Home Automation Podcast Episode #98: An Industry Q&A With Nigel Dessau
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, mentor and coach, Nigel Dessau is transforming marketing in a way that can help technology professionals think about the end-user experience in a different and profitable way.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Nigel Dessau. Recorded live on Wednesday, February 7th, 2020 at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Nigel Dessau
Nigel Dessau, who got his start with IBM, has been a respected leader of business product marketing and product management for 25 years. He has been recognized for transforming marketing and driving business revenue to the next level and is now a CMO for Bravas, a national provider for multiple Fortune 500 technology companies. Nigel’s commitment to mentoring technology professionals expands to his business, The 3 Minute Mentor. He is also the author of Becoming a 21st Century Executive.
Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Nigel Dessau:
- How the shift in market consumerism will likely affect the custom integrator
- Building your business using his "Content Approach Network" strategy
- What the next year looks like for Bravas and their plans for growth within our space
- His perspective on wellness and how integrators should position this solution to consumers
Ron: Hello everybody. Ron Callis here with One Firefly and another episode of Automation Unplugged. I am super excited to bring you our guest. Some of you certainly have heard about this person's involvement in the news because the company he's associated with has been in the news quite a bit over the last few years. Without further ado, I'm gonna jump right into my interview with Nigel Dessau. Nigel, you are the CMO of Bravas. Certainly, our industry has been hearing about Bravas and the 15 integrators from around the country that have come together, initially coached and guided by Paul and Steve over at Vital Management. You, in particular, have this really interesting background that's so diverse and perhaps unique, at least from what I'm normally used to coming across. For our audience of technology industry professionals, custom integration professionals, tell us about yourself and kind of where you come from.
Nigel: Well, I think the first thing people will probably spot is that I don't have a traditional American accent. I was born in the UK I spent most of my career in and out of high technology companies including 20 years at IBM and then various other places since then, it's really been more in a B to B world, it's been about bringing an external view of the market. But for the last 10-15 years, I either create or reboot marketing teams. And that's what I really been focused on.
Ron: Now you mentioned some big names there, so I'm going to go through that a little bit slower. What are some of those bigger brands and Fortune 500 companies that you've been associated with?
Nigel: As I said, IBM in both the UK and the US. I spent the first 10 years of my life actually as a Sales Rep in the field, doing, what I class, as a more honest job than many. I've carried a bag, I've shaken hands, I know what that experience is like. I came to the US with IBM and then joined a storage company called StorageTek who got acquired by Sun. I went through an acquisition experience from Sun. I then went to a company called Advanced Micro Devices, AMD, where I was Chief Marketing Officer for a few years.
Ron: AMD, the chip manufacturer? The big huge monster chip manufacturer.
Nigel: Yes. I mean that was my favorite marketing budget of all time was about $400 million a year. That was a fun marketing budget time.
Ron: Did you struggle to find ways to spend those $400 million?
Nigel: You know, in that sort of industry, what happens is about three-quarters of it goes through an MDF and funds like that, co-marketing funds. So you're down to only having $25 million left over. With that, we had no problem spending. AMD is interesting because it's a B2B company, it's also a B2B to C company. You've got to understand enough pretty much like this industry of what the consumer wants if you're able to work with your business partners. The idea that that industry isn't B2B and B2C, it's really B2B to C is something that I've focused on for years.
Ron: You were brought into this Bravas situation, I want to say by the investment company originally as a consultant and looking at the whole deal. Is that accurate?
Nigel: Yeah, I think that's fine. The private equity company, Presidio, who funded this merger of the 15, I'm connected to that through one of their partners and they asked me to look at the Bravas marketing strategy because the marketing strategy, you have $3 to $5 million custom integrator in a town or a city around the country and that of a $75 million to $100 million national branded are different. And the requirements are different and the scale is different and what you should think about is different. I did some consulting work for the team, gave my recommendations, and one of the things I offered to do was to help them find a good marketing leader, to run the marketing play. And to be honest with you, I talked to Ryan who is the CEO and said, actually I think I found that person. It's me. 'Cause I think it's a great opportunity. I think there are all sorts of fun things about this and I'd love to play that role.
