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An AV and integration-focused podcast broadcast live weekly
Join Ron Callis, Owner & CEO of One Firefly and industry veteran, as he talks business development, technology trends, and more with leading personalities in the tech industry. Automation Unplugged (AU) is produced and broadcast live every week.
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President of PCD Audio & Video System Integration Discusses Sales Strategies That Create Customers for Life

Automation Unplugged 263 feat. John Rudolph, President of PCD Audio & Video System Integration. Join us for an exciting show that dives into John’s experience using EOS at PCD, sales team development strategies that lead to enhanced customer experiences.

This week's episode of Automation Unplugged features John Rudolph, President of PCD Audio & Video System Integration

About John Rudolph:

John started his career in consumer audio in 1976, working first at Shoreline Stereo managing the Santa Rosa store, then moving to Pacific Stereo from 1977-1979.

He then moved into the professional audio world at Sound Genesis in 1979–1983, where he helped design and build radio stations, recording studios, broadcast TV and private production systems, as well as commercial audio video systems. After that, John returned to the consumer AV industry to work for The Good Guys, where he started as a store manager and later headed the development of the company’s custom installation business.

In 1999, he joined PCD as General Manager and Vice President, then President. Since then, John has continued to build and develop the company culture into a well-respected and thriving AV system integrator in the northern California market.

Interview Recap

  • John’s history of playing in bands as a drummer and percussionist and how that sparked an early interest in AV
  • PCD’s adoption of the EOS business management system to increase productivity and efficiency
  • The value of developing your people as the key to building client relationships and creating customers for life
  • Sales team development strategies that lead to enhanced customer experiences

SEE ALSO: Show #262 about The Leading Ladies in Tech

Transcript

Ron:

Hello, hello. Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. Today is Wednesday, April 3rd, 2024. I hope you all had a wonderful Easter holiday. I know that I've been a busy bee. I was traveling. I went out to London with my family for spring break. And, you know, we had the weather cooperate.

Ron:

I heard a lot of people giving me warnings about how it would rain and be cloudy and maybe not the nicest weather. And the reality is it was absolutely beautiful. And it was a great trip. I highly recommend it. And my son is in high school and we went and saw a couple of plays and an opera. We saw an opera amongst some other activities. And he rated, now it's hard to lose, but he rated Phantom of the Opera an 11 out of 10.

Ron:

So for me, I thought that was a big win. Not gonna lie, my wife and I have taken him to some other shows and often they are less than 11 out of 10. But, you know, Andrew Lloyd Webber, you can't go wrong. It was pretty spectacular. So anyway, I got back and then I was right off to the HTSA show. And conveniently, that was here in South Florida.

Ron:

And our team and myself, we had a great time. It was just awesome. Jon Robbins there at HTSA runs such a strong group. We were able to do a little bit of teaching and educating around some of the themes around AI and SEO and what's happening online. And it was overall just fantastic. So just, you know, congrats to that entire team.

Ron:

You know, John, and Keith, and Tom, and Jordan, and Nicole, and everyone else involved in putting that on. It was spectacular. And it's been back in the office this week and then right out next week off to the Azione show. That's going to be in Orlando. It is that time of year. It is show season and we are buzzing around to these shows all over the country.

Ron:

It's been awesome to spend quality time with our clients. But for those reasons, we haven't had a show in a couple of weeks. Today, we have a guest. I've actually been working to get my guest on the show for some time because he's a busy bee, just like we are here at One Firefly. And we finally made it happen. And so today for show 263, I'm pretty sure this is show 263.

Ron:

And I'll have Dan maybe confirm that in the notes. But for show 263, we have the one and only John Rudolph. He is the president of PCD Audio and Video Systems Integration. They are a commercial integrator. John has been at the helm of that fine organization for the last 25 years.

Ron:

And we're going to get to meet John and learn about his storied career and also learn about his business today and a lot of his takes on both business and culture and the industry. So let's go ahead and bring John in and let's get the conversation started. John, how are you, sir?

John:

Very good. Thank you.

Ron:

Thank you. There you are. So we made it happen, John. We had to do some negotiating of schedules and some moving and shaking, but we finally got you on the show.

John:

Happy to be here.

Ron:

Awesome. So John, for our audience, tell us where are you coming to us from? Where are you located?

