How to Sell Consumers on Home Automation
Security dealers are encountering a radically different residential market rife with opportunities for expanded home automation products and services. Get insights to addressing marketing, selling and supporting new interactive lifestyle-based offerings.
It’s hard to believe it was only a handful of decades ago when consumers who made the leap from black & white TVs to color sets, corded rotary phones to cordless or oscillating fans to built-in air conditioners were viewed as progressive.
Those days are relegated to distant history as many consumers now desire the convenience of connected devices and related apps.
The surge in demand is due, in large part, to the fact that home automation technologies are evolving at an unprecedented speed and new products are hitting the market almost daily.
Today’s radically different residential market is jam-packed with opportunities for security dealers and integrators who eagerly embrace the concept of the connected home, thereby building new business and deepening ties with existing customers.
SSI spoke with multiple installing security contractors to learn how they are finding success marketing, selling and supporting new interactive lifestyle-based services in bundled, consumer-friendly packages.
CEDIA, the leading global authority in the $14 billion home technology industry, also shares insights on how and why installers should leverage the huge consumer demand for home automation technologies.
Hot Connected Commodities
Serving an increasingly tech-savvy customer base means keeping in mind that many of today’s homeowners are familiar with the lifestyle-based services now available to them.
John Piroli, senior director of new construction for Guardian Protection Services in Warrendale, Pa., attributes this to the high level of technology adoption and awareness among consumers in the United States.
“Most homebuyers are now very comfortable with new and emerging technologies,” he says. “Practically everyone uses a smartphone these days and has Internet connectivity. People also care about the environment and these concerns have helped spread awareness regarding the importance of home automation and home energy management.”
Melissa Brinkman, CEO of Rochester, Minn.-based Custom Alarm, agrees consumers are more aware of the services out there and are increasingly curious.
“They see either online or through ads on TV what houses and technology can do and they’re asking questions as to what kind of cool technology is affordable and can add convenience to their home,” she says. “They’re also hearing about it when buying other household electronics and gadgets and asking how things can be more connected. The integration with things such as Amazon Echo’s Alexa and other household products is driving more interest with customers asking what works together and if things can be controlled from one place.”
Unfortunately, however, some customers are getting their information from the wrong sources, contends Craig DeRoche, who serves as director of operations for Intec Security Solutions in Scott, La.
Being upfront with them is the right thing to do, he says. “In my opinion, a true security company will have the customer’s best interest in mind throughout the entire process and will offer products and services to accommodate their wants, but more importantly, their needs. It is your job as a true integrator to educate them,” he says.
The majority of Guardian Protection customers, according to Piroli, are first-time homebuyers or move-up homebuyers who are interested in safety, convenience and cost savings – specifically, thermostats and lights to save energy and cost, and door locks and garage door openers for safety and convenience.
Piroli notes that energy-efficient lighting systems and smart thermostats are among Guardian’s most requested home automation wares.
“These items also fit nicely into the builder’s portfolio as standard offerings because they’re low-cost solutions in which builders can invest, and that appeals to their homebuyers,” he explains.
Piroli adds that many of today’s home-buyers are dual-income households with both partners working away from home, which increases the importance of remote home monitoring, control and notifications.
“As a result, our monitored security product integrates naturally with these offerings. It not only enhances safety, but also rolls into one convenient mobile app the monitoring, control and notification features for the family’s home automation services.”
Brinkman sees an increased demand for HVAC and door lock control, and DeRoche reports that for security-based systems it’s obviously the demand for control over the security system.
“Customers want to arm/disarm the system remotely and see who comes and goes at certain times. In addition, they want to be able to control their thermostats, maybe a few lights, and cameras via apps like Alarm.com,” DeRoche says.
All sources for this story emphasize the Internet of Things (IoT) is driving the home controls market.
DeRoche notes that we now live in a society of immediate self-gratification. “Everything is quick, and thanks to smartphones, at the tip of our fingers. As technology evolves, this will be and has already started to be the driving force behind the security and integration industry.”
Many industry watchers attribute the rising growth, Piroli says, to several factors such as the significantly growing IoT market, cost-reduction benefits enabled by home automation systems, and the large number of manufacturers expanding their product portfolios.
Loosely defined, IoT is the internet-working of physical devices or smart devices connected to the Internet for the purpose of collecting and exchanging data.
Just as home automation technology was unfamiliar to most people several years ago, IoT doesn’t resonate in a practical way with builders or homebuyers just yet, Piroli explains.
