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A milestone moment
I rarely write directly of our work at Scene Change but you get the occasional milestone moment. We recently did the LED stage backdrop for the ARIAs broadcast. (For international readers it’s our smaller version of the Grammys).
Could not be prouder of the team that got us to this point.
It’s on a scale of work we would never have dreamed of when we started the business, but here we are.
We got there by having the wrong plan from the day we opened.
We started the business with a clear strategic plan we’d been formulating for years. Based on strong market feedback in an industry we knew well.
Potential customers in the biggest client sector, hotel event venues, lined up to tell us how much their existing supplier sucked. For so many reasons.
It was a clear sign. If we could win 10% of those clients away from our big competitor, we’d be set.
Investing everything in the wrong plan
We gambled everything we owned on that plan. We borrowed as much as we could against our houses and spent it opening in four cities in year one. Each with warehouses, vehicles, staff and lots of expensive technology.
Plus because we were a feisty upstart brand, we invested in a harsh but fun-to-make marketing campaign, poking fun at that big competitor.
They had new owners at the time who stacked head office with layer upon layer of MBAs doing Lord knows what. We adapted the glorious Apple “I’m a Mac. And I’m a PC” campaign of the time.
Here’s one of ours from about 2008.
To be fair to them, the Big AV character was the more entertaining and likeable, like John Hodgman’s PC in the Mac ads.
A weird, grim period of our lives
Those clients felt safe and secure with that big supplier.
A few people on the mid-to-lower rungs of those client organisations having a fat whinge about their supplier at cocktail parties does not equal a viable market. The decision makers upstairs were having none of us.
We employed a highly-regarded ex-hotel food and beverage director as a sales rep. He had an extensive book of contacts.
Three of us flew to Adelaide to pitch one of those clients, a hefty expense in those early days. While we were in the cab from Adelaide airport to the hotel, the General Manager’s PA called us to cancel the meeting. He was “too busy”.
That sucked, but we were resilient. They agreed to another meeting the month after.
We flew back to Adelaide, and we had such a productive meeting.
Just kidding, they cancelled us on the day, again.
What a weird, grim period of our lives. I remember wearing a lot of suits.
Plan B: slow and boring
That year we regrouped and pursued a completely different strategy, as a wholesale technical supplier for event production companies. A market segment with less of a guaranteed flow of work, but the shows were more interesting.
We started off as a small tadpole in that pond. But over the years it grew bit by bit. Via the boring but effective wonders of compounded reinvestment. We gradually attracted more of the kind of people who do the bigger shows.
Contracts with different venues followed, a much smaller number of them who liked our different vibe. They’re clients we enjoy working with, and they have never cancelled a meeting on the day.
And while COVID beat the absolute shit out of us, we are a better business now as a result of it. Our staff picked up a whole bunch of broadcast skills during those virtual event years.
We’re friendly with that big competitor now. They do a good job. They cleared the MBAs out. They are perfect for their clients, and our competitive overlap isn’t large.
We don’t want most of their clients, and I don’t think they don’t want most of ours.
A new theory to help understand sales and suppliers
I’ve been thinking about this lately and have a theory: on average, every customer has the right supplier.
In the heat of competitive market battles, everyone tends to think of their competitors as fools, liars, con artists and so on. They offer a worse product than you, trick clients into paying too much etc.
This kind of chat helps build morale around the bar at the sales conference, but it’s also not true.
It’s never a clear-cut good vs bad situation. Different sorts of suppliers suit different types of clients.
There is no objective truth here
Consider your competitive landscape right now. You’ll think of some them as cheap and nasty. And others as arrogant and overpriced.
Yet who is to say the client using that cheap ass competitor is objectively wrong?
Maybe that product category is not a high-priority for that client, so they’re perfectly okay with what they get. It’s as much quality as they need. And maybe they like the individuals they’re dealing with.
Some clients would call that arrogant, overpriced supplier confident and premium. It makes them feel good to use suppliers who are, to use the old Stella Artois tagline, reassuringly expensive. And if you’re a supplier who can keep your customers happy with that approach: hats off to you, legends.
Clients who tell lies will attract suppliers who do the same. Clients who respect their own staff end up with suppliers who do too. Suppliers who don’t mind offering a cash backhander will always find clients happy to accept that bag.
It’s like finding life partners, where you see people and think: wow, so many unattractive traits, how could anyone see anything in them? Yet they’re perfect for someone, and the world is a better place for that.
Your time will come
There’s a little bit of friction around the edges of my theory, clients obviously change suppliers but not as often as you’d imagine. Even less so at the moment, but that’s another blog post. But even when they change, it’s usually to a supplier with a similar character to the last one.
I’m not saying don’t compete. Because it’s so much fun, and because it keeps you thinking about ways to be better. Just don’t take it too personally when your genius plan to win that client doesn’t happen.
They might just want something you aren’t and never will be.
It might seem like nobody loves you but your time will come.
Work long term on being the best version of the real you, and your own ARIAs will come.
Spoiler alert it’ll probably take a decade and half. If you knew how long things will really take, compared to your wild optimistic plans, you’d never start anything.
That’s cool, it gives you time for happy accidents and detours you never planned.
No new stories from me for a couple of weeks, I have some things to attend to.
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