John:

We're in Santa Rosa, California, in the middle of wine country, Sonoma County, Northern California. And that's where our main office is, our only office, and beautiful weather.

Ron:

And tell us your role as president and tell us, tell us about PCD. Give us the nickel tour. What type of projects do you guys work on and where do you do your work?

John:

Well, the company was started by Henry Beaumont, who is still the chairman of the board, still around. Back in 1980, we had started out doing clock and PA systems for schools and cable TV distribution systems for communities. And it was a good business there for quite some time, but it's not a lot of business. And when Henry asked me to come on board in '99, we decided to take a shift into AV. And that's been a very lucrative journey for the last 25 years.

Ron:

John, where do you guys do your work? Do you work mostly there in the Santa Rosa market or do you travel around the state of California? Do you travel regionally?

John:

Well, our geographical area is as far south as Fresno and over to Monterey and all the way up to the Oregon border. Not that we want to go to those kind of jobs that far away. It's a three and a half hour, four hour drive. But if the project is substantial enough, we'll take those projects on. The meat and potatoes of our main business is in the San Francisco Bay Area and the corridor to Sacramento. So that's our main breast.

Ron:

And what is the type of work that you guys do? Like, what's the split? What sort of, what's your design/build split to, say, spec work that you would take on?

John:

Well, right now, we're roughly about a 60/40 split of bid spec jobs designed by consultants, you know, courtrooms, jails, libraries, schools, you know, stadiums, just a number of public venues.

John:

And then the other 40-ish percent is design-build , where we go out, somebody calls us, we go out and design something custom for them and create a new audio-video experience for their venue.

Ron:

Now, John, in our research about you, I learned something. I think it's public knowledge, but if it isn't, I apologize. I'm going to say it anyway.

Ron:

But I understand that you've been in bands for a long time, and going all the way back to your elementary years, you were in bands. You're a musician?

John:

Yeah. That was actually the stimulation into the electronics business. Back in third grade, I started a band with a couple of buddies.

John:

And we've been playing in bands for Moose Lodge, and school events, and private parties, and battle of the bands, and fairs and such, all the way through high school and even into college. And, plus, being a percussionist for symphonic bands all through my elementary, high school, and college years.

John:

So it's been rewarding for musicality, but also I used to tear apart the equipment, which created me to always want better sound, better devices and stuff to deliver that sound.

Ron:

Do you remember the name of your band in the third grade?

John:

Yeah.

Ron:

Oh, I'm going to go there. What was it? What was it? What was it called?

John:

Actually, I just...

Ron:

Well, did you stay with the same band name all the way from elementary or did you...?

John:

We changed quite a few times, actually. We've had several different names and different generations. Some of them were more like Credence Clearwater kind of stuff. And then they were just the rock bands of a little more hard rock. And so we changed the personalities in the band and so forth.

Ron:

What's the personality of your band today?

John:

Today we're called Junk in the Trunk.

Ron:

Junk in the Trunk?

John:

Yeah. We're still playing. And it's rock and blues, you know, '60s, '70s, '80s, you know, kind of music.

Ron:

So I'm not a musician. And so I know so many people are going to cringe at this question I'm going to ask. How many songs do you have memorized? Like the ability to play the drums to a song, is it memorized or are you always reading sheet music?

John:

No, no, no, no, it's hundreds and hundreds of songs, hundreds.

Ron:

Hundreds and hundreds are memorized?

John:

It's memorized, yeah.

Ron:

So when you guys play the Moose Lodge today, are you reading sheet music or it's purely memorized?

John:

No, no sheet music.

Ron:

Is that true for the whole band?

John:

Yeah. We get up and we start playing. There are just a bunch of accomplished musicians. One of them is actually one of my engineers here at the PCD. He's a guitar player. And you know they're just a bunch of talented guys that want to keep their musical chops together, and they've been doing it so long, they just understand it. We can sit down and put a new song out and start playing it. And within a few minutes, it's 90% there.

Ron:

Where do you guys jam? Do you have jam sessions?

John:

Yeah.

Ron:

Where do you practice?

John:

At my garage. It's like a studio. And it sounds pretty awesome, actually.

Ron:

It sounds awesome. That's neat. All right, John, take us back in time. Where do you come from, man? Where does this career? I know you've been running PCD for 25 years since '99. But your career, you know, goes back to the '70s.

Ron:

If you don't mind, take us back in time and kind of help us understand what that background looks like.