“But from a sales perspective, I think there is an opportunity for us. If we use home automation as a concept, which people understand fairly well, we can educate a homebuyer on how things like lighting, thermostats, HVAC systems, and appliances such as washer and dryers, ovens or refrigerators, can all be connected and part of the IoT as technology advances,” he says.
Custom Automation Vs. DIY
While it’s true that many consumers are becoming much more tech savvy, what cannot be easily achieved with off-the-shelf products is true integration.
In a professional custom system, all electronic subsystems such as HVAC, security, lighting, A/V, etc., are linked together and controlled by a central processor that “knows” the status of everything.
Thus, the connected home.
“When it comes to the network, most people think that they can put in a basic off-the-shelf wireless router and it’s going to work and it’s just not the case,” says Dave Pedigo, vice president, emerging technologies, CEDIA.
When you put more network-connected products onto a system, performance often goes down, Pedigo explains. “People are adding all these devices and, generally, a network should be able to handle many devices but it often doesn’t work out that way because some reliability can go down with all these Internet-connected devices. Having someone who is able to set up the security and other devices properly so the network can handle the load being put onto it is really important.”
Interoperability is ano
ther important consideration that Pedigo points to.
“There are lots of manufacturers out there and standards so even though the box says it will work with ‘XYZ’ and you get home and put in on your ecosystem it may not work. That comes from a lack of experience putting all those products together,” he says. “The systems we do are incredibly complex, so even though product A works with product B, and product B works with product C, when you put them all together that’s when you can get into a problem. Someone educated and experienced can make a big difference.”
Scaling the Learning Curve
For dealers and integrators looking to leverage the home automation market, education is priority No. 1.
DeRoche suggests it takes more than simply showing up, putting contacts in, a motion sensor, a siren, a keypad and a panel. In today’s marketplace, he says, you now have to show up, still do all of that, most likely wirelessly, then change out the customer’s locks for your controlled lock, set up one or more cameras in the best place possible to achieve the best coverage, then set up their WiFi to give them the best coverage possible.
“Today’s technician needs a variety of skills and tools in his or her repertoire,” DeRoche says. “As a company, we have unfortunately achieved a good bit of our knowledge from good ol’ OJT – on the job training – mainly because we are a smaller firm and have been very busy for a while. We just don’t have the time to allocate sending someone to classes. But, ideally, I’d advise making the time to get your staff adequate training. It will be more cost effective in the long run. As a suggestion, send one person to training then have them come back and teach everyone what was learned.”
Brinkman recommends working with various manufacturers to do onsite technical training of your team. This will build confidence and partnerships with them to ensure that your team can provide the best solutions to your customers.
“Learn about the limitations of the other electronics out there to understand and advise customers what will ‘talk’ to each other and what won’t,” Brinkman says.
Dealers and integrators looking to migrate successfully to this sector can gain the skills needed by taking advantage of the myriad training resources available.
“CEDIA is a great resource for both online and face-to-face training,” Pedigo says. “And I also encourage manufacturer’s product training. Most distributors offer free manufacturer’s trainings. Take webinars. Whatever you can. The beauty is you don’t have to attend all of them live. If you’re busy and can’t attend, most webinars are archived. Education is important but it doesn’t have to be expensive.”
Pedigo also recommends checking out your local community college or vocational tech schools. “For a small independent contractor or sole proprietor, for every two technical classes they take, they should take at least one business course,” he advises. “A lot of people get caught up in the technology which is so important, but if you don’t know to make money and be profitable you’re not doing yourself or your client any good. Don’t forget about the fundamentals. You have to balance them out.”
Think Big but Start Small
Pedigo emphasizes that, for any security dealer looking to get into the home automation space, gaining a good understanding of networks and the IP side of things is especially important. “They have to understand how to truly set up a good solid network in the home and how to sell it to the customer. Also, understand the protocols, so that the troubleshooting issues that might arise are limited to that one platform,” Pedigo says.
He advises not to try to be all things to all people, but rather, to find a series of products that works for them and stick with it. Also key, start small and get bigger.
Dealers and integrators should initially gain familiarity with the products by first installing them in their own homes. “I will take a product, bring it home and live with it to get a true sense of how it works, its benefits and flaws so I intimately know it,” Pedigo says. “Go out and buy these things and understand them before you try to sell them. These are investments for your company. You have to experience it to be able to sell it properly.”
ERIN HARRINGTON has 20+ years of editorial, marketing and PR experience within the security industry. Contact her at email@example.com.
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