Client: "Tell me about 3D laser scanning and how this can be valuable for our project?"
Me: "Well," I begin with a few choice features in my mind, "One can measure pretty much anything you could see from a particular vantage point within a couple millimeters of accuracy for starters…and you could accomplish this within a couple of seconds."
That usually gets a client’s attention. Is that really enough though? In my experience, it actually can be, yet explaining the added value of what this technology can ultimately provide will often increase the service scope for future projects.
Finding a variety of applications for this technology and combining them is proving to be not only a great learning experience, but it has broadened our customer base. Examples include leveraging the RGB values of intensity backscatter once values are normalized based on the distance from the subject and material types; using scans to provide a topology map for building surfaces to identify leaning facades or bulges caused by water damage; and comparing scan data from one date to another in order to measure movement (landslides, or beam sag) are all becoming commonly accepted methods of analysis.
What’s your personality?
For firms that have little exposure to this technology, translating value is best accomplished through visualizations and actual examples; therefore, a big part of our marketing includes presentations and educating clients whenever they need assistance. As a service provider in the laser scanning industry, communicating both verbally and visually are critical skill sets. Having technicians who are both analytical and promotional/relational in character are essential to moving scanning services forward.
With such rapidly evolving technology, the ability to stay current with hardware as well as software can be a full time job. Always looking for a better solution to geometry extraction, registration and data acquisition for a variety of applications has to be the norm.
Now, for the moment, imagine that you’ve found the perfect solution. How will you market that? How will you talk about it so that people really understand what makes you different? Here’s an example conversation (and I am not making this up…entirely) –
Me: "Yeah Barb, I just invested in this Surphaser scanner with an ambiguity range of 140 meters, a recommended working range of 1-70 meters, a Range Noise – actually it has, local (short term) range variation, 1 sigma, and 90% Lambertian surface at 0.5 @ 8 meters. Not only that, it has a Range Uncertainty of only < 1 @15 meters – isn’t that awesome!"
Me: "Hey and it also includes ProcessC3D a command line utility that allows unsupervised processing of multiple scans, using the settings exported from Interactive SurphExpress session!"
Barb: "SurphExpress? …Ok…"
Me: "So, when can I expect a commitment to purchase?"
Barb: Dial tone…
Clearly, this is not a conversation for a new client. (And special thanks to the creators of the Surphaser 25HSX who are clearly geniuses.) There is truth in this dialog, believe it or not. For many reasons, these sorts of dialogs happen frequently in the tech world, deliveries are not clearly spelled out for a client who doesn’t understand the lingo, and it may be surmised that the slower pace in which our industry has been adopted – especially in the architectural world – is a direct result of poor marketing.
Whenever a tech company wishes to push a product, it is quite tempting to throw down the vocabulary of an engineer – indeed, the marketing materials are all too often created by the engineers that developed them. It is their baby, so of course they will want to declare the clever names they’ve given to their inventions and processes. I love the passion of that, however, the need to seek out an engineering dictionary to decipher a marketing brochure simply doesn’t work very well for a sample client who is working with this data for the first time.
A softer approach…
Me: "Yeah Barb, what are you looking to accomplish with this new design verification project you have in mind?"
Barb: "Well, we need to really determine the state of the structural steel since it’s been there since the turn of the 20th century and would like to reuse as much of it as possible. Can scanning help determine settling?"
Me: "Yes of course. I understand you want to verify how the steel has settled and I believe a laser scan is an excellent solution for that since we can verify in 3D the current condition of the beams, comparing them to what they may have looked like when first constructed. We would do this by creating a simple 3D model of the as-built conditions of the structure, utilizing original plans, sections and elevations, scan the existing structure and superimpose one on the other to visually see what has happened over time. Not only that, we can help you measure these differences with easy to use software that we will provide you and train you on – walking you through the process, step-by-step to obtain the information you are looking for. Further, we will determine the best tool for the job – in this case a particular scanner called a Surphaser, which should do the trick because of its incredible accuracy."
Barb: "Ok, that sounds great, when can you start?"
The point of this conversation is that I gave her almost no technical details. That isn’t her job, it is mine. It is my job to evaluate the client needs, find the best methods and equipment, and create a sense of ease and confidence for the client that they will obtain the analysis they are looking for. If they would like to know more about the technical aspects, then it is best to define the terms as the explanation progresses.
It is very easy to talk about scanning in a way that not only loses people, it also can create a sense that they aren’t as smart as you are and for some, which can happen in my experience, cause service providers to lose the sale. It must not be forgotten that we are human and can still feel threatened by the fear that we "should" know something – when in fact we don’t. There is a lot to be said in sales about "leaving the ego at the door…" I say that from being on both sides of that coin. Live and learn!
It is also the role of the service provider to become very familiar with the analytical process that clients use, which includes learning about the methods they’ve used in the past to accomplish the same results you are providing with new technology. Becoming familiar with what they feel comfortable with and complimenting it rather than completely overhauling it can go a long way with building a professional relationship.
Teaching builds trust – the relationship factor
Knowing first-hand how frustrating it was to have, for the first time, scan data put in my lap for a critical project only to find that my computer couldn’t handle the file sizes and that the software would quite simply choke when attempting to do anything with the data, helps me to have empathy for new clients. Like anyone excited about 3D technology, laser scanning and all the possibilities therein I have a lot of ideas on how to analyze various applications with these tools. Sometimes my ideas work great and sometimes they don’t.
I recall once meeting with an animation firm in the Portland area to discuss creating really dynamic visualizations with point cloud data using 3DS Max. That was 3 years ago and the technology just wasn’t there yet. We imported a point cloud into the software and…well…that little hourglass never stopped turning in the Windows OS until we pulled the plug on the computer. (I have never seen a computer lock up so completely – quite impressive actually.) After a bit of head scratching and a shrug of the shoulders, we collectively decided that this business venture wasn’t quite ready for deployment. However, what we did gain from that experience was a working knowledge of what was actually possible. For me, that is part of the fun of the process. I later revisited clients whom I had similar experiments with and who were genuinely curious about the progress of the technology. Many of them eventually became our clients because they knew we were committed to creating a great service with the latest tools to help them do their jobs more efficiently. They also knew that we were honest regarding our limitations.
We are looking for a few good men and women…
Moving the scanning industry forward, in the opinion of this author, is really about relationships. Moving "forward" really equates to demonstrating value and rather than selling a product or service, we may consider thinking about it as enrolling people into a cause – the cause of creating a better life for designers – simplifying cumbersome processes, creating more revenue which equates to more free time, vacations, time geeking out on new tech toys, and being a part of something bigger than ourselves.
When you, the technician/marketing person/consultant/visionary speak with new clients, you can rest assured that all of these factors are motivators for your next client enrollment into this amazing technology.