John:

Well, you know from tearing apart equipment in high school and so forth like that, I started to understand that some people wanted to have sound systems wired into their houses. So I was drilling wall plates with a lot of failures, but you know drilling old holes and creating RCA jacks and banana pins and so forth long before Niles Audio ever started making their product or Russound and putting those into houses and wiring speakers and so forth.

John:

So it's interesting you know how far that career has taken me. I've always had a side hustle doing wiring of houses for years and years and years. And it became something of a passion. So I started working in stereo stores while going to college and playing in bands and so forth. And I ended up being a partner in a three-store chain called Shoreline Stereo back in the late '70s and early '80s.

John:

And ultimately, our demise was we had to forefoot because of Circuit City's and Good Guys were just dominating. Actually, at the time it was Pacific Stereo, not Good Guys. And so I started working for the competition at Pacific Stereo when we closed our doors and was living in San Francisco.

John:

And some of the colleagues that I've known for years had been nudging me to start doing the commercial AV business. So I went and worked for Sound Genesis, a very reputable company that was in the late '80s.

John:

And they were responsible, not myself personally, but as a team for developing awesome systems, you know, from the record plant in Sausalito, Different Fur Recording, Fantasy, Lucasfilm, just incredibly cool systems. Not to mention a lot of the TV stations and radio stations were supported by PCD.

John:

And in specific, the conversion of mono to stereo for broadcast. It was a pretty big deal back in the '80s.

Ron:

The idea, I mean, so I'm dating myself. So you would listen to the radio and the radio would be outputting mono versus stereo, and that transition happened in the '80s?

John:

Well, no, the stereo, FM was stereo, but the conversion to a better performance, fuller bandwidth, audio on TV broadcast, and as well as in radio broadcast was coming about in those days. Companies like Orban and so forth that came on board and built a better mousetrap, basically.

John:

Incredible stuff. It was fun working with a company of great individuals, Dave Angress and Dave Van Hoy. Awesome individuals that are still in the business.

Ron:

Got it. So after, and that was at Sound Genesis?

John:

Correct.

Ron:

And where did you go from there?

John:

Well, when Sound Genesis closed their doors, I went back into the consumer audiovisual and got married and so forth, and worked for the Good Guys Corporation, which is a Hi-Fi stereo chain.

John:

And dominantly in California, then expanded to Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. And after being a strong-performing salesperson there and upper management, I wrote the program for the custom installation business of that. So we started doing installs. And this time, I wasn't drilling the plates myself, though. We were using dials and so forth.

John:

But we rolled that out to all the stores in California, and that was quite a feat to get vans and people to go and do the installs and hiring them and outfitting the vans with the proper equipment. It was quite a fun experience. And we did very well at it. It was a nice profit center for the company. And something unusual that a large chain didn't really have at that time. And then ultimately, everybody joined that pack.

John:

You know Magnolia Hi-Fi part of Best Buy and Circuit City at the time started doing theirs. It became a thing.

Ron:

You ran, not you didn't run, you created the division within the Good Guys to provide custom installation. And there were at that point, I mean, I know at one point there were 75 stores. Were you managing that in one store or were you managing that across the whole fleet?

John:

Yeah, I was managing it across the whole fleet from the Hayward Corporate Center where all the service and dispatch warehousing was.

Ron:

I mean, talk about having your machete and carving your way through the forest. I mean, what was that, what are some of your, if you don't mind, I'd love to dig a little bit deeper there. What was that like creating that business?

John:

It was awkward because, you know, you know, when you're creating something new that it wasn't there before, there's no model. And so we had to have a lot of the team players in the organization help develop how we're going to do that. Writing SKUs in the POS system. How will we execute? How will we get inventory to East LA for this project?

John:

You know, it was just, it was, it was an arduous adventure, but ultimately a successful one. And it was actually quite fun developing it. It took a lot, but...

Ron:

I would imagine a big piece of that was not only inventing it, but training. I mean, it was a lot of your training. Were you the fella going store to store? Did you have a whole team of people that you trained that were then training?

John:

Well, at first, it was me, but then we rolled it out, and I had regional managers that I indoctrinated, and then they then started carrying the message. And then trying to get the salespeople in the stores to sell the product and service so that it would be seamless to the client. You know, that was another challenge. So it was fun, but it was a task.

