Home Automation Podcast Episode #167: An Industry Q&A With Kat Wheeler
In this weeks home automation show of Automation Unplugged, Kat Wheeler, Author and Area Sales Manager at Snap AV and Control4 shares observations and takeaways on working with successful integration firms over the years.
This week's home automation podcast features our host Ron Callis interviewing Kat Wheeler. Recorded live on Wednesday, April 28th, 2021, at 12:30 p.m. EST.
About Kat Wheeler
Katharine comes to us with 18 years of experience in the consumer electronics industry, getting her start at a local AV shop in Kentucky before transitioning to a Manufacturer’s Rep role, and never looked back!
In 2016, Katharine joined SnapAV as a Territory Sales Manager for the Ohio, Wyoming, Upstate New York, and Western Pennsylvania markets before moving up to Area Sales Manager for SnapAV and Control4 in 2020.
Katharine is also the founder and chair of the Women in Technology group at Snap AV and Control4, with over 85 members. She recently self-published a murder mystery novel this year titled There is No Cloud, which is set in the world of consumer electronics.
- What led Katharine into writing her book, There is No Cloud
- The plot, setting, and characters in her new book
- Katharine's success around founding SNAP AV's Women in Technology Group
- Observations and takeaways on working with successful integration firms over the years
Ron: Hello, Ron Callis here with another episode of Automation Unplugged. I have a long-time friend and industry rock star, many of you tuning in here live or watching in replay or listening to the podcast. You guys will know this person because she's an industry veteran, and her name is Katherine Wheeler.
We call her Kat, and she is an Area Sales Manager at SNAP AV and Control 4, that's her current day job. She is also the author of a new book of a newer book. She'll tell us the exact publishing date of the book. But I actually just ordered it, and I just had mine arrive. The name of the book is There is No Cloud, a tech Mystery Novel. Some poor people in customer or tech support get murdered, and Kat goes on the chase to help get that mystery solved. We're going to talk about how she came into writing and ultimately went through that process. We're going to have a lot of fun. Without further ado, I'm going to go ahead and bring in Kat, and we'll get this party started. Kat, how are you?
Kat: I'm great. Hey, Ron, thanks for having me.
Ron: My pleasure. Where are you coming to us from?
Kat: I am coming to your life today from Columbus, Ohio.
Ron: Awesome. We are life. You pointed that out. I'm guessing now that you are a famous author. Are you doing many of these live-type promotional-type shows, or are you normally prerecording or what's normal for you?
Kat: This is my first live one. All the other ones have been prerecorded, but the industry as a whole has been extremely supportive of the book and given me a lot of opportunities to get it out there. That's really sweet.
Ron: Well, look at this. We already have Michael Restrepo. He says, "I got the book." An industry veteran and rock star, Michael supporting you. That's that's fantastic. Kat, you and I met some years ago. We probably met, I want to say maybe during a restaurant, or I know you worked at a restaurant for a period of time, and as did I, but I'd love for our audience for you to go back in time, maybe through your background. You've been around the block. You fought lots of battles. You know lots of people take us through that. How did you get started in this industry?
Kat: I think like many people in this industry, I got started kind of on a lark. I was in college, and I was living in Kentucky, and I was tending bar. If you guys don't know, Kentucky bars are open till 4:00 in the morning. I had 8:00 a.m. classes. It was rough, and my dad finally one day was like, "You just can't do this anymore. You've got to get a day job or a part-time job or do something." As was the custom in those times, as we are old now, I got on monster.com to find myself a job, and I found myself a job as the receptionist at an AV shop in Kentucky called Digital Lifestyles. It's no longer a business, but it was a great little Crestron house there for a time. I didn't know a subwoofer from the volume control. I knew nothing but fell in love with it. That's how I got my start. I've never had another job since.
Ron: Alright, so where did you go from that job? What did you do and in what order, if you don't mind?
Kat: Sure. We had a sales rep who came into the office all the time. He was our Renco store, Leather D-Box and Bowers and Wilkins, Rotel, and class rep named Bob Durance, who I love dearly. He was in all the time. We got to know each other really well. He really liked me. He gave me my first job and my first opportunity to be an outside sales rep. He took me on the road for the first time. He taught me everything I've ever known about sales. I moved to California, and I worked for a while for one of my cabinet and key marketing companies out there. Then from there, I moved to Manhattan and got to work for the brilliant Sapphire Marketing. And now I'm in Ohio at SNAPAV and Control4. Outside sales for over 15 years now.
Ron: Got it. That's very impressive. I'm going to go back to recent history when you were at Sapphire Marketing in Manhattan working for the amazing Marla. What territory did you have, and maybe what product? Were you only Crestron, or were you the whole Sapphire portfolio of products?
