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Automation Unplugged

Automation Unplugged is a Facebook Live show recorded weekly with our host Ron Callis, Owner and CEO of the digital marketing agency, One Firefly. In each Automation Unplugged episode, Ron speaks with leading industry personalities and technology professionals to discuss all things business development, technology trends, and more. These interviews are designed to help our clients and members of the custom integration industry keep up-to-date with the latest news as well as learn from experts in the field.

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Watch Episode #19: an Industry Q&A with Chris Smith

Exploring Company Communication, Creative RMR, and Employee Retention

Watch Episode #19: an Industry Q&A with Chris Smith

In this Automation Unplugged interview, Ron speaks with Chris Smith, VP of Business Development at Cloud9 Smart. Cloud9 Smart is a high-end integration firm located in New York City. Watch the interview to learn Chris' tips on running a successful technology business through solid employee retention practices, RMR, streamlined operations, and more.

About Chris Smith

Chris Smith got a crash course in Sales at 17, running an inside sales program for a tool company. It was here he learned that if you out-hustled the competition in service and support you could win their business no matter the age. He broke into the AV industry pulling wires and getting certified programming home automation systems. After studying Sociology in Santa Barbara, California he moved to Boston to join Bowers & Willkins as a National Trainer before being promoted to Regional Sales Manager. When McIntosh Labs took interest he managed a sales team for them, and during their merger into World of McIntosh served as advisor, led the merging of sales teams, and oversaw the ambitious build-out of the WOM Townhouse in Soho. Working closely with Cloud9 on this project he decided to relocate to NYC permanently and join the Cloud9 team as VP of Business Development. In his spare time he likes to run, with 3 half and 1 full marathon in the queue this year.


Interview Recap

Here are some of the topics Ron had the opportunity to discuss with Chris:

  • Chris' background on the manufacturer side
  • His role in the rollout of Slack for Azione Unlimited
  • His role on Azione Unlimited's Advisory Board
  • How Cloud9 Smart gets creative with transportation in Manhattan
  • Effective employee retention practices
  • The multiple avenues for RMR
  • Marketing strategies
  • And more

Transcript:


Ron:  Hello everyone. Ron Callis with One Firefly. Thank you for joining us for another episode of Automation Unplugged brought to you by One Firefly and is currently 12:30 on Thursday October 5th. No your calendars are not mixed up. Yes I did record an Automation Unplugged episode just yesterday on Wednesday and wanted to get this real exciting guest Chris Smith. And we actually had some scheduling conflicts over the summer and we were hoping to have him on earlier but the way schedules worked out he's available today and so we are making it happen. So Chris is the V.P. of Business Development for Cloud Nine Smart out of New York City. Let me go ahead and bring in Chris. Let's see if we get technology to cooperate. Chris, how you doing sir?

Chris: I'm doing well. Ron how are you?

Ron:  I am doing very well thank you Chris. I know you're a very busy man and I appreciate you taking a few minutes out of your day to spend with me and my audience here, Automation Unplugged.

Chris: Thanks for having me Ron.

Ron:  I think last time that you were scheduled to do this you actually had some hurricane issues coming back if I recall correctly there was that whole hurricane or multiple hurricanes heading towards Florida that disrupted business a bit.

Chris: Everything going OK?

Ron:  Yes we are. We're good man we're very blessed. We're here in southeast Florida. And you know we dodged a bullet. Our friends in the Keys and of course on the West Coast, southwest coast of Florida they got hammered pretty bad and that Cat 5 storm was targeting Miami and Fort Lauderdale and just in the last day or so it dodged left and spared us. So yeah we made out. OK. Thanks for acknowledging that.

Chris: Absolutely I'm glad you guys are doing well.