John:

One section at a time. We started in the Bay Area and rolled it out around the whole Bay Area. And then we went to LA and then San Diego and so forth and so on.

Ron:

This would have been in what timeframe, approximately? Like what?

John:

1995 to 1999, well, it was '97 to '99 that actually when I created all that and made that happen.

Ron:

Wow. And where does that stand in terms of the timeline with like Best Buy Magnolia? Was that before that, or was that happening at the same time?

John:

No, Best Buy didn't procure Magnolia Hi-Fi until late '90s, I believe. I'm not accurate on that date, but they didn't roll out their custom install to all of their stores till early 2000s.

Ron:

Okay. For all those that are listening, we can do that fact-checking and drop that into the show notes post-show, just so we don't get John or me in trouble. We'll make sure we get that right. So it was quite the get, then, for the founder and chairman of the board there at PCD to get you and to bring you into PCD back in 1999. How did that happen?

John:

Well, Henry is an old friend of mine and we had been communicating quite a bit. He would pop into the Good Guy store locally when I was still the sales manager of the store, before I put the custom install out. And then we kept in touch during the time that I was rolling that out and moved to the Bay Area to develop that whole program. But ultimately, I wanted to get back to Sonoma County where my roots were.

John:

And I still had the yearning to do commercial. It was something about it. And of course, nobody loves the evenings and weekend calls from clients in the custom install business for residential. So I wanted to see how I could create something that would be fun and exciting and a challenge. I like challenges. And this is what we did, PCD.

Ron:

What did the business look like when you joined it in 1999? How many people and what was the revenue approximately?

John:

There was five people. And we were less than a million dollars a year. And we were doing mostly clock and PA systems for schools, you know, low voltage kind of stuff, a lot of cable TV distribution. We were working with a company called Castle Cable and developing private communities, you know, apartment complexes, you know, several hundred, you know, apartments at a time and building a head end and distribution.

John:

Sometimes we'd work on city distribution and their head end plants. But when I came on board with Henry in '99, we decided to take it into the AV experience and started doing the whole AV experience, which increased our profitability, increased our volume, a lot more clients, more verticals, you know. So it was a good move.

Ron:

And that trajectory from where you started, and where are you today? Let's bring it to the present at PCD. What's the approximate what you're willing to state publicly? What's the approximate some of the facts about the company?

John:

Well, we're probably aiming at approximately about an $11 or $12 million a year, maybe, if all things go well.

Ron:

About how many folks on the team?

John:

We've got about 36 people on our team right now.

Ron:

Was that a straight line from 1 to 12, or was it a jagged line? What has that road been like?

John:

Oh, it had its ups and downs. There's been good years and bad years, you know. We've learned from all of our experiences, as would any company would. COVID didn't kill us.

Ron:

But it hurt.

John:

They set us back volume-wise, but with all the programs we took advantage of, we have great controller. Ernie is just awesome. So he found all of the programs to take advantage of. And developing our website early on was a really, really strong asset that helped us also navigate through those turbid waters.

Ron:

Let's touch on that for a minute. And we did not develop that website for folks that are assuming that's a lead-in. But you, John, have paid attention to, you and your team and Bill, who we've worked closely with, you guys have paid a lot of attention to branding and marketing and positioning for a long time. Where does that come from? Because not every business leader that we talk to or that we speak to maybe has that awareness. So where did that come from? And what's your thoughts around that?

John:

Well, in these days and times, if you are not out there and involved in the social media and tapping into that stream, you're going to be left on the shore. And it's a sad state of affairs, but the yellow pages just don't work anymore.

Ron:

Not too many calls from the yellow pages anymore, right?

John:

Oh, you know it's a new method of resourcefulness to connect to your clients. And it's not really new. It's been around for years. It's just tapping into it properly and making sure that your SEO content is being channeled properly, and you have the resources to be able to bring your customers to your front door.

John:

Google has changed their algorithms recently, and it's kind of changing the way we're having to think. And we have started with One Firefly to help us develop that.

Ron:

Yeah, this AI thing, I think, is throwing the whole world for a loop. And it's both awesome and amazing and terrifying all at the same time.

John:

Yes, exactly.

Ron:

And any business leader paying attention that does not probably feel some version of what I just said, maybe is not paying attention because it's a whole brand new world out there for sure. Now, John, one thing that I know you guys at PCD have done recently is you've gone down this journey of discovering EOS traction. And for those not aware, EOS stands for the Entrepreneurial Operating System.