Kat: The whole Sapphire portfolio of products for residential. They did have a few that were designated commercial and residential. I covered Manhattan, part of Long Island, which was the Hamptons and Fairfield County, Connecticut. I split that territory with a friend of ours, Ken Veneman. He and I split.
Ron: I've had Ken on the show.
Kat: Yeah. I listened to it to prepare. He did great.
Ron: He did great. Yes, you're going to do great, too, though. You're already doing great.
Kat: Pretty good.
Ron: Awesome, and you transitioned then over. Did you transition to SNAP, or did you transition to C4 as they merged?
Kat: To SNAP years before the merger. I've been at SNAP for almost five years now. It was pre-merger.
Ron: Pre-merger. What's that been like with you now? Are you the regional for both the snap lines and the C4 line? Yes. All SNAP products in the control of our products and our third-party products. I'm curious when that all went down. What did they do to get you and all your peers geared up and cross-trained?
Kat: I am C4 certified so that I can program my own system. No kidding, I see a Neo remote over your shoulder. Product placement, product placement. Yeah, I'm actually really lucky they did send us all Control4. I don't want to say all, somebody is listening and maybe didn't get one, but they gave all their area sales managers Control4 systems to put in their homes. I had a dealer come out and do the lighting installation because I don't touch the wires and program my own system. I have Claire for security. I have C4 for all of my control. I have touch panels on the walls. I've got Hunter Douglas shades now. Yeah. I've got the whole system here.
Ron: You have some fans, another Automation Unplugged veteran, Sean Lemay, says, "She's our rep for both SNAP AV and Control4 and is amazing in this world. You're going to give him some discounts on his next order, aren't you?
Ron: Is that for sure? Definitely. That's awesome. What does it mean, Kat? Sean's obviously a fan. What does it mean for a rep to be a good rep for dealers? What's the DNA? How do you earn that position of that status?
Kat: Funny enough, this is the third time someone's asked me that this week. Somebody asked me to do it in a sentence because they're putting something together for some people. And I wanted to say 8 million things. But the thing that I think I took away from it in the crux of it all is when you're doing B2B sales, what makes you vital and important to your customers is to do the things for them that don't benefit you at all. When they need help, you help them, whether financially beneficial to me or not, because then I'm a resource for them. They're always going to call me before they call anybody else because they value the honesty and the trust and the relationship you build.
Ron: Did you know that on day one, or was that learned?
Kat: Learned. My first boss Bob told me, he said, if you want to be successful at sales and it's what you want to do for a living. He's like the only thing that you need to know is all you do is if you say you're going to do something, do it. It's kind of true.
Ron: From my experience, like I at Lutron, at Crestron, I want to say I was maybe one of 20 or 30 salespeople. And yet, they aren't all the same. I'm going to say that in your position, and I don't know, maybe most of your peers, but there are high performers and lower performers as demonstrated, not a judgment of their person, but as performance. Do their dealers love them? Byproducts grow. The idea of what you just said of say what you're going to do and do it sounds so straightforward. Why do salespeople not do that?
Kat: Because people get busy and distracted or don't keep good notes for themselves or you're not organized enough or whatever. Life happens, and it happens to all of us. Everybody goes into it best of intentions, but you have to prioritize being there for your customer before anything else. I always try to do for my customer before I do the internal things because it's a job. It's a business we have reporting to do and things to do. But I always try to do those second after doing whatever it is for my customer because they're the most important part.
Ron: Amen, are you flying?
Ron: What has the last year like been for you in the role as an Area Manager?
Kat: I got a lot of work done in my house. I've been here for so long now, we are finally getting back on the road, but driving only, so not flying. People will start to see me. That just happened this week, so I'm excited to get back out there. It's going to be a little different. It's been over a year because we started in March of last year that we all got sidelined.
Ron: Wow. Has the word come down, you're allowed to travel now?
Kat: Yep, as long as we are maintaining protocols and wearing the masks, and being socially distant. And I got vaccinated already, so I think I'm OK.
Ron: Interesting, and what's the protocol? Is it that you have to wear a mask to your audience, or your customer needs to be wearing a mask? And how do you think that's going to go down? Because there's probably going to be people you meet that don't want to wear a mask.
Kat: I think as long as you feel comfortable in the situation, you put yourself number one. Our company has been exceptionally supportive about whatever we want to do and how we feel comfortable doing it. I think that's the golden rule if you're going into a situation. I think it takes a little more preparation than maybe it used to think about how you're going to manage all of those things. But that's the way I think about it. If it's with somebody and I can do it in an environment that I feel comfortable, I'm going to do it. And if it has value, not just going to go see people just to go see people, it has to be value to it.
Ron: Got it, understood. If you're out there listening, I see you guys out there making posts and comments. Don't be shy. If you have questions for Kat, post those questions in the comments, and I will do my best to pay attention to the stream here and ask them of Kat. But I know a lot of folks want to know more about this book. Kat, talk to us about the process of writing a book. Where did this come from? How long have you wanted to do this? Tell us more.