Ron:  All right let's take a look. Chris if you don't mind let me take a look over here at our Facebook page. That is One Firefly LLC. And let me just see if the feed is coming through looks like it is so let me acknowledge our viewers. Thanks for being out there thanks for watching. If you're watching right now please like this episode. And please share this with your friends and family or peers just so that more folks out there can see the content and additionally assuming you catch us while we are alive. Please like and or comment. So if you have questions for Chris and you'd like any clarification about things that we're discussing. Feel free and I'll do my darndest to follow that and read those questions off to Chris real time. But Chris let's jump in. I know you've got 30 minutes available here so let's jump right into it. You have perhaps a more diverse background than some in this industry and you've in fact worked on the manufacturing side of the equation. Can you give my audience just a little bit of clarification about your background and how you ended up landing in the audio video industry?

Chris: Sure. I always had a passion for it when I was quite young I got into the kind of high flying home theater side of things. I was actually working at a tool store at the time selling supplies and tools to contractors and a couple of guys came in to start outfitting their shop and it turned out that they owned a home theater audio video and automation installation company with a retail store right. And we started to chat. They were pretty new they weren't hiring anybody at the time. And shortly after that we became more friendly and I said hey I'd like to work here and we'd love to have you. I really think I was 21 yet couldn't buy them beer. They sent me to go get them beer the first time and didn't realize that wasn't going to work. And that started off my kind of love and passion for it and I learned literally from the ground up right running wires installing systems programming. And it was a lot of fun. I learned an awful lot and there was an opportunity that came up to go and work for Bowers and Wilkins and it was a little business card sized ad and it said you must be willing to travel three weeks a month and move to Boston. I was a young guy didn't have anything going on at the time I said this is great. Sounds like an adventure. And I picked up and I moved to New England from sunny Santa Barbara California and started working for Bowers and I was traveling around the country visiting with dealers installing a now defunct brand of automation. And when that happened they moved me into doing regional sales and I started calling on all of the dealers throughout the East Coast. And shortly after that maybe about five or six years later, McIntosh came knocking and so there's an opportunity to manage some of the sales team. So I started doing that for Macintosh it let me stay in New England but I was then covering at one point half of the country, then managing the entire country for sales and then it led me into doing actually a project here in Manhattan where Macintosh went to launch an experience center, a big townhouse and so I was responsible for getting that up and running with a team of people. And at that point I actually met Cloud Nine Smart , the dealer that helped us install the lighting and the shades and all the technology that went into the space. And as I got to know Fernando more and more I had maybe about ten or eleven years on the road traveling three weeks a month and having no time to myself. Fernando had a great work life balance at Cloud Nine Smart and I said you know Fernando why don't we talk about what I might be able to help you with. And he said well I really want someone who can come in and manage the sales , the marketing, the engineering team , and the procurement and vendor relationships. So it sounds like what been but I've been doing for the last 11 years just learning from those dealers who do it really well and how about a composite sketch together of that and I said that sounds like a great opportunity. And so now I'm at Cloud Nine Smart and loving it.

Ron:  Now in terms of the official job title I'm not big on titles but you know many people are and so V.P. of Business Development , that sounds like you're focused more on the sales side of things. Is that accurate or are you more of an operations and sales role today?

Chris: You know it's a fantastic question. You know titles don't mean much right. I think I love. I think Eric Theis over in California has Chief Bottle Washer or whatever the title is and I think that's great yeah. VP of Business Development. So I think about it more in terms of actually developing the business: software systems , marketing plans, sales strategy, product selection, go to market. All of those types of things are more strategic oriented and planning oriented. But I don't just stop there we also cover our engineering project management service department. All of those various facets of the business as well. So yeah I think about it more in that kind of OPs style role. You know with a function on the management side as opposed to the daily sales operations.

Ron:  Now , Chris, a lot of the folks that are watching this video whether live right now or in replay are our integrators themselves or their owner-operators or they're at some level involved in the automation industry. So for that. Can you give a little bit of perspective about Cloud Nine Smart just some of the high-level overview of that business? What is the size of the business? What type of stuff do you guys focus on? What markets do you serve?