Ron:

It's a line of business management methodologies authored by a guy named Gino Wickman, and he wrote a book called Traction. And now there's a bunch of derivative books and it's a big deal. And we here at One Firefly, we adopted this back in 2019, just for full disclosure. But I know you've been going down this journey over the last year. What has it been like for you?

John:

We love it. EOS has been a game changer. It's, you know, when you go to meetings, and I guarantee you that anybody that listens to this would understand this clearly. You go to meetings and you get seven or eight minutes of real content and real productivity, and you listen for an hour at side talk or whatever. And the productivity just didn't seem to be happening. And when we heard about this, Bill actually brought it to our attention, Bill Graham, Vice President.

John:

And you know it's been an awesome change. We had everybody read the little book. You can read it in like an hour.

Ron:

So the little book he's referencing is called What the Heck is EOS? By the way, at One Firefly, every new hire is issued that book. They need to read it before their first day of work.

John:

It's an awesome book. And it just tells you how the basic layout of what you're going to get out of it and how it works. And when we had our first meeting, it was a little bit clunky, but we started massaging the way we do meetings, the way that we get an objective out of the meetings. And frankly, with everybody tuned like that, those meetings are so much more productive. We're actually rolling it out more and more to the company as we roll.

John:

First, it was just the upper management. Now it's mid-management. And everything we're doing with that is so much more productive. We walk away feeling like we really got something out of that. And that's a huge benefit. It creates better efficiencies for everybody. It keeps everybody tuned to the topic at hand. And we have a direction that everybody's on the same plane.

John:

You know It's like everybody's jumping in the car and going the same direction rather than, well, I'm thinking about this and I'm thinking about this. And that meeting might be engaged and it might not be engaged. But it's definitely much more productive.

Ron:

From my experience, there could be, you know, if anyone listening thinks about meetings they've been in, sometimes you go to meetings and, you know, number one, everyone dreads meetings.

Ron:

And you'll go to, you'll think about meetings. And often there'll be like some person, it could be the president, CEO, it could be any person on your team that'll go and, you know, monopolize a meeting, run a meeting, and not always be terribly effective, but EOS puts rules of engagement around what is a productive meeting and the concept of IDSing, Identifying the problem, Discussing the issue, and then Solving it. So you leave and we at One Firefly practiced the Pure Method, which is it gets maximum of 20 minutes.

Ron:

So that thing gets 20 minutes and you try to walk out of it with a solve. And it's refreshing that so many people that attend these meetings now want to participate in the meetings and speak up in the meetings and bring their issues to the meetings, because they feel like actual progress is going to get made. And it's, it's amazing. Now, are you guys also practicing the concept of rocks and, like, identifying the goal for the quarter and, like, the things different people are working on? How's that working out?

John:

It's working wonderfully. You know, I can't say it's the magic potion of all solutions, but it absolutely creates a lot faster outcome of a solution to an issue. You get more people engaged, more people thinking about it. We have the agenda sent out by Ted, our General Manager, and we all look at it, we preview it, we think about it, it's on our mind, we walk into the meeting, we just start running with it.

John:

It's just, it's the greatest thing. I mean, frankly, if anybody isn't using it, I wonder about how productive their company is, really. How efficient is it? Is it running on all cylinders, you know?

Ron:

You have chosen to do what's called self-implementing, meaning you have read the books and you're practicing some of the elements yourself.

Ron:

What was the reason you chose, did that just happen organically? Did you mindfully consider having facilitated quarterly sessions and you said, no, we're going to run this ourselves? Or are you grabbing bits and pieces of the method and activating them on a daily, weekly, monthly basis? Kind of how are you thinking about that, John?

John:

Well, Bill's kind of running the show on that. And he wanted to do it organically. And I felt that that was a great idea. Let's try it. And it's just been great.

John:

We didn't see the need to bring in a facilitator. We have weekly EOS meetings with the core management group. And then we have a quarterly off-site meeting. And that's the bigger picture kind of stuff, you know? And it's just working wonderfully. So I mean, I don't know how else I can...

Ron:

No, I'm heading to my quarterly with my team in Nashville next week. So we're going to be mapping that. I find it helpful at One Firefly to kind of bring my team away from their office, their home office, and kind of take them somewhere so that they can, you know, the concept is step out of the business and work on the business versus operating within your job function, certainly when we're doing planning. And that leads to effective outcomes.