Ron: I'm very curious. You have this super interesting outsider's role as it relates to the custom integrators space. So many of the people in the custom integration industry come from within the custom industry or the custom technology industry. And for me, I've been in this industry for 20 years and so I'll see friends and industry peers and they'll move from one company to the other, but they'll generally stay inside the bubble. And you're coming from outside. I'm curious just what are some of your general perceptions about custom integrators and the industry at large and maybe what do you see as the opportunities here?
Nigel: I think the single most interesting thing going on in this industry is what I call consumerization. And it's gonna cause a huge squeeze. If you think about most technology businesses, maybe a silly example, but I remember my mother bought a new vacuum cleaner when I was younger and she went to the store, she got to meet the salesperson, she got to check the sales person's references. It was a six month purchase to buy a vacuum cleaner. Our vacuum cleaner broke yesterday. We went to amazon.com and the biggest question for us was what color do we want? And that that's really the world of consumerization. I think that sort of consumerization is hitting the lower end of this market where whether it's Ring doorbell, Nest, that starting to really eat up the web. I think people are going to be challenged either rightly or wrongly by what people think they can do themselves or consumers can do themselves. That's causing a shift and not only a shift in the products that are available for the market, but more importantly the expectations of the end client. And what consumerization really does is change the knowledge of the consumer when they're making purchase decisions. If you think about what that's done in laptops and cell phones and all those other businesses that's going to change the way people acquire services from custom integrators. That's going to radically change how custom integrators are going to have to respond.
Ron: If you don't mind, I'm super curious. Walk me down the road a little bit further. What does that mean for the technology integrator, whether they're in Bravas or not? Just the channel of the thousands of technology integrators throughout the world, but the 5 or 10,000 here in North America, what does that mean for them? Or at least within your vision? What does that mean for them?
Nigel: Well, let me tell you a little bit of a journey if I can because I think this is a good way to tell the story. If I put up a picture of a model T Ford, everyone's going to recognize a Model T Ford and I'm going to say, "Tell me what you think about Model T Ford?" Typically when you do that, everyone says you can have it in any color that you want as long as it's black. Model T Ford emerged in a time when product was the significant differentiator. If you are the head of the product, it was a lot of variety. At the second phase is when sales became the most important differentiator in industry. You had the product, but if you could blanket the world with salespeople, which sort of IBM did in the early days of computers, the best product could be replaced by an improved sales force. The third phase I think was around mass marketing. Windows 95 was the first people to really do this, which was to blow everybody else out of the market by just mass marketing. It didn't matter if you had a better sales force, it didn't matter if you had a better product. The mass-marketed phase we're moving into. Now as an experience, one where you've got to give the right experience to the client. That experience is how they research, how they acquire, how they buy, and how they support their products. It doesn't matter if you're shipping the best speaker, the best TV, the best wireless system. It doesn't matter if your Salesforce is five times larger or five times better. It doesn't matter if you actually go to the best marketing. What matters is can you give the end client the best experience. And so some of the things we've done in the industry around, you know hit and run product installs, lack of support, all of that stuff will become the overriding thing that affects a business. You got to ask yourself, "Is how does the experience affect the way I acquire my clients? The way they learn about me, the way I sell to them that installation process and then the support process afterward." And that's the sort of 360 experience you're going to have to have as the market consumerizes. If you don't think that's true, think about the us buying a vacuum cleaner on Amazon yesterday. From the way we research, bought, acquired, used... And you know what? If we don't like it, we'll refund it and they'll pay for the packaging. That's the experience that's going to happen in is more than just in retail.
"There's a big difference between buying a vacuum cleaner and buying a fully integrated system, which is requiring of a diligent process with scoping and discovery, designing, engineering, installing and ultimately servicing that customer."
Ron: Now, what is your perspective as it relates to...There's a big difference between buying a vacuum cleaner and buying a fully integrated system, which is requiring of a diligent process with scoping and discovery, designing, engineering, installing and ultimately servicing that customer. How does that differ from say, doing research on a toaster and what is that experience that the integrator needs to be delivering or being mindful of today versus maybe in the past where I'm going to say, maybe you're saying it, it mattered less in the past and it's changing?
