Darren Taylor, MD of Searle and Taylor in Winchester, warns of the perils of letting clients record virtual design consultations
No doubt everyone recalls the recent story of the shambolic virtual meeting of the Handforth Parish Council Planning and Environment Committee that came to light in February.
It was posted on Twitter, went viral and became a national news story for all the wrong reasons. It not only revealed the archaic principles of English council meetings, but also the petty-mindedness of people with a tiny bit of power. However, it wasn’t the Zoom virtual meeting itself that really caught my attention, it was the fact that it was recorded and then posted online for the world to see.
At the end of January, I was kindly invited by Bill Miller to attend the first KBBG webinar entitled ‘How to Successfully Sell in a Virtual World’, presented by Graeme Wilson of Lead Wolf. The closures of our showrooms during lockdowns one, two and three have been hard for us premium retailers, who rely on potential clients visiting their physical locations to be wowed and inspired.
While I have generated lots of future leads by promoting my new print or downloadable brochure through social media and on my website, I wanted to ensure I wasn’t missing out on a vital sales tool, because every lead counts.
The webinar was really well done and extremely informative. I am already implementing the key premise of the training presentation, which was to prominently promote that you offer virtual appointments with virtual calendar software for clients to use. I was already offering virtual appointments, but not as a crucial sales tool. Now I am.
However, I am offering them, in the main, as initial design consultations, because I hope that the final design presentation can still be performed in my showroom once lockdown restrictions lift. Graeme also sent me some very valuable advice about performing virtual design presentations.
Most of our design work is bespoke. We have built a strong reputation as specialists in our local area over the past 30 years, offering premium kitchens designed to the specification of the client. These often include complicated additions to the layout, such as curved furniture, pocket doors, pop-up TVs and more. Personally, I still hand-draw my designs and they are then transposed to photorealistic visuals by my design team for the final design presentation.
While our design service is free of charge, the designs are only handed over to the client once the sale is made and the deposit paid. If someone wants a kitchen designed, but not made by us, we would charge a design fee and this is agreed in advance.
This is standard procedure for many independent studios nowadays, as we all have past horror stories about our designs being purloined and sent to another source to be copied, but made more cost-efficient by using cheaper fittings and materials. The new supplier can follow our layout, elevations, dimensions and location of utilities, as they are all there in black and white. We all know the knowledge, experience and the hours it takes to create a beautiful bespoke design, and while it is galling, it is also an infringement of copyright.
Going back to virtual consultations on Zoom, Teams, Meet, or whatever virtual witchcraft we are now forced to use, each one offers the ability for your potential client to record your design presentation from start to finish and so keep your design for posterity.
I have been using Zoom for a while, but until Graeme told me, I didn’t know that I could deny someone permission to record my presentation, nor had it crossed my mind prior to using the software that they might do so. On the flip side, I don’t really want to cause upset with a hot lead by asking them to cease and desist from recording when the meeting has just started, because I don’t really want a ‘Handforth’ on my hands.
Graeme advises taking a holistic approach to this potentially tricky situation, which I agree with. In advance of the meeting, you need to politely obtain agreement in writing that the copyright of the designs remain yours until such time that the sale has been agreed. This alerts the client to the fact that you take the subject of copyright seriously.
At the beginning of the actual presentation, make written reference to the fact that the designs are the copyright of your business, and each page must also be watermarked. You can even get a lawyer to draw up a short form contract template.
Why should we all be doing this? In his presentation, Graeme pointed out that consumer behaviour has been permanently modified since lockdown and that the concept of virtual appointments is here to stay. Whether we like it or not, we need to continually adapt in our industry and I am doing just that.
I am also learning how to properly use Zoom and all of its technical facets for business purposes, because mastering a background with the Northern Lights, the Moon, the beach or even my local boozer isn’t going to truly impress a potential purchaser, however much they amuse me.