Kat: I think I've wanted to write a book my whole life. I am a big reader. I have always been a big reader. My dad is a big reader. He had books in our house my whole life. I'm a very avid reader, and I think that's wrong. But when you're in sales and go out on the road, you spend an inordinate amount of time in hotel rooms, and there's only so much travel when you're by yourself. Where you can sit at the hotel bar or watch TV or work it, you'd get really bored. A while at Crestron, I was looking for a hobby, and I was looking for something to do. And everybody had made suggestions, and somebody said to learn how to knit. And I tried. Many girls at Crestron have some really bad baby blankets from that year and some awful scarves. It wasn't for me. I decided I would write a book, and I was talking to one of my dealers at the time about it. And he said, "What are you going to write about it? You've got to write about what you know." The only thing I know is this industry. And then I started to think about how I would do that. When you think about mystery novels, there are series of mystery novels with the girl who works in the bakery, and she solves mysteries, and the girl who walks dogs, and she solved mysteries. Why can't there be a girl that works in the AV industry that solves mysteries using technology? That's how it developed from the beginning.
Ron: What was your process like of writing? Did you just sit down at one take and write the whole thing and knock it out, or did it happen in little bites? I know some of the folks tuning in are writers themselves, and I know they're super curious about your process of writing.
Kat: It was a lot of little bits here and there in hotel rooms over maybe the course of a year, a year, and a half. And I finally got it to kind of an ending point. My dad's going to kill me for this song. I was talking to my dad about it on the phone one day. And I was like, "Dad, I wrote a book," thinking he would think it was really cool. And he's like, "I don't know why you're telling me. You never finish it. You're not going to finish it. You're not going to do anything with it." I was like, "Challenge accepted." That was in January of last year. I had this extremely rough draft that was way shorter than the book needed to be. But I thought to myself, "Alright, if you're going to finish this and if this is something you're really going to do and explore getting it published, how do you do that?" There are different ways of publishing. You can self-publish or go through a publishing house. And the first thing I wanted to do was see I was the only one who had read it. And is this publishable? Is it interesting enough? Is it well-written enough? I don't know. It's my first time doing it. I looked online and found some literary agents and some people who do critiques of novels, send them to them, and get some great feedback. After that happened, I was pretty jazzed about it. Then it was just a matter of deciding whether to self-publish or query editors and agents. I decided to self-publish, which I think was the right choice for me.
Ron: What was the reason? What led you to decide to self-publish?
Kat: Because to do so now is so much easier than it was, I think, in the history of writing. It's really easy to put a book out there and market yourself and do all of those things. Plus, I'm in sales, and you retain your rights to the book when you do that, and you also get paid a higher commission on whatever. For me, it just seemed like a better deal. And I didn't want to spend years writing query letters to agents and author and literary agents and publishing houses that just didn't feel like a fun thing for me to do. I wanted to write a book and get it out there, not get in that kind of business because it's a lot of work to you know, you have to send different letters to different agents and different letter houses. It's kind of like applying for jobs, and you just send them out and send them out and send them out.
Ron: Well, my copy just arrived, so I have not yet had a chance to read it, although I did read the acknowledgments in the back. And I want to ask you about that, but I'm going to get to that. Can you give the audience here just a little bit of a primer? What is the story? Yeah, I want to pick this up and make this there next summer. Read it for anyone in our industry. It should be their next read for sure because it is about home technology. It's about a girl named Cameron Caldwell, and she works at the world's largest home automation company, which is based in New Jersey. It's called Smart Tech.
Kat: There's another large home automation company, a commercial automation company based in New Jersey. That's an interesting coincidence.
Ron: Interesting coincidence. OK, continue.
Kat: She works for Home Automation Company. The book's premise is that she's out calling on dealers, having her meetings, and she's at one of her huge dealers, and he's having a problem with a third-party product that does voice commands in your home and listens to everything you say. And he's having issues integrating those devices. They're called home tech hubs. In the book, we can all see what those are, and they won't integrate with the smart tech systems. They're little fifty-dollar third-party pieces that are consumer-grade. And it's ruining the quarter-million-dollar system that this guy's put in this house in the Hamptons. She takes them both and, in investigating why these things won't integrate with the system, discovers an extra chip in one of the hubs, the one that won't integrate. Does it spark her down this rabbit hole of is there something wrong with a lot of them? Is that why all of them will integrate the ones that don't integrate with smart tech systems? Don't, or is it a one-off thing? Is it like a private investigator? Whose house is this? Who's listening in, or what does this chip even do?
She takes it because she's not a technical person. She's in sales. She takes the chip to her tech support guru at Smart Tech and asks for his help as they investigate this mystery. As they're doing this, they come to realize that the inventor of the home tech hubs has been murdered. Then they think something is seriously going on here because does one thing have to do with the other or not?