Nigel: I don't think it's as different as you think it is. I think we want to think it's different, but it really isn't. Let's take the end of that process, which is the installation, the last fight, the last mile, the last 5%. Support. How when a client has a problem with something you've installed, are you going to support that? We're so used to being able to call Amazon or have someone pick up the phone, being able to get instant responses. I'll be back to you in three days isn't sufficient. Now, if you work that back up the chain and 70-80% of everything people buy nowadays, they research. When you go in and say, "I'm going to install Speaker A or Television B," you've got to expect people to then go, "Why? That's not what my best friends, that's not what our neighbors bought." And some of that is always been going on and I get that. The power of the experience about how you explain why you've got and the resources you give them to make that decision are very similar and that world is speeding up. So while it feels different from buying a toaster on Amazon, there's a lot to learn that that experience is going to be the same.
Ron: In doing my research, Nigel, before bringing you on as a guest, I was reminded that you authored a book. Is this what you were doing prior to being brought into the Bravas organization and now, of course, your position as the CMO of that company or when did this book, which I have not read, but now that I know it exists, I'm going to read it and in fact, it looks like maybe a great giveaway for members of my leadership team and my staff. Can you tell me about this book and that fits into the ecosystem here of your past?
Nigel: Yeah, so I started this about 10 years ago, I was stuck in Dallas, Fort Worth airport in a storm and you know, bored waiting for my flight. I wandered into the bookshop and thought, well, let's find a good leadership book. And what I saw was every leadership book was written by someone who was fundamentally a leader in the last century. They're all great people, but the challenges of the 21st Century are, in terms of leadership and management and retaining and teams, are significantly different in terms of the technology and globalization and all those sorts of things. I actually started a website called the Three Minute Mentor. I just started doing three-minute videos. There's about 130 of them up there now.
Ron: That is the3minutementor.com for those watching. For those that are listening, if you go to the show page afterward on our website, one firefly.com, you'll see it in the show notes.
Nigel: Thank you. So over time what we found was about 36 plus of the episodes were more watched than any other. We took those 36 episodes and turned them into this book. And it's not a hard one for reading. I would tell you the 36 chapters probably take you know, 10-15 minutes and they're designed for very practical use. And to be honest with you, they mostly come from the ideas mostly come from those who've been kind enough to mentor me over the years. It's really about passing this on. But if we connected back to the Bravas and our industry, this is a huge change in the way people have to hire and retain, what the millennials and gen Y's want and not what maybe we wanted when we started all those years ago. And so some of this may be useful for people climbing up their careers.
"I employ quite a few millennials and a diverse team in terms of age, background, even where they live."
Ron: Well, let's dig into that. I employ quite a few millennials and a diverse team in terms of age, background, even where they live. Are you willing to share a few nuggets from that role or from those mentorship videos or content that you drafted?
Nigel: The first part of the set, and there's a bunch of underlying themes that live all the way through the content, but mostly when people who are early on in their career say, "How do I build a career? I've got my degree, I've got my BA and I've even got my MBA and stuff, but I don't seem to have a career. What am I doing?" I always tell them that you've really got to focus on three things first, what I call a Content Approach and Network. What we care about in the people that we hire is what content do they come with? What do you know? Then the second thing is the approach. How do you use what you know? Then invariably networking is who knows that you can use what you know. I always tell people, "As you're building your career, focus on content, approach, and network." And then there are other things like presence and hunger that you can add in off to that. But that's the sort of idea. And so the first few chapters are about, "How do I acquire content? How do I get approach, how do I get networking?" And as you start to do this, it's a bit like a video game. If you, move too fast without getting all the appropriate things at the right level, it's hard to play the next level. And that's one of the books designed to help with.
