it will play and evaluate the message the spot is designed to communicate to the audience; they don’t ask about the technology that makes television work. When that same marketer wishes to place a radio spot they do the same, listen to the spot as it will play and review the message without a thought about Marconi’s principles of transmitting and receiving radio waves. And likewise when this marketer places a print ad, they review the creative and determine if the ad communicates the message appropriately without a care as to the evolution of Gutenberg’s invention into today’s high-speed printing presses.

On the other side of the coin, all too often, digital signage networks are sold based on the cool factor of the technology and the messaging becomes an afterthought.

Lesson Two: Avoid the Message Vacuum …

Digital Signage is first and foremost a very powerful communication medium. Its purpose is to deliver a message that spurs action … it is the effectiveness of the message that will determine the success of failure of the network.

The Swiss Army Knife

One of the best features of Digital Signage is its extreme flexibility; at the same time one of the worst features of Digital Signage is its extreme flexibility. Today’s Digital Signage software is extremely capable, adaptable and extensible, and it gets better with each new generation.

Software developers and hardware manufacturers are really listening to the market and building in features and functionality to support market needs.

When combined with a screen, a fairly robust PC, a network connection, and a few peripherals it seems there’s almost nothing that can’t be accomplished. But with that said, we must guard against the temptation to view digital signage as the Swiss Army Knife of multimedia. None of us would try and use a Swiss Army Knife with all of its myriad options and blades in their open positions. While that may be useful for selling the features and capabilities of the knife, using the knife in this way would certainly diminish its utility, and perhaps result in personal injury.

So too, with digital signage (perhaps without the fear of personal injury). No matter what combination of hardware and software is selected, the available capabilities will far outweigh the needs of any single real-world application. Because of this there is a tendency for integrators to try and be all things to all people.

This is a huge and unfortunately common mistake. Each vertical market where digital signage might serve as a solution is very different from the next. Each has different business needs and each has a specific vernacular or lingo as well as industry knowledge that must be learned before one can be successful in that given vertical. For example the terminology used in the gaming industry describing the types of games and payouts involved provide a different set of applications for digital signage from those that might be used in a supermarket or retail store, and the knowledge required to successfully sell into these, or any vertical is specific to that vertical.

If our goal is to target the gaming industry we must partner with system integrators that are already successful in gaming and show them why they should add digital signage to their product line. The same holds true for any other vertical.

Lesson Three… Don’t try to be everything to everyone.

Pick one or two vertical markets where you and your company have experience and leverage your existing knowledgebase. Build on your existing expertise and specialize in a particular vertical or two.

Cookie Cutters Don’t Work

In part due to the flexibility digital signage offers, and in part because each implementation will encounter a different mix of workflow, legacy systems, content requirements, interactivity and so on, no single out-of-the-box solution exists that will work for every project. Each Digital Signage installation is in itself a custom project.

While all Digital Signage networks have some things in common, like snowflakes, no two are alike. For the purpose of this discussion let’s assume there’s a universe of 100 ingredients that makes up the entirety of all possible Digital Signage solutions. Each project will require a different quantity and mix of these 100 possible ingredients, some requiring few ingredients while others require many.

For example one network operator may have internal resources to monitor and maintain the network, but need resources for playlist generation, content development and content management. Another may have an internal creative department capable of developing and managing content, but have a need for expertise in monitoring networks and player uptime.

Even within a network, each location may have unique requirements such as; one building is newer construction where drilling and pulling Cat-5 cable is not an issue. Another location may be in a historic district or building where running cable is physically challenging, or not allowed.

When planning a network we must try aim for a solution that has the most commonality of components from the most challenging location install to the simplest.

Lesson Four… Realize that each network and every location within a given network will have its own unique requirements.

When planning a network identify the unique IT and workflow requirements for effective operation and determine the most problematic among locations and design and build your solution around those findings.

Make It Easy To Say Yes

I have witnessed (both as a participant and as a non-participant) numerous sales efforts that have failed because the seller simply made it too difficult for the customer to say “yes”. In order to make it easy for a customer to say “yes” we must put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, identify roadblocks and barriers and find a way to remove them. Digital signage networks are complex and in most cases call on multiple areas of expertise, customer objections can come in many flavors; we must be prepared to address any possible issue that may arise.

For example, a project may be to upgrade a food menu network at a sports arena. Meetings with the customer and a site survey tell us the arena had been built with the infrastructure to support a dynamic menu system – but the original execution fell far short of the vision the owners had for the system. The impulse may be to sell digital signage hardware, software and integration services for $325,000 and walk away with a 25% – 35% margin; but that might not necessarily solve the customer’s real problem. A thorough needs analysis could discover the real issue is resource availability and allocation.

An in-depth needs analysis finds the food service concessionaire has no graphics expertise or capabilities, so they rely on an internal marketing and promotions art department. The menu system projects are always a last priority for the art department, so oftentimes even simple changes take weeks to accomplish. To further complicate matters, the art department is unable to output files in the required file format for the system so output must be coordinated through the in-house video post production group, where again the menu projects are relegated to last priority.

Due to this multi department shuffle a simple price change can take one to two months to accomplish. Then, once the corrected menu file, output in the correct file format is delivered, there is a single individual trained to load the new file, so finalizing the update now depends on that persons work schedule and workload.