Ron: You don't want to tell anymore because then you would try you try again. I don't want to push you to disclose too much. There are so many questions I want to ask you about that the core company. But is it fair to say that you're taking a lot of your personal, professional experiences and weaving that into the storyline and kind of the what's going on?
Kat: Yeah, a lot of this setup for her job is my job. We're not the same person. And if you read it, you'll see that there's a glaring difference between the main character's personality. It's not like a self-serving thing. But she does have two guys on her team that she works with to help her solve the technology. Those are the only two characters in the book based on real people and those guys now.
Ron: I went to the back of the book where it says about the author, and actually, just before that, there's the section here that I'm sharing for those listening to the podcast called "The Acknowledgments." You are naming many people here that I know these people, and I know these people from Crestron. Some of them are just first names. Some of them are first name and last name. What was that like? Was that fun for the people in your life, your professional life, to know that they've now been written into your book?
Kat: Yeah, I think they all got a big kick out of it. Most everybody has a pretty good sense of humor and gets that it's a humorous book as much as a murder mystery can be humorous. It is. And I think everybody was flattered. I thanked the people that I think, and I think you'll know this because you're a Crestron vet, it's one of those places when you go work, how much you learn when you're there. Since when I was there is when all this started, I felt like it was kind of only fitting that I did.
Ron: Yeah, that's interesting, that's fun. How do people buy this book? And I'm saying that obviously, I know this, but I'll let you say that, and then I'm going to share the page. Tell people where they can pick this book up.
Kat: It's available on Amazon, Barnes, and Noble. Wherever you get your books, you can go to my website, katwheeler.com, and there are links to purchase there. Or just go to your Amazon account. You can buy the book, or you can buy the paperback version.
Ron: Got it. I'm sharing on the screen for those out there watching your current book, and I notice that the title here at the top of your website says titles, plural, not a title. I'm assuming that you might be working on more books or what.
Kat: Yes. There is a sequel to this, which if anybody has a really good name, I'm into that because that's been a challenge, trying to figure out the name of the next one, open to suggestion. But yeah, where we leave off in the last book leaves an opening. It was planned to be a series. Just where we left off in this book. She's lost her job at Smart Tech. She's on her own. She's starting a consulting company in the city by herself, and it's rough and not going super great. But she has vowed to herself that she will no longer get involved in these crazy murder schemes. She's on the straight and narrow. And then, of course, she gets pulled into another crazy technology inspired incident because I think our industry as a whole is not very visible in the world, which I think is crazy because we're in everyone's houses and everyone's offices with what we do, but we're not very recognized. I wanted to make technology be the focus of all of these books. It's the reason that all the crimes are committed, and it's also the solution for solving all the mysteries.
Ron: Love it. I'm sharing your Amazon now. That has to be just a little bit surreal to see something that you wrote, and you put so much energy into to see that up on Amazon for sale. And I guess you're getting commission checks from Amazon now for sales.
Kat: It's actually really funny. I got my first check from Amazon, and I was really excited about it because I think, as I mentioned to you, I do sales, but I don't make anything. This is the first thing I've ever made in my life. That's mine on my own. And it's physical, and people can buy it. It was my product. I was really excited to get my first check. And I wanted to do that thing that people do where they, like, frame their first dollar, but they do direct deposit.
Ron: You could go to the bank, take a dollar out, then it could be your symbolic first dollar.
Kat: I know it's not the same. I really wanted that first dollar to hang on my wall to show that it was mine and mine alone. And I made it. I thought that was pretty cool. It's one of the most rewarding things I've done from that perspective.
Ron: You have a fan, Nancy Wells curtain. She says, "It's a great read. Can't wait for the sequel.".
Kat: Thanks, Nancy.
Ron: What would be the timing of the sequel? And no pressure from me, but, of course, do you think it'll come out this year?
Kat: That's the goal. That's the dream. We're not there yet. The goal is to begin. I hired a self-publishing company for the last one. And the process after that is you take a really rough draft to them, and then you send it off for beta reads, and it comes back, and you edit it, you set it off, it comes back, and so forth several times before you even get into the editing process. Once the rough draft is completed is still months away from publication. And while you're doing that, you're working with a graphic designer to do the cover and all that other tangential stuff. The idea is that we start that over the summer. I'm hopeful. I think the goal was to get it out by the next fall, winter, like maybe Infocom time to do a big push around that. But I don't know if that's realistic.
Ron: Well, now that you're going to have maybe less time at home because travel is kicking back in. It might be challenging, right?
Kat: I think I actually do my best work on the road.
Ron: Oh, wow. It might be better.
Kat: Yeah. Because when you're at home, I'm always distracted by, like, home stuff. But when I'm in a hotel, there's nothing else to do. So I might as well write.