Chris: Sure. Company is a little over 17 years old. We're about 35 people. We started back in Florida and shortly after that moved to New York City we've been here ever since we started off as a commercial integration firm. So we came from wire pulling, putting in networks, phone systems , conference rooms, managed services. We have a really strong I.T. background and about seven years ago we launched a residential division of our company and the residential division of that company focused on doing all the high end smarthome technologies lighting shades audio video network control climate all those good things. And so we had this really nice diverse skill set that allows us to weather storms in an interesting way. Now some companies focus just on one or the other we like the idea that we have that diversity and that allows us to present to a client and then follow through their lifestyle so they have to go to work somewhere. How do we make the technology at their office better? They come home. How do we make the technology better?

Ron:  Understood now I'm going to speak to our audience again if you're out there watching. Please like our post, please share this feed so that others can appreciate the conversation and listen to Chris and hear what he has to say that helps us increase the exposure of Automation Unplugged to the masses. So it's always a big help. Chris, I think the way that maybe you and I met correct me if I'm wrong was that Cloud Nine Smart is a member of the Azione buying group and one of the, I don't know if you've? I think you've volunteered for this role but you correct me if I'm wrong but you were involved in the Slack rollout for the Azione Group. So can you, and you and I'll talk more about Slack and we've now as a company , One Firefly we moved entirely over to that platform as well thanks to you. So that's a credit to your education that you gave me and the leaders on my team. But what is slack and why did how did you end up in that role as a helper or a leader making that rollout for Azione happen.

Chris: So we did meet at Azione. It was actually our I believe our very first conference with Azione. We've only been to a few we're about to have our third. From my perspective one of the very first things I want to do is join a buying group. I thought it was really great to be able to share ideas and have a community. And when I went to the meeting I believe it was in Las Vegas. The conversation centered around lots of really great topics and we were only going to have two of these meetings a year and I said this is fantastic. I want to do this more. I don't just want to do it twice a year and only when we all get in the same room together. And there wasn't really a platform for us to share information back and forth between dealers back and forth between vendors or collectively as a group. And we started using Slack as a company. And immediately when people say how do we contain this conversation several people in the room shouted out Slack and I'm a huge proponent of it. And so when it came time to do the rollout you know Slack's not implemented fundamentally in a correct way it's harder to use. And we needed some private channels for vendors to be able to communicate without crossing over other vendor channels. We needed public channels so that everyone could talk to each other and how could we really move for the converse conversation that a perpetual level and Slack's just a really great tool for that which is great for Azione and that's fantastic. But as you found out for your business it's a really fantastic way to manage information flow within the company. It's effectively like a chat tool but everything we do as a company happens in Slack. So we have project channels, we have design services channels, we have service channels , we have management channels and people participate in the channel. And you just come in you can see everything from beginning to end when you go away on vacation is my favorite part. You can completely disconnect and when you come back and you just pick up where you left off in the channel there's no compiling fifty thousand emails on a topic to sort out where you were in that conversation. Ron you just hired some new people, you want to bring them involved for a project.

Ron:  Who did I hire, Chris?

Chris: Oh I'm sorry. I thought you hired somebody new.

Ron:  No. No I did. Well what was her name?

Chris: Oh I apologize I don't know.

Ron:  You don't know. Okay. Andrea.

Chris: And you told me I'm supposed to tell jokes about her.

Ron:  Yeah. No not about her. You're supposed to tell jokes because we have to make this fun and lively. That was her feedback to us.

Chris: Andrea I apologize. I forgot your name. But we'll tell some jokes for you.

Ron:  There you go. There you go. But no you made an interesting comment when we were just prepping to go live here and you said you know so when you hire new people how do you get those folks introduced to say the history of the dialogue about a customer or a project? And I had never thought of Slack that way but that's in fact that's so neat. You now can add, say Andrea to the projects that she would be involved with or the clients she'd be involved with and now she could go back and read all the historical data as it relates to all the communication from all the various internal conversations happening about that client and their work. And that's such a neat tool that we have that can do that and usually powerful. It's hugely powerful. So this is not a Slack commercial by any means but we're big fans and converts. I also love that on a weekly or monthly? I think it's weekly. They send out a nurturing e-mail to help you know you and I as users of the software remember how important it is to us. And right now my firm although we've only been fully onboarded maybe for about six months at this point, we're sending internally about 6,000 messages a week in Slack. So it's it's clearly a lot of communications being captured there.