Ron: Do you have more books in you? Is this one of what might be a more forthcoming or,
Nigel: I sort of stopped doing the episodes a while ago but what I'm getting some requests for now is a slightly different approach. We're looking at launching a new series, sort of the Three Minute Mentor Unplugged, which is a slightly more focused on the people whose careers have stalled and how do you do a career reboot and what are the things that you should think about if you want to accelerate or drive your career and it's not going where you think it's going. That particularly plays, I think to a millennial audience who there's a lot of bad analogies with attendance trophies, but there is an element of, you know, I've come in every day, I've done what you've asked me why am I not the director or the VP yet? And some of that I think is what I get a lot of requests to talk about.
Ron: I know I'm jumping around and you're being a great sport, so thank you for being flexible as we jump into topics. But I wanna I want to jump back into Bravas. What's lined up, what's next for Bravas? What're the exciting next steps? Where do you want to take Bravas and what do you see as the really the growth opportunity within our space?
Nigel: I think for Bravas, first of all, the 15 integrators have come together, we're in 13 locations. I hope we will add more locations over the next few years. At the moment we're sort of 13 businesses running independently. And so what we'll be paying off on the next few weeks and months is bringing that together as both a national and a local body. There's an interesting balance here between having a national brand and not losing the local identity because as we all know, that's where the business really happens. And there are websites to be updated, something we're talking about, and other materials to try and playoff on that. I think we have to, we have to play out the value of the national brand without losing the local brand. The other thing is there's a context shift here towards health and wellness and we have to work our way through how we tell that story. Bravas is at the high end of the luxury space and there's a shift in the way those people are buying and what they care about. We need to play to that.
Ron: One question that I have just have been only in this space for the last 20 years and it's a question Mark and I'm curious where you stand. The wellness conversation, is it a shift or is it a trend or is it a fad? I'm going to just juxtapose this to say I was interviewed by CE Pro back in 2010 for some bio or coverage, they had asked me very directly about 3DTV. My perception at that time was it was a fad, I just couldn't see it lasting. It's interesting, about one or two years later it was all but not talked about. I don't have such an opinion on wellness. In fact, I've started practicing some of the benefits of technology enhancing your lifestyle at home myself. But I am curious whether or not the consumers are going to be receiving it, I know the dealers are starting to dish it out and I'm speaking of the message. What I don't know is if it's being received and resonating.
Nigel: I think 3D TVs are good example. Part of what killed 3D TV as we know it was a complete lack of content, but mostly the experience made no sense in a home context. I visited the home of a very wealthy Hollywood producer. I won't tell you his name but he had a 3D TV that didn't require glasses. And you know what? That was a great way to watch animated movies. It was incredible. It was a $75,000 television as well. Those days, it wasn't that big but we lacked content and the experiences were wrong. I think what's different about the health or wellness and there's a lot of definition to be done and think the industry is going about it pretty much the worst way they could, by the way, at this point. You've got to come from outside in, not inside out. It's not about how you push the product, which I think is what the 3D manufacturers were doing. But by tuning into what the high-end of the client market is looking for in terms of health and wellness and then tuning your experience to that. It's sort of, if you do it the opposite way than 3D TVs, I think you'll have a different experience cause you'll be tuning into a need that's out there that if you don't fulfill then somebody else will.
Ron: No. That makes sense. What is striking you as with all of your different industries and background the industries you've worked in and your very diverse background, both in sales and marketing. What are you seeing as some very obvious lessons that this industry could learn or that you will you plan to benefit the Bravas companies now that you're driving?
"There's a stack which is, if you build it from the bottom up is, hardware, software, you know, services stuff. I think we're an industry that has overly relied on the bottom part of that stack to differentiate us."
Nigel: The biggest element which happens in the experiencing is a thing in the marketing world we call going up the stack. There's a stack which is, if you build it from the bottom up is, hardware, software, you know, services stuff. I think we're an industry that has overly relied on the bottom part of that stack to differentiate us. Even within the manufacturers of equipment we talked to, they see what I think we see, which is we're all going up stack and it will become about the software and the programming and the services then they after sell the service. Collectively the survivors longterm here will, there's not like they'll never sell the products cause everything runs off of it. But the ability to go up stack, I think is the thing that will most affect this industry. And I think in time people, if they don't know how to do that, will struggle.