Ron: Alright, I want to jump to another topic, and that is I know that you I'm looking at my notes here you are the founder and chair of the Women in Technology Group at SNAP AV/C4. Tell us about that. What is that, and why did you start it?
Kat: I've been in this industry for almost 20 years, and being a woman in this industry is different. It's never been an easy road. I will say I haven't had as many issues or problems as I've heard of bad experiences that some of the other women out there have. But it's a thing. Last year, with the world-changing the way it has, SNAP AV and Control4 instituted a diversity equity and inclusion council. And one of their agenda initiatives was to have a team member inclusion group start. I thought it would be a great idea, especially since we're a newly merged company and we're all working from home now. I work remotely anyway, but no one's in the office, so it's hard for people to get to know each other if we could have a women's group at the office to kind of support each other. We do, we started in September of 2020, and we have eighty-five members now. It's kind of amazing.
Ron: What's the goal?
Kat: We have a goal, I should probably read that, but we have a mission statement.
Ron: But that's OK. What's the general goal?
Kat: The general goal is to provide resources and support, and opportunities for women in our industry. We have done over the course of the last year because we've started a book club, as one does. We started a mentoring program, so all the women have the opportunity to be mentors or mentees. We do quarterly panels. And Danielle Carr, who you may or may not know who works that Control4, we started a quarterly question and answer with the industry leader panel. We invite women leaders from our industry to come in and talk to us about their experiences in the industry. And that's been extremely successful. We've had amazing women like Carroll Campbell from the women in the group and Heather Stirlitz and Amanda Wildman and Jamie Bruce Meister and Katie MacGregor Bennett, and somebody else I'm forgetting. We've been doing those every quarter, which has been amazing, and we want to continue to do all of those things. We've been working with the women of Avixa to try to do some cross-pollination there and see what we can do. There's a lot of good initiatives on the horizon for our group.
Ron: That's fascinating, is the group only for SNAP and C4 employees?
Kat: It is, but not just women. We have three men, three brave men that have joined us. Hopefully, we'll get some more.
"At One Firefly, if you look at the ratio of women to men, I want to say our team in large is probably somewhere around 70 percent women, 30 percent men."
Ron: At One Firefly, if you look at the ratio of women to men, I want to say our team in large is probably somewhere around 70 percent women, 30 percent men.
Kat: Which is obviously not the industry standard. I am now and 90 percent of the time the only woman on the sales team.
Ron: Why do you think that is?
Kat: I have no idea know. Working for Marlow is kind of an eye-opening experience for me because she's such an amazing salesperson, and she hired a lot of women. There were always women around at Crestron and in sales and different positions. I don't know why. But because of this women's group, I'm really excited about, I've got to meet some of the women that work at our company that our engineers are on the OvrC team or do things that I didn't know we had women in those positions, but we do.
Ron: Yeah, I could see it's fair to say you named, as you mentioned, some of the speakers in your group, some of the women are female entrepreneurs running integration firms around the country. But if you look by and large at our industry, it's very male. There's a lot of men running these businesses, a lot of men in these businesses. And I'm wondering from a sales standpoint, it potentially could be challenging or stressful to be a woman calling on those men and that you've figured it out. Why have you made it work, and you've succeeded? What do you think your secret sauce is?
Kat: In the beginning, I didn't know that that was a thing. I didn't know that people would treat me any differently. And so I never acted that way. And people never have. I've had one or two weird instances, but for the most part, I think I'm treated like an equal I expect to be. And I think because I expect to be, people do. But I think that's not been everyone's experience. Heather just wrote an amazing article on AV Nation right now about a pretty terrible misogynistic experience a couple of weeks ago. There is an AV yoga group that we are all a member of. It's domestic women and international. We do yoga on Wednesday afternoons. It's pretty fun to go out and have many people from around the industry and different companies doing that, which I think is amazing. But she asked that whole group to write to her about things that people had said to them during their careers. She posted a list of all of those things. And it's terrifying. I can't imagine some of the things that women have heard or had people have said to them. It's insane. But I think people look at that and get really discouraged.
I have the opposite opinion because I see it 20 years ago when I started. There's no way that a woman would have written that article, and it would have ever been published in the trade magazine. Fifteen years ago, there's no way women, anonymous or not, would have contributed things that had happened to them. And 10 years ago, there's no way there would have been enough women to contribute to something like that. I see how far we've come. And I see the women that are out there now, and all that article inspires me.
Ron: Sounds amazing. My team, we're going to find that article, and we're going to put that down in the notes here on Facebook. But we're also put it on the page on our website. I have Martha Wheeler.
Kat: That's my mom.