Ron:

John, big picture, you know, in all of our time getting to know each other, I've heard you frequently talk about, in often a really positive, almost affectionate way, about all these people that have helped you along the way, along your journey. And I just, I would love to get your take on the role mentors or coaches have had with you over your career and, like, how have they helped you achieve what you've achieved?

Ron:

And how do you think about that even within your company or your life today? But just what does the concept of mentoring mean to you in getting you where you're at today?

John:

Well, if, if I'm talking about my mentors, you know, yeah, understanding the sales aspect of being on a sales floor at the Good Guys or Shoreline Stereo, Pacific Stereo, those days, that interaction with a client to develop the character of fact-finding and solutions and so forth that creates something that was unique. As I remember many occasions looking, while standing on the sales floor on a Saturday morning when customers would come into a store, and they'd walk by and there's just an enormous amount of salespeople just jumping on the customers.

John:

"Can I help you? Can I help you? Can I help you?" You know what I mean? Just driving the customer's nuts. They haven't even walked in the door. I just sit back there wiping the speakers, you know, the dust and so forth, waiting for them to circle around and then actually have a conversation with them about not even Hi-Fi. And it created a warmth and endearment that would allow them to open up. And especially with open-ended questions, it would create a connection.

John:

The connection is the foundation for what creates a client to want to do business with somebody. And that's...

Ron:

Did you have sales coaches or mentors or people that practiced this that were good at teaching you how to do this? Or did you, did you come by these selling skills naturally? Or did you, did you watch others do it really well and you go, "I think that's working. I'm going to try to do that myself."

John:

No, I actually learned from all the people that did it wrong. I watched how bad of an experience that they were creating and tried to avoid that. Being the youngest in the family, same thing I did with watching my brothers and sisters. You know I don't want to do that. You know. So you learn from that kind of stuff and then I had to create that.

John:

But then along the way in upper management of Good Guys, we had incredible speakers, Zig Ziglar and Tom Robbins, and so forth like this that came and spoke to the upper management, or management of the stores, in group sessions and they were incredibly inspiring. So that gave you a little more flavor to add to your palette, right?

John:

And so that's the development of all of the personality and interaction with clients, which I still institute with my salespeople today in PCD. But other mentors that were inspiring, that were in the professional business were like Dave Angress and Dave Van Hoy, incredible individuals that are doing very well in the pro AV business to this day and doing just an inspiring leadership quality that creates one to want to be like them. It's just something inspiring, you know?

Ron:

Over your career and all the places you've landed, you've been one of, you've been one of the top salespeople, right? Not to, not to name, you've been number three or number six or number two. You've been one of the top salespeople. And I believe, and I love the art of selling, the art and the science of selling.

Ron:

And I believe that there are methods or habits that can lead to a higher probability of success in this thing called selling, you know, solving problems and making customers for life. And some people practice those skills or techniques more effectively than others.

Ron:

And I'd be curious what, from your position, and you've been studying the art of selling for decades now, what do you think has led either, whether you say your success or to the success of successful salespeople? What are some of those qualities?

John:

Well, as I mentioned about watching my brother and sister and then bad salespeople on the sales floor, I was monitoring what was going on and what was wrong. What are they doing that's not successful? And try and do the opposite of that. I mean, obviously, it's a process of elimination.

John:

And so what I found is by monitoring and taking notes of what my customers that call us to have us come out and design something for them, I'm not as interested in the first few moments of that conversation as to what they want, but why they're calling us and why what's wrong with their system and why didn't they call the company that put it in? Why are they calling somebody different?

John:

What's the objective of what they want to get out of the system? Is it they want new speakers? Well, is it because they can't hear the speakers? Is it something about the microphone?

Ron:

Why didn't they call Mike who sold them those last set of speakers?

John:

Exactly. So finding that connection with your client develops a lot better bond in developing, developing a customer for life. And that's what we're trying to do here. We're trying to create customers that will continue to keep on coming back.

John:

So if they need, if they want new speakers and all we sell them is a new microphone because it just didn't perform well, and that solved their problem. They're going to remember that forever. They're going to go, these are the guys you want to call. And that is the difference. So when we are scouring, looking for good quality people to interact with our clients, that's one of the key ingredients.