Chris: If you manage a team it's crucial. It's I can't imagine doing it without it.

Ron:  Yeah I'm sure there's lots of neat tools but it's it's one of the neater ones and it seems to be an IT tool right now for small.. I don't want to say small business maybe any size business right?

Chris: For sure scale is quite large.

Ron:  Now you guys are based in Manhattan and I know that you know working in the big city has its challenges particularly as it relates to commuting to projects and you know getting your crews with their supplies and their bags of tools and all their gear getting them to projects. I frankly don't know how you do it. I'd be curious how how you do handle that. A lot of our integrators around the world or around the country you know they put their stuff in a van and they drive out to the job site and it's as easy as that. I don't think New York based dealers have that luxury but if you could talk about that. And then one other extra detail I learned from you in conversations preparing for this is that you guys only run one van or one service truck and that seems maybe small, low compared to a 30-40 man operation or what I would consider normal. So how do you guys do that?

Chris: Yes it's a great question. So commuting in Manhattan is fascinating. Most people don't own cars. I don't. Which is very strange. I grew up in Los Angeles. Everyone owns a car if you don't own one you might own two. And in thinking about moving around in New York City everything is done on a subway. And so we send our service techs out with monthly subway passes. $121 dollars per person whether it's a technician or a service technician and they can just really move about the city. It actually provides a lot of efficiency it's faster than moving around in a car, no parking, no tickets . You know moving product becomes a little bit more tricky. We do have a van. We only have one. We don't need to deliver product to sites every day. We don't need to deliver tools to a site every day. You can take a job box to a site and leave it there with your tools. And sometimes in the case of a service technician they might be using a roller bag that they can actually take on the subway. So it's a really fantastic method when we find that we get outside of that we start using things like zip cars for people that commute.

Ron:  What is a zip car?

Chris: Ah. OK. So zip cars are a little credit card and where you find a zip car it has a parking spot you tap into the car you can take that car and when you return it it returns back to its same parking spot. And you can use that car by the hour and it can be 12 bucks an hour. So you don't have to rent a car. You just have to have a zip car membership and they have zip cars parked all over the city it's really fantastic.

Ron:  So your techs take zip cars to job sites?

Chris: If they're far enough away. But most things are serviced right on a subway. I would say 95 percent of our projects are serviced on a subway.

Ron:  Wow. OK now that's that's fascinating.

Chris: Totally different. I can't imagine anywhere else. Right. It wouldn't work in Los Angeles it wouldn't work in Seattle wouldn't work in Miami but it works here.

Ron:  Yeah for sure for sure. Now one other fascinating maybe detail about your company is your employee retention and you had shared with me that almost a quarter of your team has been on the team for more than 10 years. Is that being real?

Chris: It's amazing. Out of thirty five people I think we have eight that are currently over 10 years with us.

Ron:  What do you attribute that retention to?

Chris: I think it's entirely about the culture that's been created. The founder of the company is Fernando Zaria has been with us since the beginning, 17 years deep and Fernando has a really amazing perspective on the work life balance and treating employees well. We don't call it a family we call it a team. We operate in a team mentality we want the best players on the team to work alongside of our other players and we want to make sure that they feel like they're valued and that doesn't just come in terms of a salary package or a benefits package it comes in terms of work life balance and location. We're based in Union Square. For those that don't know Manhattan's Union Square is quite central. It allows a lot of easy access to the subways which helps in any kind of making sure you don't have long commutes or longer than necessary or multiple subways to get in and out of the office. The culture around Union Square itself is fantastic it's a big park and our office literally looks over that park and in a city where everything's kind of the concrete jungle. Having access to that green space so close to us is definitely a nice thing. And then it's the way that people work as a team right? You have retention like that as a function of good hiring policy and good hiring policy will mean that it might take you longer to find that employee but once you find them you can keep them forever. And that's really our goal.

Ron:  Do you mind clarifying that a little bit like what some of the basic outlines of your hiring policies? I mean I'll speak here at One Firefly. We take hiring and the process of finding great talent, we take it very seriously. But in my observation not every company does. They kind of shoot from the hip. But what do you guys do if you don't mind sharing?

Chris: I think it's twofold. The shooting from the hip is sometimes necessary to fill a role to scale for a moment but obviously then if you're only scaling for a moment you might scale back down. So in terms of longevity I think the cultural fit is really important. So the first step is to bring somebody into the office and have them meet with somebody who's been with the company for a very long time and we think about people not just in terms of do they meet the specific demands necessary on a CV right? Do they have the technical skills required or the educational background. It's a question of who are they going to work with on the team? What other teams do they need to interface with? And I think about leaving that new employee in the room with all of those people and then I leave the room. They all interact and that person then leaves , I come back into the room. Does everybody in that room go wow what a great guy. That's an amazing human being. We'd like to go out and grab drinks with that guy or woman as it might be or do they say Chris are you an idiot? Why on earth would you put that person in this room with us?

Ron:  Is it usually pretty glaringly obvious? Do you find that it's fairly straightforward whether they're a good cultural fit for Cloud Nine Smart or whethe they are or they are not.

Chris: I think so and it's not just done by one person it's done by multiple people so through the interviewing process we have a gentleman named Jordan Wills who's been with us for a long time. He's also the head of our marketing department. Jordan is our cultural guru. And so Jordan meets with every employee. And if Jordan doesn't feel like this person is going to be a fit they're probably not. Now you might be able to fool Jordan during an hour interview maybe. Right. Maybe that happens. Now go try and fool the person who's hiring you and their opinion of you and then go try and fool a third person. Right. So usually in the process of that across maybe three hours and three interviews I think you get a really good understanding. And if somebody has a red flag do you really need to hire that person or is there another option? And I think that that's a really good conversation. Is are we taking a long play at this or a short sighted version?

Ron:  Right no I appreciate that there's a lot of good advice there. And don't forget if you're watching on Facebook. Thank you for watching live. And also please like this post and please share this post this Facebook live out there so that your friends and associates that you're connected to on Facebook can also listen to Chris and learn some valuable takeaways regarding running a very successful integration business. Now Chris I want to kind of go a different direction here for a moment if you will allow me. And that is I know RMR, recurring monthly revenue is a big focus of our industry. There's at least a lot of talk about it. I don't know that there's a lot of action yet but there's a lot of talk and your business Cloud Nine. You and Fernando and your team have really taken some unique approaches to building a recurring revenue base or at least trying to build a recurring revenue base. Do you mind talking a little bit about what you guys are doing and how you're going about that?

Chris: Absolutely. First the credit is due to Fernando and his vision as an entrepreneur. He realizes and continues to realize that the ability of our company to be stable financially is of the utmost importance. And one of the ways that we do that is by not basing all of our revenues on project based revenues. Allowing ourselves to have that flexibility to win some big fish and then when smaller fishes along the way is entirely about building us an amazing foundation of recurring revenue stream. And we started that actually from the commercial side of what we did. So if you look at the commercial side of our business there are several variations of recurring revenue that we have and we can get into the residential version. So when we just look at a commercial client let's think about somebody moving office spaces, taking on more space, developing out in existing space. When they look at that they need a voice and data circuit that is piping Internet into the space as well as potential phone lines. There is a recurring element to that and we sell that there's the phone system itself. Some phone systems don't have recurring component and some do like voice over IP. We sell that and then we have a managed services side of our business which is basically where companies outsource their IT to us. And then that way we have a recurring revenue base for dozens of clients that outsource their IT.. That last element would be a conference room. And as soon as we sell a nonrecurring project like a conference room then there's the maintenance of that conference room. And in selling in a commercial world the benefit to having that is those people operate during your normal business hours. So having a recurring business setup around people that are on your same time schedule is fantastic. So the non-recurring allows us to have that flow when we come to a residential division and this is where I think most of the integrators that might be watching this today would would like to take note is the same thing is true for the residential client which is none of the clients that we have lack the capacity to change their own oil right? They could do that if they wanted to but that's not what they need to be doing with their time. So someone else needs to be managing say that process for their car. The same thing is true about the technology for their home. So we look at installing a system as an opportunity to develop a tremendous product to the client but then it's a tremendous opportunity for us to provide amazing ongoing support and service to that customer and an ongoing basis. And if we do that we can charge accordingly for it. And then the next part then is you realize that you're doing a good job by the number of repeat clients that you have. We've done multiple projects for.

Ron:  What percentage of your residential customers sign or agreed to some recurring maintenance or service contract and they're paying you monthly and or maybe they do it in an annual payment?

Chris: Yeah we do it annually and the answer is 100 percent of the clients today do it. In other words we don't do break-fix work. So if you're a client who has done a system with us and you don't want to continue doing ongoing maintenance then we'll gladly hand all of the information necessary to service your system to somebody but someone needs to manage that for that client if it's not us. So 100 percent of our clients are on it. Now we have some older clients where when we used to do much smaller really scaled-down systems where it really doesn't fit. But then they don't fit the current model moving forward which requires that we have that ongoing maintenance agreement.

Ron:  Do you have an appliance of some type that you guys have adopted in terms of placing it into the client's home that gives you visibility to network performance and or system performance? And if so do you mind sharing what that is?

Chris: We do. Our current version of that hardware product is the Pakedge backpack solution. It's built into their routers and they have a wireless controller that has it. And what we did when we took that product line on , was retroactively looked backwards at all of our clients and then put the network appliance in for those client sites. So in the commercial space we use Cisco Morocco to manage everything. It gives us one portal in the residential division we use Pakedge and that gives us that portal for all of our residential clients.

Ron:  Interesting. Here at One Firefly our IT person uses Morocco Cisco Morocco to manage our network for our servers.

Chris: But yeah having a good solution. So because we come from the managed services side it's entirely about platform. I just had a client meeting yesterday and I'll sign a multiple six figure deal with us. He looked at me and said how tied in are you to Pakedge? And I said quite because it's at every one of our jobs. And to do your job differently presents an issue for us at a service platform afterwards and in an ongoing basis how we can take care of the hardware. So for us it's about consistency of the rollout and the implementation.

Ron:  Why would a customer care what your network hardware was. Was it a particularly tuned in customer that had a preference?

Chris: Yeah he was actually a really smart guy. Actually more educated than most of our clients with respect to the technology and the brands and the pieces that go into a system. And he was more curious I think. And once we explained it to him it made perfect sense to him. Most clients don't care. And in fact just like anything if we do the job right the client doesn't know where the rack is. The client doesn't know what's in the rack. They just know about the experience at the end of it and that's all they really care about by and large.

Ron:  So Chris I'm respectful of your time. I know we're reaching the end here. I just have a couple of more questions if you have a few more minutes?

Chris: Absolutely.

Ron:  OK so Cloud Nine Smart employs a full-time marketing person. You made reference to the person is kind of your captain of culture of sorts at least from an H.R. standpoint. That's not common right. So a lot of integrators do not have a full-time marketing person. What led to you guys deciding to go that direction and maybe at a high level can you talk about some of the marketing activities that you guys do on a regular or ongoing basis?
Hundred percent. We're really fortunate Jordan Wills has been with us a very long time and he started off answering phones with us. But Jordan is not merely somebody only capable of answering phones and as he grew in his tenure with us we started to realize what his other skill sets were and he lent himself very well to marketing. Jordan maintains our website, all of it, creates every page creates all of our landing pages for social , runs our Google AdWords campaign, creates a weekly newsletter. We actually create three pieces of content every single week. Jordan writes all of that, creates the actual form and then sends out to everybody and we create an every other week newsletter to architects which we specifically focus on because it's a great annuity-style relationship to our business. He runs all of our social campaigns and creates all our video content. If you've ever been to our website we actually create quite a bit of video content. So I look at the brand feel of what we have and it's more than just informational. It's more than just purely having a pulse. It's about being entirely current and how do we respond in real-time to changing information so that we can keep our clients interested and engaged. And so that when people look at us compared to our competitors they're able to see that there is a clear differentiating factor not just in the aesthetic of what we do but in the fact that we're here and active and prosperous every day. And so I can't value that enough. And when I think about our total marketing budget it actually doesn't seem that high until I factoring Jordan's salary and then I realize what our monthly spend is and it's actually in my opinion quite good and I've compared it against other people of varying sizes and scales and it lines up really well with their marketing budgets. So conceptually if somebody doesn't have a Jordan, no problem go and hire a Ron Callis at One Firefly and have them help you.

Ron:  I'll slip you 20 bucks later for that.

Chris: And I couldn't mention it enough and as I meet other executives from various companies not just in our industry, they talk a lot about things like Google AdWords and their web presence as being huge factors in the growth curves that they've had over say the last ten years or the last five years. And if you're not actively invested in that part of your business, how do you plan on growing? And I find that to be a really limiting factor and sometimes it's a self limiting belief. People are really hesitant to spend that kind of money because they don't understand it themselves as a business owner. That's why you hire somebody who's smarter than you in it. You let them tell you what to do. And if you can let go of that piece of control and put that money on the table as your table stakes in the game. I think by and large if you do it with somebody who's trustworthy you'll end up with great results.

Ron:  What would you say to the integrators out there that are currently not doing any email marketing? I have an opinion that it's one of the more important things a small business can be doing. And specifically integrators. Do you share that belief? And what are your thoughts around that?

Chris: I think that email marketing is truly important and it's an element of a strategy. So it's not the only element of a strategy. One of the things that people might not realize about email marketing is not the actual email itself. The open rate the click rate et cetera. It's the fact that that email content then lives on your website and that then creates organic search engine optimization. And so choosing your topics wisely choosing the language that's in your content wisely is much more important than purely sending an e-mail. The idea of you sending out an email that we're here. That's fine. But why don't we pick topics that are fascinating to people and when they're passing to people and we become a thought leader in our space we're going to end up with more people naturally ending up at our website not even from the email itself but because it then resides in our blog content and we take a huge push in that direction.

Ron:  Now that's awesome. I agree with everything you just said and I hope a lot of our industry watches this episode because I concur with your points on many accounts. So kudos to you guys to being ahead of the curve on that front.

Chris: Thanks to Jordan. He's the one who makes it happen.

Ron:  Jordan virtual high five. All right so a couple more. Chris you were just appointed to the Azione board of advisors. What are you hoping to accomplish in that role? What goals do you have for that position?

Chris: Yeah. It's an honor to be included in the Azione community in the first place. We're a bunch of really interesting people with great businesses and I really like being able to be at a leadership position. I'd like to think that we don't ever do anything just a little bit. We have a laser focus and we like to go deep and when we get involved in something we would like to try to make an impact. I think Azione's a fantastic group and so how do we help be a thought leader in it? How do we help consolidate information from all of the members up and then share that back down? Lots of people have great ideas. Let's go ahead and try and get it implemented. And so I think Richard leads a fantastic team. He's got a great board structure that includes both vendors and dealers and there's a monthly call cycle that allows us to share kind of a state of the union, what the current projects are within the team and then what are upcoming meetings that everyone might be able to benefit from. And they think the next version of what I'd like to help is to continue to develop relationships within members of Azione. I think I've developed probably a good solid 15 to 20 relationships within that group but there's many more that I'd like to continue on from there. One of the benefits is travel jobs. We don't currently travel outside of our area to execute a project but we do design services where we engineer and build up the plans set for projects. Well , a good example would actually be we had a client here in Manhattan who was building a house in Aspen. We did the design and engineering. We went out and actually helped bid level all of the audio-video contractor's proposals and chose an Azione dealer member to execute for that client and they executed the same level of job that we would've executed here in Manhattan with the same design and engineering skill. So to me it was a really great opportunity and I look to the Azione community to help us solve that travel conundrum of how do we help clients execute their vision in remote locations. And there's many other things. How do we choose the right vendors? How do we work really well with vendors to help solve a service problem? How do we make sure that I'm not the only dealer with a given particular issue on a product or if I am? How did somebody else solve it? I think it's a really great community for all sorts of reasons.

Ron:  So last question this is the biggie. I understand that you're a runner. Do you have any big races coming up any marathons or half marathons or what's your poison? Do you do sprints or do you do the long stuff?

Chris: I do them all. My training runs are 5ks, 10Ks and shorter races like that. I this Sunday I ran 19 miles up and over the George Washington Bridge.

Ron:  On one day?

Chris: One day, yeah one outing. This coming Sunday I have the Staten Island half marathon so there's 13 miles and then I'll probably tie on six or seven more after. And then in early November is the New York City Marathon. It will be my second time running the marathon.

Ron:  When you are going to do this half marathon that's thirteen point one miles right? Something like that. Well what will be your your your speed per mile? What will be your average?

Chris: If I can run that in about seven forty-five miles I'll be happy and if I can do it under seven and a half I'll be ecstatic.

Ron:  OK what's your fastest mile ever?

Chris: I ran a few..

Ron:  When you were 15 and you were full of testosterone and spit and vinegar and given it everything. How fast were you?

Chris: Actually my fastest mile was about a month ago and we run it down Fifth Avenue they do it once a year and they run it by age group and I ran the Fifth Avenue one mile in about 5:53 I think? That was pretty fast.

Ron:  That's pretty fast. That's pretty awesome. Well Chris thank you for being an awesome guest on Automation Unplugged and your willingness to share so freely your thoughts and ideas on how to run a better business and really appreciate it having you on.

Chris: Thank you so much Ron I really appreciate it. Anybody in the community has any questions feel free to contact Ron or contact us directly and I'm happy to share our playbook. Actually we believe that the rising tide thing is true. And if you guys want to come and learn we'd love to learn from you just the same.

Ron:  So how can Chris how can folks get in touch with you? Do you want to leave any contact information or we can also put it in the notes here or the comments on the live feed.

Chris: But feel free to come to our website. It's cloud9smart.com. And that's the number 9 not spelled out. So cloud9smart.com and then you can also contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. I'm happy to speak with anybody that's interested or if you'd like to talk about Azione or if you happen to be in Manhattan and want to join our executives group that we're a part of. There's all kinds of interesting things that we think are helping to push our industry and our business forward. And we'd love to chat with other people who are like-minded .

Ron:  Awesome. Thank you Chris. Thanks so much. Well folks there you have it. That was Chris Smith V.P. of business development at the very innovative Cloud Nine smart in New York City. And that names peculiar right or at least I thought it was but I found out from Chris. The name is Cloud Nine Smart because they have two divisions at the moment. They have Cloud Nine Smart Home, home is the residential division, then they have Cloud Nine Smart accent probably and get it wrong here Chris is it commercial or business office it was none of the above. So cloud nine. Smart office very creative name obviously a lot of thoughts going into running that business. So thank you again for joining me. Ladies and gentlemen and I will see you early next week for my next episode of Automation Unplugged. I believe we're having Dave Pedigo go from CEDIA on but just stay tuned. Watch our website and or watch our Facebook page for those updates. Thanks again. Have a great rest your week and a great weekend.

Show Notes

Chris Smith started in sales for the tool industry over 17 years ago. He broke into the AV industry pulling wires and getting certified programming home automation systems. Other roles Chris has held include Bowers & Willkins as a National Trainer before being promoted to Regional Sales Manager, World of McIntosh served as advisor, led the merging of sales teams, and oversaw the ambitious build-out of the WOM Townhouse in Soho. Working closely with Cloud9 on this project he decided to relocate to NYC permanently and join the Cloud9 team as VP of Business Development.

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:

You can also learn more about Cloud Nine Smart at https://www.cloud9smart.com/  Be sure to follow them on Instagram.

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