Ron: That's your mom. Very interesting talk. Hi, Mom. She's doing great. Alright, so, Kat, you have the experience, you have the benefit of having worked with hundreds, if not thousands of integrators over the years, and you've seen the good, the bad and the ugly, and everything in between. I always love to point out, if you have some observations of maybe integrators, small or large, I don't think size matters small or large, older, new, but dealers that you think are really getting it. They're practicing business in a way that that is really enabling them to thrive. You don't have to name any companies, but are there practices or trends or things you're observing that really stand out to you as leading to success, maybe from current or past customers?
"I think it's the same thing that contributes to anyone's success. It's get involved. It's taking opportunities. It's being connected to the companies you work with and those who work at those companies because it will serve you long-term to understand the products better."
Kat: Yeah, I think it's the same thing that contributes to anyone's success. It's get involved. It's taking opportunities. It's being connected to the companies you work with and those who work at those companies because it will serve you long-term to understand the products better. It's a better business person. Stop letting yourself get so distracted, taking the time out of maybe the fun stuff to do, the hard stuff, which is business analysis and looking at where you spend your money and where you're profitable and where you're spending all of that stuff, none of that fun. Nobody likes to do it. But the guys that do it and do it with a regular cadence are way more successful long term. Looking at different ways to be more profitable in different areas is important. But I do think getting involved in the industry as a whole and getting involved with you're not just saying this because I'm a sales rep, but getting involved with your salespeople and getting to know more people at those companies only benefits everyone and giving your feedback when you're asked for it participating. It's good advice for anyone.
Ron: What trends do you see here in 2021? We're at the end of April, almost into May 2021. What trends in tech or what there's maybe hype or energy out there from your dealers? What are you seeing them excited about?
Kat: Networking, networking, networking. The whole last year has been hugely networking, networking-focused. Right now, we're getting ready to go into spring and summer. This is our fun outdoor time. Lots and lots of Sunbrite outdoor speakers, outdoor lamps, that kind of stuff. That's been super fun. Lighting is always a big thing, and I'm a huge believer in lighting and shades and leading from that because it's such a positive and user experience and users are so much more connected to their lighting than sometimes their AV stuff. I think it's the platform we should all rest on.
"For years, working with several different manufacturers that I'm going to say this question is really related to the interface, the internal interface within companies between sales and call it operations or product or production. Sometimes that can be a relationship. That's oil and water. Sometimes sales can want one thing, and they can put undue pressure internally."
Ron: Amen, well said. Again, I want to pull a thread on your experience as a sales rep. For years, working with several different manufacturers that I'm going to say this question is really related to the interface, the internal interface within companies between sales and call it operations or product or production. Sometimes that can be a relationship. That's oil and water. Sometimes sales can want one thing, and they can put undue pressure internally. What are your thoughts on that as it relates to what do you think makes for a good relationship between sales and your company's production product, customer service team, to really allow one plus one equals three?
Kat: Communication. Talk to us. We know the customers. I love our product teams and the product. I like the product, guys. I really do. I always have. They develop some cool stuff. But sometimes, when you're developing things in a lab or from a conceptual idea, it isn't super great from a different installation perspective. Getting it out there in the field and testing it, and knowing the right customers, we talk to them all the time. We know the guys who will give good feedback and the guys that are going to take it seriously. We can help do that and facilitate that. Plus, we have a good idea of what our industry wants because we hear it all the time. We know who our competition is.
"Having more and deeper and better conversations around product and innovation is super important. I think relying on the salespeople. We wouldn't be doing this unless we were extremely into technology and innovation. Leverage that because you've got a group of super excited people and spend all day talking about technology."
We know what they're selling a lot of. Having more and deeper and better conversations around product and innovation is super important. I think relying on the salespeople. We wouldn't be doing this unless we were extremely into technology and innovation. Leverage that because you've got a group of super excited people and spend all day talking about technology. We're a resource, but I love the product guys because they got some crazy ideas, and that's awesome.
Ron: Any advice for people that are just starting their sales career? What could they do, or what should they focus on?
Kat: Do what you say you're going to do and meet everybody. Every interaction that you have is a stepping stone to something else. Every person that you know, all of the people that you meet, all matters. How many years ago did we meet Ron?
Kat: The one thing I'll say, especially about this book, is the people that I've met in my career. I've worked in Kentucky and California and New York and Ohio. All over the country, the people I've met over the last 20 years of doing this have been so supportive. This is a wonderful industry and a great place to be. And you should go out there, join all the groups, meet all the people, get on all the Facebook groups, go to all the industry parties and events and all the training and everything you can go to and just soak it all in because there are so many good people here and so many resources for you. It's unlike any other industry you can work in.
Ron: I could not agree more. I'm going to put a few more comments here just to give people shout-outs that have gone out of their way to say hi to us. We've got Maddy. She says, "Great conversation points here. Kat is amazing.".
Kat: Maddy's great. She's Inside Sales at SNAP AV and Control4. So she's one of the brave women that's getting into sales in our industry. Fantastic. She's also my mentee.
Ron: She's your mentee. Alright, Maddy, you got a good mentor. Actually, I want to ask you about mentor-mentee. We're talking about maybe setting something like that up here at One Firefly, so maybe we can spend a minute or two on that. We have Tate. She said, "She is part of our team, female or male. She is integral to our success." Yes, she is. We got Ken Irvine, "Great integrator out of Indy.".
Kat: I got to tell you my Ken Irvine story.
Ron: Alright. You got to do it. While his name and face are up on the screen, what's your Ken Irvine story?
Kat: He loves this story, by the way. Ken Irvine used to be the Crestron rep, and he was the Crestron rep when I was a receptionist at my little AV shop in Kentucky. And he was our Crestron rep.
Ron: Ken was a Crestron rep when I was a Crestron rep. Ken and I were peers during that time.
Kat: Yeah. Ken, we went to our first coffee, and it was in Indianapolis, and Ken was our Crestron rep, and he was going to take our company out to dinner. There you go, you go to St Elmo's, right? You're in Indianapolis. I love the shrimp, not the shrimp. That was a problem. We go, and I'm really nervous because I'm like 21. I can't remember. I was really young, and I was really nervous because I'd never been to a business dinner. Now I know it's no big deal, but when I was really nervous, the boss was there and Ken and the programmer for a company, I was really nervous. We go to this fancy place. We're at St Elmo's eating dinner, and we order our dinner, and I order steak mid-rare because that's what I eat. That's the way I like steak. And they bring it out. And I swear to God it hadn't been cut. It was completely raw. And I was like, "Oh, gosh, what do you do? I don't know." And I sat there, and I ate the entire thing because I was too embarrassed to send it back in front of all of them. And I went back to my hotel room that night, and I got so sick. Because I was so nervous. I was intimidated.
Ron: Ken, you intimidated this poor woman. You must feel terrible. Ken, I can't believe you did that to her.
Kat: He had no idea until maybe five or ten years later when I told him that story. He had no idea.
Ron: That's funny. What would you do that now if that steak comes out to you?
Kat: Oh my gosh, I would send it back in a second. I wouldn't have thought twice about it, but at that time, I think I'd maybe been in the industry for a year or less. I was so nervous, and I was so young, and I was so impressed by the restaurant.
Ron: That was it. The big deal. One more comment here. Ken says, "I'm not a bad guy." Sean Holleran says, "Kat is a rock star in our industry, and I'm proud to call her a co-worker. Keep being you.".
Kat: He's just saying that because he recently won my AV March Madness bracket, which I have a bracket every year, running in next year for just a bunch of random people in the industry who I know and love. He won this year, so his prize was a bottle of Angels and Viri, and he just got it. He's saying that because he's thankful for that.
Ron: Oh, he's kissing up that good job. Sean, congratulations.
Kat: Sean. You only get it if you can't help you next year.
Ron: That's funny. We do a March Madness bracket every year here at One Firefly, and two years ago, I know nothing about college basketball, so I'm admitting my ignorance to everyone in public here. I just kind of use some random logic and maybe based on seed or how I was feeling at the moment. I won our March Madness that year. It seemed like I had a wonderful score. I was like at the top. I don't know, one, two percent of the country. And it seems total like there was a plan there. I did that same strategy this year, and I think I was close to the last in our company bracket. You flip a coin. That was my strategy. And it didn't work so hot this year.
Kat: This year was an embarrassment that we won't talk about in my bracket. But I am from Kentucky. We're really big on basketball, so I love doing it every year. Some of the guys do horrible and don't watch basketball. Some people get into it, but it's all for fun. They don't have to pay. I just send a bottle of bourbon to the winner. Speaking of being from Kentucky, if you don't know Ron and you're not doing anything on Saturday, it's Derby Day. Get your stuff ready. Derby Day, Kentucky Derby Day.
Ron: The Kentucky Derby on Saturday.
Kat: OK, you wear your big hats and drink your mint juleps, is that right?
Kat: I don't know what a mint julep is.
Ron: It's crushed ice, bourbon, sugar, and mint. Basically bourbon and sugar and mint.
Kat: I had no idea. It's basically just bourbon and sugar, and then sugar helps you metabolize the alcohol, so it makes you. That sounds delicious.
Ron: It's fantastic. I'll make you one sometime. My mom just gave me a julep cup last week for the first time. I got a proper cup to make it in and everything.
Kat: Are you going to go to the Derby?
Ron: No. Is that too big of a that happening?
Kat: It is happening this year. It didn't last year. This year it is on a limited scale, I believe. I just didn't. I grew up in Louisville, so I've been any number of times. I only go now if somebody from out of town wants to go, I'll take them.