Ron: Can you dive a little bit deeper? Because you're using language that is very clear to you but may not be very clear to the audience. What is at the bottom of the stack and what's at the top?
Nigel: Yeah, no. The bottom of the stack is reselling hardware and devices. You know, the black boxes, pushing the black box solution, right? We will know there will be an inevitable margin squeeze on that. And more and more, you have to go higher and higher up to still maintain the margins. And again, consumerization is having some effect here. The lowest part of the stack is just reselling hardware to a very low margin on differentiated business. For most people, the next big chunk of the stack is, software that runs on the hardware or for us the programming and the tailoring and making specific to the home user. And now what I'm starting to see here is not only selling software, which tends to be a higher profit margin product. I'm now starting to put some services into that which is the top part of the stack, which is how do I add service? Be that programming services, installation services off to sales services, which is how I build the highest margin product and most differentiate myself. And that's sort of the stack bottom to top
Ron: From an optic standpoint for Bravas, I want to jump into a little bit of granularity around marketing just for everyone that I know is reading about Bravas in the news and/or they know some of the companies that are now a part of the larger family, the larger company. A lot of those local entities, you said there are 13 locations and 15 entities. And when I say locations, I mean cities. I know there's a couple in Dallas, a couple in Atlanta. What is your vision for those local brands, whether it be Hi-Fi Sales in Cherry Hill or Smart Systems down in Dallas. What is your vision for when those brands by name are less than and maybe not known as that name and they're known as locations of Bravas and optically websites, social media, and you're also going to be absorbing new brands into the company. You're going to be making additional acquisitions. What is your timeline or how do you see that rolling out or is that all fully defined and/or public? Don't really don't disclose anything that is inappropriate.
"The job of the marketing team, which is just two of us, is to support and enable them and help them get through a sales cycle faster by providing assets and tools that help them do that."
Nigel: I would tell you if we were talking this time next year and you were still using the previous company names, then I've sort of failed. This isn't a top-down marketing effort. This is a bottoms-up marketing effort because it's in those cities, be it Atlanta, Boca Raton, Baltimore, it's in those cities where the real work happens and the real relationship happens. The job of the marketing team, which is just two of us, is to support and enable them and help them get through a sales cycle faster by providing assets and tools that help them do that. Having said that, there's no value longterm to create equity in those previous company names. We'll plan over the first year of the company as much as we can transition away from those towards Bravas Baltimore or Bravas Atlanta. For many of our clients, we can't forget that the experience doesn't happen at HQ, it happens in the location. We're being sensitive to that and making sure we're still a local business in the local market with the local team being run by the team that was there before. What they have is just access to resources and shared technology they've never had before.
Ron: It's exciting. Nigel, anyone listening or watching, where could they see you or meet you in person next?
Nigel: Well, I think we're going to be at the ProSource event, I often go to Tech Home Builder events. I'm really easy to find. If you need to email me, I'm
Ron: Nigel, it was a pleasure having you on Automation Unplugged.
Nigel: No, thank you. Starting a podcast is not the hard bit, it's keeping them going. So congratulations.
Ron: It's all about consistency, hell or high water. We do our best to get a show out. Nigel, thank you sir. And I'll see you in a few weeks at ProSource!
Mentor and coach, Nigel Dessau is transforming marketing and brings a unique perspective that can help technology professionals think about the end-user experience in a different and profitable way.
Ron Callis is the CEO of One Firefly, LLC, a digital marketing agency based out of South Florida and creator of Automation Unplugged. Founded in 2007, One Firefly has quickly became the leading marketing firm specializing within the integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team work hard to create innovative solutions to help Integrators boost their online presence, such as the elite website solution, Mercury Pro.
Resources and links from the interview:
- Nigel's 3 Minute Mentor Videos
- Become a 21st Century Executive by Nigel Dessau
- Bravas and Presidio Merger
- Bravas Design Centers
Make sure to visit Bravas at bravas.com and follow them on Facebook! If you'd like to get in touch with Nigel, you can find him at The 3 Minute Mentor or email him at
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