John:

Are they able to design the system themselves? Are they able to ask the questions and get the information out of the customer so that we can create a great bond and have that wonderful experience of being able to, you know, "it's about time we need to do this. Tell me what I need to do and let's just get it done. "You know, it's a great experience right there.

Ron:

You find a characteristic of great salespeople is they know how to slow down. And what I've just heard you say is they know how to ask great questions.

John:

Yeah. Open-ended questions. Let them talk. Let the customer talk more than you. You need to ask the questions to get them driven into the right direction. But then you have to listen and you have to listen carefully and find out what it is that they're really saying because they don't really know how to tell you exactly what they want often. So you have to extract that. That's an art, but it's a craft.

Ron:

So I'm going to dig deeper. A lot of people have a job title called Salesperson. Yeah Why aren't more of these so-called salespeople? Why don't they do that?

John:

I don't think anybody's developing them. You know I mean, honestly, out there. I mean, if you think about all of the companies out there that need talent, they're not growing on trees. There's nobody teaching this in school. It's developed, right? It's by watching people that are successful and learning from their traits and watching people that are not successful, if you're like me, and watching what you don't want to do. And what's left is what's on the table, right?

John:

And so trying to find the core of the individual that's the character that you want representing your company, that's the key ingredient. And hopefully their technical skills are good enough that you can rely on them to ask the right questions and probe and get the information they need out of the client. So we can design their systems.

Ron:

You referenced a moment ago that your salespeople at PCD both sell and design systems.

John:

Yes.

Ron:

And so there's like different schools of thought. The salesperson can, you know, conduct discovery and bring it back and hand it to a designer. That is not how PCD operates.

John:

No.

Ron:

Could you expound on that and kind of clarify your, maybe the way that you've practiced yourself over your career and what you've brought to the methods of your sales team?

John:

Right. That was the one thing I was finding is that a lot of the times we would find out that our clients would be...they would call one of the larger integrators and they would have a representative come out and they would ask a few questions and take some pictures and listen to what the client wanted. And they go back and then have a different person design the system that didn't get those questions asked and answered.

John:

And therefore, they would come up with more questions or more information they need about the installation and the project and they would have to go back. Well, that leaves a little bit of a sour taste in a client's mind. Why is this guy coming back? What's the deal?

John:

So I started thinking about that, you know, and really the differentiation between PCD and the majority of the system integrators out there. Not that they don't have a handful or two of people that are capable, but a large portion of them are people that are just boots on the ground, that are representing the company, that are gathering the information and taking pictures so they can go back and have somebody figure out what the right solution is.

John:

When our guys are on the site, they're there to ask those questions about how they're using it and how it would be more efficient so that we can get a better solution out of them for their project. So it's a better experience overall. And it's not an easy one. It's hard to find.

Ron:

I was going to say, that sounds like you've just significantly increased the complexity of you hiring and growing that team. I mean, it does sound like it would deliver a better client experience. It also sounds like it's harder to probably find those gems, those needles in the haystack. Is that true?

John:

Yes. It's a handpicked team that we have right now, believe me. And it's gone through many, many interviews to find out whether the person really knows anything about audio-video enough to have them represent you. So it's an uphill battle, but we are patient. And if we can't find the right one, we won't hire them.

Ron:

That makes sense. That makes sense. I'm curious, John, when you think about the projects you're going after, I mean, you, you're a big company. You're $10 million in revenue, 10 or 12, you know, that you're in that range. But you're going against companies I'm betting that are 30 million, 50 million, 100 million, 500 million, 1 billion. You're going against some of the biggest, your competitors are some of the biggest AV shops in the world competing for these projects. How are you positioning PCD to win that business?

John:

The salesperson, on the design-build side, the salesperson is the key element. It is the differentiator. If he creates an experience that the customer feels comfortable with the knowledge and skill sets of the representative on site, and that they're asking all the right questions and listening to what their needs are, that is a huge interaction that is unmistakably the biggest differentiator of all.

John:

That's the only contact that person has as a client with anybody in the business. So if that's not a great experience, it's not going to be a win for them. So you know it's not easy to create that differentiation. But you know when it comes to a bid spec, you know the public works projects, there is no sales representative there.

John:

It's all about low price. It's all about reputation of the company. So if we have a good reputation and have built a good brand and have awareness out there on public forums, Facebook, LinkedIn, website, so forth, that is good, then that shows reputability. But you know when somebody's looking at a bid package and opening them up, it's about price.