Ron: OK, well, we have quite the audience here. You've drawn quite the audience. This is impressive. I'm going to close on this. There is a book here, ladies and gentlemen. By the one and only Kat Wheeler, "There Is No Cloud," and you guys can go and you can purchase this book and help our friend Kat. There it is. It's on Amazon. Your search for it, you find it right away. Pick up either the Kindle or the paperback.
Kat: Read and review are super important.
Ron: That's right. What are the instructions regarding a review? How does that help you?
Kat: The nerd in me finds this exceptionally interesting, but that's on Amazon. Books are ranked and how they're ranked is how they're displayed. Once you get over a certain level of ranking is how you're on the front page and are suggested to other members. That's the trick to selling books. If you were to sell something on Amazon, call it One Firefly's widget, and you got a five-star rating, your rate, and your ranking wouldn't necessarily be five stars. They have a strange algorithm to it. That's based on how much the person whose rating rates and how recent it is and how many ratings of what level they give. I don't know, super complicated, but the more ratings and reviews you get, the more visible I will be. Then I can sell more books.
Ron: Sell more books. Let's help Kat get those next commission checks coming in from Amazon. She keeps writing books, and if you're her friend in the industry, you might be in the next book. You never know.
Kat: Yeah, I take notes now, and the dealer calls them. That's hilarious because in this book specifically, there are many like end user experiences because she and her teammates talk a lot about they have a weekly call. On that weekly call, they talk about who had the worst meeting that week. They'll share some of the things that are like the real-life experiences that happened to me in this industry here and there with people is kind of snafu of technology, audio, video emergencies, and such.
Ron: When you are receiving panicked calls from these customers. And I just want to say for a period at the restaurant. The angry homeowner would get funneled through the sales team to field and then take it to the market to address it. OMG, the stories that would come through, and then just as a road warrior, a salesperson out there on the front line, the stories over the years, they add up, and they make your hatred and frustration.
Kat: The one that made it in the book, that's my favorite, is I got a call from an end-user one day, and it's a woman, and she's super-duper upset because her Crestron chains won't work. We go through the whole thing. Who's your dealer? I don't know. Where are your shades? I don't know. Where is your equipment? I don't know. Well, what's the story? Finally, we get down to it, and she doesn't have automated shades. She doesn't have Crestron shades. She's bought the Crestron app off the App Store and thought that would motorize her regular blinds. And then she's mad at me because I can't refund one hundred dollars that she spent in the App Store. After all, that's an Apple thing. I have never been screamed at by someone in my life for so long, but that woman. And it was probably one of the best things that ever happened.
Ron: Wow. Those things you and I go through and all the salespeople out there have gone through our customer service. All of those experiences make you better. They make you stronger, and you carry them with you forever. Kat, it was a pleasure having you on the show.
Kat: Thank you.
Ron: In addition to buying your book, which we want everyone to do.
Kat: Everyone and also to tell everyone they've ever met to buy it, that would be helpful as well.
Ron: That would be even better. And they should share it on social media. You have your website, which I'm looking at the URL. It's katwheeler.com. We're going to drop that into the notes. Anyone else wants to get in touch with you? Is there any other preferred method of communication?
Ron: Awesome, and I have to give a fellow Kentuckian a shout-out, Maggie. She's on team One Firefly. She says, "Checking in from Bluegrass State.".
Kat: You have a Kentuckian on your team. That's amazing. We're the best people.
Ron: Yes, definitely. I agree. I concur. Kat, great to see you, dear. Thank you for coming on. And we'll stay in touch.
Kat: Thanks, Ron. Anytime.
Ron: Alright, folks, there you have it, Kat Wheeler, longtime industry friend, that's the best part about this industry, is you meet people in such a diverse set of people and experiences. Next thing you know, they're writing a book, and they're including a lot of characters of people you know. As soon as I saw that she had come out with that, I said, Kat, we got to have you on the show. I hope you all have a great rest of your week. Again, this is a show one sixty-seven. If you have not already done so, please go to your podcast app, leave us a review. I think that's the per tie into what Kat was saying. When you guys leave reviews, whether a star rating or you type something in, it does help the algorithms, and ultimately more people get to see and hear the content. That would be greatly appreciated. You can always go to our website at onefirefly.com to learn more about us and our products and services. I look forward to seeing you all next time. Thank you so much.
Katharine's prior experience spans over eighteen years in the consumer electronics industry. She is currently an Area Sales Manager for SNAP AV and Control4. Katharine is also the founder and chair of the Women in Technology group at Snap AV and Control4, with over 85 members. She is a self-published author of a murder mystery novel this year titled There is No Cloud, which is set in the world of consumer electronics.
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 become the leading marketing firm specializing in integrated technology and security space. The One Firefly team works 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:
- AV Nation's article on Things Not To Say by Heather Sidorowicz
- There is No Cloud book by Kat Wheeler
- St Elmos Indianapolis restaurant
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