After gathering and analyzing this information, we propose a turnkey solution that along with hardware/software/install as described above, includes new menu creative for all food venues including specific branding for each of the teams using the arena (basketball, hockey, indoor soccer, etc.), quarterly photo shoots for menu item updates, and all content scheduling, price changes, IT support and application hosting; it is easy for the client to say “yes” to this proposal because it addresses all of their current challenges associated with keeping menus current.

This complete solution is presented as a 3-year $1.1 million contract for services to install and support the operation of the menu network. The customer is very happy because we simplified a complex and difficult to manage process that is key to their business success, and at the same time we not only increased total dollars for the project, we boosted our margin to better than 60% over the life of the contract, the highest margins coming in years 2 and 3.

Lesson Five … You’re providing a solution, not just an exercise in technology integration.

Discover the customer’s real needs and think outside-the-box to find real-world solutions.

Get Emotional

This may seem so simple that one may question its inclusion here, but when demonstrating digital signage to a prospective customer remember as the old adage says “You only have one chance to make a first impression”. This is extremely important as many sales experts agree that sales are triggered as an emotional response; we need the response to the demo to be overwhelmingly positive.

I got lucky early on. I sold my first digital signage network before being formally trained on the software. I read the literature and I catch on to concepts pretty quickly, so I thought I got what I needed to know in a matter of minutes from the software developer’s website and marketing materials. Then I discovered what I didn’t know when I went to formal training on the software.

It was a group session with about a dozen students, each of us with a workstation, and all of us connected to a local network. The training was multi-day; on the first day the morning was dedicated to hardware specification and integration, the afternoon was dedicated to loading and configuring software. Pretty much as I expected. The second day was dedicated to content creation and management. Toward the end of the second day we were instructed to create a short script and send it to the “location” at the front of the classroom. That’s when the potential of digital signage hit me. It was truly inspiring to see the script I had just created, transported across the room to displace someone else’s script playing on the monitor. It was only at that moment I truly understood the potential of digital signage. The challenge in selling digital signage is to help the prospect “get it” too.

The initial demo to the prospect is one of the most critical steps in digital signage sales. It is important to remember that most of us can stretch our imagination only so far; assume the prospect can’t stretch at all. The challenge then is to create a simple short program that demonstrates the key points of your proposed solution in a way the prospect can identify with; don’t ask the audience to imagine too much. Hire a professional multimedia producer to create demo programming. Incorporate the prospect’s company logo and color scheme; develop content that supports the solution to the business challenge the proposed system will solve.

Clearly state the business challenge(s) the network will address and then demo how the network eliminates the problem.

Make sure demo equipment is functioning properly and if necessary practice unpacking and connecting the network as well as the sales pitch; remember the goal is to make the technology invisible and focus on how the message delivered by the system solves the prospect’s business issue. If possible, leave the entire demo network set up and operational at the prospect’s location for 7-10 days if possible to let them take it for a test drive.

Lesson Six … The goal of the demo is to get your prospect emotionally invested in your solution.

Do this by customizing the demo to solve the prospect’s business challenge. Use professionally created content incorporating logo and corporate colors to appear as part of the team.

Develop A Process

Through my involvement in many very different digital signage projects, I realized the only thing any given network may have in common with other networks is; there is nothing in common between networks. This can be quite unsettling to those of us who are process-driven. There is, however, a way to attach a successful and repeatable process to the business of selling digital signage, and by doing so one can dramatically increase their rate of success.

The first item in any digital signage sales process is to ask the prospect “Why digital signage”?

This will accomplish two important goals; 1] it will help us determine if digital signage is an appropriate solution for the stated business issue and 2] it starts the process of flushing out and identifying those measureable results that will confirm success or failure of the project.

Due to significant capital requirements and support from multiple departments or divisions the sales cycle for large networks can be painfully long. Waiting for buy-in, approvals and budget cycles can take 18 to 24 months and even longer. One of the challenges in this type of sale is keeping the customer engaged. One way to do this is through well-defined project teams at both the customer and integrator, who meet regularly to set and track milestones and define and report success metrics.

Another way to keep a prospect engaged is through deployment of multi-phased pilot programs designed and implemented to gain real-world integration, installation and operational testing and provide data to compare against previously agreed upon success metrics, backing-up operational cost, sales lift and ROI projections in your proposal. The term of the pilot phases can be lengthened or shortened to match progress of budget and approval processes. While each customer will have unique issues to address and each network will vary widely, a sales process can be developed that is effective and repeatable.

Lesson Seven … Develop and document a sales process that can be repeated.

The process can begin with targeting accounts and go all the way through going live with a network. Build a workbook that includes a set of project rules or guidelines, identifying team members, meeting schedules, processes, challenges, success metrics, milestones, etc. Over time you can refine your workbook to improve the process and up your odds for closing business.

(Mark Emmons is a Portland, OR-based industry veteran. You can read more about him here:

  1. Byron says:

    In a word “AWESOME”. Thanks!

  2. Wade Clisby says:

    This is an excellent summary of a lot of what we go through on any given day with clients. Great work!

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