Tony Van Veen, CEO of AVL Digital Group, on Finding And Optimizing A Sustainable Advantage


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Many businesses these days compete based on price - but Tony Van Veen says finding and optimizing a sustainable advantage is a smarter strategy. That’s because price is a sure way to put yourself into a tough arena in which to compete - and consequently, it becomes more challenging to make your business profitable.

Tony was my very first client. He took a chance on me when I first started my PR company, but his influence on my career goes far beyond the fees I received as a new PR professional. Over the years he’s provided many recommendations and lots of good advice that have taken me further, faster.

This conversation demonstrates the kind of business savvy and insight Tony has to share. He’s a smart guy with hands-on experience and knows what it takes to work yourself toward success. I know you’ll benefit from what he shares as much as I have over the years.

Tony came up through the ranks and is now CEO. He says, “Just keep moving forward”

Tony Van Veen is a long-view guy. Throughout his career, he’s felt that as long as he was paid and treated fairly - and had opportunities before him - he would just keep moving forward. Even when things sucked (and he was updating his resume just in case) he couldn't move on from AVL. That's because he was drawn back to the mission of the company, and that motivated him to stick it out.

Indie musicians all over the world are thankful he did. CD Baby and many other brands managed by AVL are relied on by those artists. Their experience and success would no doubt be very different if Tony hadn’t been at the helm. Listen to hear how Tony worked up through the ranks, took on the challenges set before him, and learned lessons that can set you up for success in your career.

Having the guts to advise the CEO because he knew the customer. He WAS the customer

Tony first started out at AVL as a kid, just out of college and as green as he could be. But he had insight into the customers AVL served because he was one of them. He knew that viewing things through the customer’s lens could help the company provide the exact products and services they needed - and make the company more successful as a result.

Tony had the guts to tell the then-CEO, Morris Ballen, what he should do - and Morris listened. Tony’s insights proved invaluable. Many years of refinement on both the product side and the customer service side moved AVL into a place of industry leadership, serving independent musicians like no company ever had.

At most companies, customer service is mostly lip service. Not at AVL

One of the areas where Tony knew AVL could develop a sustainable advantage was in the realm of customer service. That sounds typical, almost cliche. But from where Tony sat it wasn’t at all. He knew from his own experience as a musician that customer service is usually only talked about, not done. He wanted to change that for AVL.

His approach was to look at purchases their customers were making and think in terms of what could be purchased for the same amount of money. Their average customer was spending enough money to buy a high-quality refrigerator, so he decided to treat them like that’s what they were buying. The change to the level of customer service AVL provided was significant and the company began to grow due to word of mouth testimonials.

Identify a sustainable advantage you can optimize and specialize in

What IS a sustainable advantage? It’s something you can provide your target market that is sorely needed, but it's often ifficult to deliver on. Tony decided to figure out that equation for AVL.

At that time in the music industry, most product companies that served musicians required massive order quantities, which made it impossible for independent artists to produce their own CDs. That’s where Tony decided to focus. Instead of requiring large amounts, AVL allowed for smaller orders and purchased equipment that enabled faster setup between runs instead of faster production time. That is what proved to be their sustainable advantage, one other companies couldn’t compete with.

What could that be in your industry? Tony’s advice is to look at what your market needs that is difficult to deliver. That’s where you’ll find opportunities. Then figure out how to deliver it.

If you are with a consumer technology company planning to launch a new product at CES or are even looking ahead to CES 2019, the Max Borges Agency can help you succeed. To learn more, check out:

Topics Featured In This Episode

  • [1:07] Tony’s role as my mentor and friend - and the amazing positive impact he makes
  • [10:10] How Tony leveraged his knowledge of the clients the company served
  • [14:25] Selling their way out of bad quality and terrible customer service
  • [20:04] Learning, getting away from being a “me too” competitor, and creative marketing
  • [29:15] Taking big risks, dealing with big economic changes, surviving long-term
  • [35:55] The challenge of managing a team through the Great Recession
  • [39:37] Advice for business professionals who want to rise to the top tier of business

Resources & People Mentioned

Connect with Tony Van Veen

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