Ron:

Price, price, price. Yeah. So it's really the people differentiator. When you look at, let's look at 2024, look at the year ahead. I feel, I'm curious if you feel, are we past the COVID hangover? Is, you know, we went through all of that. Is that all now? Do you feel confident behind us?

John:

Yeah, I think that's pretty much in the past now. Manufacturers are shipping product now. So that was the biggest impediment of all. People spending money, well, frankly, they were ready to spend money within months of COVID. I mean, it was almost like a whiplash, you know, maybe a six-month downtime. And then they were starting to open up POs again.

Ron:

But you had no product to ship them, right? So many of your manufacturers couldn't get you anything.

John:

Yeah, there was that challenge. Exactly. Yes, but creativity comes to mind, you know?

John:

But no, 2024 looks awesome. We had a very, very sluggish start in the design build side, estimating jobs like crazy and proposing them. But there was just not a lot of movement. There were some. But then all of a sudden, in the last few weeks, it's just kind of taken a whiplash. And we have now brought ourselves right back up to our goals. And I'm shocked.

John:

Our first quarter of the last few years have been really strong, and this one was weak, and then now it's back on track. So, like a roller coaster.

Ron:

What do you see in the rest of the year? What impact does this being a presidential year, what, what is, or an election year, I should say, what does, what impact does that have in the spaces that you operate in terms of business, if any?

John:

You know, it might affect our estimating side a little bit, but we're not seeing it yet. That may be more in the end of the year and next year, possibly, for that portion of our business. But the design-build is still strong and still very active.

John:

There's a lot of clients out there looking for solutions and good companies to work with. And we've seen an interesting fallout over the last several years of companies changing the way they do business, some of them going out of business, some of them being consolidated into other bigger companies that are buying them up and so forth. But at the end of the day, the uniqueness of what PCD has to offer is something that we feel is compelling and is successfully rewarding us with that.

Ron:

That's awesome. John, I'm going to put on the screen your website and I'm also going to stream your website address. Now that said, I know we're going to be building a new website, so at some point later this year, there'll be something to announce.

Ron:

But for the folks that are tuned in and they've enjoyed listening to you, John, and learning about your career and your advice and your stories. How can they get in touch with you? Do you want them going to your website? Are there any other channels that people can reach out to you to make contact?

John:

Well, of course, they can certainly contact us through the website because when you say contact us, that email goes right to my inbox, as well as bills. You can call us on the phone from the website. We're here in Santa Rosa.

John:

You can also connect with me on LinkedIn if you wish. We have a Facebook page, as well, for PCD. So many, many avenues to get a hold of us.

Ron:

Awesome. And we'll make sure Dan here on our team drops all of that into the comments section on the socials as well in the show notes so that all of you have access to that. John, it's been a pleasure to have you here on Show 263 of Automation Unplugged. Thank you for joining me, sir.

John:

Appreciate it. Thank you.

Ron:

All right, folks, there you have it. The one and only John Rudolph. I love talking to business operators that have, I won't say seen it all, but they've seen a lot and they've been through a lot. And they've built successful reputations both for themselves and their business.

Ron:

And a takeaway for me from this conversation with John is really his focus on managing expectations with his clients, really getting clear and concise about what that customer is looking for to really ensure that his company and his team are best suited to solve those problems. Because the focus, with John, is not making a sale. It's not making a quick sale. It's really building that customer for life.

Ron:

And I really empathize with what John says there because that's what we believe in practice here at One Firefly. It really is about lifelong relationships. This is people doing business with people. So I hope you enjoyed that interview. We've got some fantastic guests lined up for the weeks and months ahead. And we're continuing to refine things here at One Firefly and, specifically, Automation Unplugged.

Ron:

So stay tuned to more updates and exciting things to come. But until then, I'm going to put up here on the screen. Don't forget to subscribe. If you're watching this on video, maybe on YouTube, LinkedIn or Facebook, this is an audio, we take the interview section and we put it out as the audio podcast, and that is available wherever you listen to your podcast. And we'd love you to subscribe.

Ron:

And of course, you can leave us a comment and/or review and let us know what you think of the show. So I'll leave you with that. Appreciate you all. And I will see you all next time. Thank you.

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 in 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: