To Be of Not to Be…That is the AV Question

Without my usual preamble (you are welcome, readers!), I want to get right to the point since time is of the essence. File this under “needed to write”. Without fear of contradiction, we have an existential issue on our hands in what we might call “traditional” pro AV. Existential has two meanings: "Of or relating to existence" and "concerned with the nature of human existence as determined by the individual's freely made choices." Existential is often used in relation to existentialism, a philosophical movement that suggests that existence (life, the universe, and everything) has no meaning except for the meaning that individuals create for themselves. Keep in mind the phrase “meaning that individuals create for themselves”. It is critical for each of us to honestly look in the mirror sometimes! Existential is also often used to describe a scenario in which someone or something’s very existence or being is threatened or in question, especially in phrases like “existential threat”. Of course, this begs the (big) question as to what our existential threat is as an industry?

At the top of this threat is the fact that nearly 80% of technology buyers make purchasing decisions without the help or input of a salesperson. Where we were once the bastion of all things pro AV related, this has changed… and not in our favor or (believe it or not) ultimately that of the buyer.  Our job is to make them understand that “caveat emptor” is real, even today with so much information out there. Let me explain.

The 5 most obvious risks associated with buyers that we face in pro AV:

  1. Fungibility, parity and commodification (true or false, but the appearance of sameness)
  2. Plug and play mentality (keep it stupidly simple)
  3. Access to information (some accurate, some inaccurate, or incomplete)
  4. Expanded access to purchasing channels (so many choices)
  5. Buying sans salespeople to guide them (one click away)

As the pro AV community overall, integrators, and individual salespeople, we need to tackle these issues head on. We won’t be able to overcome or totally negate all the risks noted above, but we do need to understand them and (in some manner) address them. The most effective way is to add value in the minds of the customer beyond the hardware we sell. We need to answer the increasingly frequent buyer’s question “why do I need a salesperson?” or an integrator for that matter. The answer lies in the ability to be thought of as “special” in the eyes of the buyer and provide a value that cannot easily be ignored.

We can walk in the shoes of a job recruiter to begin our journey and see how they position their jobs to the most qualified (aka “special”) job seekers. As one expert notes “Whether you’re all about the buzzwords, or just the thought of them makes your eyes roll, they’re hard to avoid.” Here are three descriptive words that focus on the concept of special.

  • Purple Squirrels are those absolutely perfect hires. They meet all the requirements for your job req and can do your job no questions asked. But if they even exist they are hard to find.
  • Unicorns are like purple squirrels, but even more rare; unicorns are those mystical candidates whose resumes shine with perfect qualifications. But finding one is nearly impossible, so just try to catch one.
  • Rockstar is a term typically used to describe high-performing candidates who are ready to “groove to the beat of your company’s mission”, and it’s definitely a bonus if they’re also your organization’s biggest fan.

In your pro AV business, you would probably like to hire these types of individuals but for our purposes we (companies and salespeople) must “aspire to be” special to our customers. We may not be viewed as rockstars, but we do need to become “special” in their eyes. The value we provide must be part company, part products and services, but mainly about people.

Think outside of our industry for a minute and consider who we tend to hold in the highest esteem. It is the specialist who stands out from the generalist. Here are just a few examples. For medicine it might be an orthopedic surgeon, cardiac specialist, physician’s assistant, or nurse practitioner. For the legal profession a specialist may be a contracts attorney, a criminal defense attorney, or a personal injury lawyer. In accounting it may be a CPA or Certified Financial Planner.  The point is that we go to specialists for specific issues and challenges. They are sought out as problem solvers and their value makes them stand apart. We must become specialists in the eyes of our clients.

As we look at the previous examples it looks as if being seen as a specialist is dependent on college and advanced degrees. As I noted in a recent AVIXA article, this is not necessarily the case. While college may be one partial path, in pro AV and digital signage there are alternatives that can be just as powerful. We have industry recognized certifications and a litany of microcredentials that can be marketed illustrating you are a specialist. If you look at some people’s signature you will see what I call the “alphabet soup” behind their name. Each designation relates to evidence of competency in a given area.  From a buyer’s perspective this can directly relate to risk abatement and avoidance. We like to quote the old Dirty Harry movie phrase to buyers as we simply ask, “Do you feel lucky… do ya?”

Most will agree that adding to the portfolio of what you know is a good thing… but the point in this advice is that knowledge is strength, and constantly adding to what you know is the best differentiator in an industry that is fraught with the appearance of sameness. Focus first on self-improvement (making yourself special in the eyes of your clients), then you can embrace all the cool technological advancements.


So which pro AV certifications and education courses might be right for you? This is an interesting question, in light of the vast number of so-called certifications and micro-credentials that appear to be popping up all around us. The answer depends on how you want to be seen by your clients. It seems that every hardware manufacturer or software developer has their own “certification” of some sort attached to their offerings. On the face of it, this is good — but left unmanaged and learned in an ad hoc manner, this conglomeration of disparate knowledge might actually be confusing. In traditional education, this is what a curriculum is all about.

A curriculum focuses on how one topic or level of course relates to another. In each category there are pre-requisites before moving from one course to the next. If left out of order, this can cause the confusion we are speaking about. Herein lies the shortcoming of disparate or unrelated certifications from multiple companies. Typically, they address part of a topic but rarely embrace all of it and this is where “generalist” certifications take center stage as the umbrella of your knowledge base.

The “generalist” certification is one where the curriculum covers the broad scope of an industry and in the process, teaches the fundamentals with some degree of specificity about the major segments.

Several good examples of this are the certifications from AVIXA (CTS), the Digital Signage Digital Signage Experts Group (DSCE), Microsoft (MCSE), Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), and the Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute.


In the case of the AVIXA there is the Certified Technology Specialist (CTS) certification program. The incorporation of the word “specialist” carries a meaning of value both inside the industry and if properly promoted, in the minds of clients.  At the first level the CTS covers all the basics of audio, video, design, and integration of an AV system. Beyond the CTS and as sub-specialties there is the CTS-D for design, and CTS-I for integration. Think about the power of additive specialties with the CTS, CTS-D, CTS-I.

All the CTS program certifications require experience and both work and study. AVIXA offers prep courses and publishes a CTS Exam Guide that helps in your studies for the exam. The designations are earned as any current CTS holder will tell you, Upon passing an in-depth exam a person can publicly promote their CTS, CTS-D, and CTS-I designations. This entire process ensures a fundamental understanding of each segment of the industry and illustrates how they all fit together.

Digital Signage Certifications

A rapidly growing subset of AV is digital signage. This industry crosses several boundaries of expertise from content creation and software management to marketing, to business, and yes AV technologies and integration. Understanding this, a group of recognized industry experts, authors, and consultants created the Digital Signage Experts Group (DSEG).

Its mission is to provide education and certifications involved specifically in digital signage. The Digital Signage Certified Expert (DSCE) certification represents the fundamentals while the Digital Signage Network Expert (DSNE), Digital Signage Display Expert (DSDE), Digital Content and Media Experts (DCME) and Digital Signage Sales Professional (DSSP) cover the sub-specialties. As with other recognized certification programs, an exam is required to pass each certification.

IT Certifications

Some of the oldest certifications are in IT. Unlike truly generalist certifications, many IT certification programs are designed to address specific brands and product families, from mega companies like Microsoft and Cisco. For our purposes, they are lumped into the generalist category because they are so pervasive and create the environment in which many other products work. As with other recognized AV certifications, each of the following takes time to study and review and most importantly they have comprehensive exams that are necessary to earn the coveted certificate of completion. Some of the most recognized programs that have relevance in the AV universe are:

  • MCSE – Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer – Requires 7 exams to complete!
  • MCSD – Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator – This certification is recommended by Microsoft both for experienced IT professionals and for people new to IT.
  • CCNA – Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) validates the ability to install, configure, operate, and troubleshoot medium-size route and switched networks, including implementation and verification of connections to remote sites in a WAN.

Project Management

Our last example of a recognized certification is the Project Management Professional or PMP from the Project management Institute or PMI. Over the years I have suggested that “there is a place in heaven for good project managers.” These are the folks who take what the salesperson sold, the designers designed, and make it all work to the satisfaction of the end user. I think most would agree that this is often a daunting task.

Like the AVIXA CTS programs, experience is necessary to earn the PMP, but the rewards are significant and well worth the effort. PMPs earn a higher salary–up to 10% more than non-certified project managers.

The Value

The best path for professional advancement (irrespective of the industry) is to earn one or more recognized certifications. Professional certifications put all the elements of an industry and your experience in context rather than residing as a desperate group of facts and knowledge rolling around inside your head.

Secondly, certifications are proof to the industry, employers, and most significantly existing and prospective clients that an individual is committed to their profession and actively seeks the latest information available thus earning the title of specialist.

The following is a list of just some of the benefits of AV certifications:

  • Differentiation and increased marketability
  • Competitive advantage
  • Validation of knowledge as a subject matter expert
  • Professional credibility and trust
  • Career improvement and advancement
  • Networking with other true professionals

There is of course a deeply personal benefit to all of this and that is a sense of personal pride and confidence. Confidence and value provided (and perceived by clients) are inexorably linked. Research shows that confidence sells. Clients tend to gravitate to those who exude confidence. Confident salespeople gain a lot of credibility with their customers. Think about it: If you suspect a salesperson isn’t all that sure of the value they’re bringing to you, how much confidence will you have in what they’re offering? On the other hand, the confidence of a salesperson who genuinely believes in what they’re doing is contagious. When we're confident, we're more likely to move forward with people and opportunities — not back away from them. And if things don't work out at first, confidence helps us try again.

As our industry continues to evolve it is incumbent on us to stand out in some manner from the onslaught of information that commoditizes what we offer and permeates what customers see. We need to be seen as specialists and as problem solvers and (most importantly) as a resource of added value. A major way to stand out is to get certified and then promote and market that accomplishment. This will become a major point of differentiation in your favor.

So don’t rest on your laurels.  Get certified and if you are certified in one area, look to the next progression up the ladder, because we should never stop learning or developing our skills no matter what profession we are in. The fact is that it all starts and stops with you and our success or failure will be in the perception of the customers we serve.