Are Relationships Really THE Most Important Thing In Security Sales?

I've presented this question in other forums and have received pretty consistent answers. I'm very curious how the IPVM audience will answer it.

Over the last 20 years or so, I've heard many sales people resort to the "relationship" card when I ask about data surrounding an opportunity. For example: Question - "Why would you pursue this opportunity? The requirements seem outside your core competence." Answer - "I've got a relationship with the decision maker, and relationships are everything."

What do you think? Are relationship THE most important factor in selling security solutions?


Good question. I'll refrain from this one but am very interested to hear responses. I've also added a poll below:

Anyone who answers "No" or "Don't Know" must be an engineer.

I answered No.... and I am by no means an engineer.

What if the solution you are selling doesn't provide the best fit for the customers proposed application? (i.e. a manufacturer [or their reps], not like you have at B&H with many more options to choose from)

Relationships might get you a spot on the pitch floor, but if the stuff you are pitching sucks at (or simply isn't a very good solution for) solving the customers problems, relationships just get you the call back telling you the above - whereas without the relationship, you just get ignored.

if the stuff you are pitching sucks at (or simply isn't a very good solution for) solving the customers problems, relationships just get you thecall back telling you the above - whereas without the relationship, you just get ignored.

If the customer is savvy enough to realize that the thing you're selling isn't going to work for that application, OR if the salesperson is ethical enough to not push incorrect and non-applicable product. But we've all surveyed the wreckage of awful and unworkable installations, and discovered that the reason they installed ginormous PTZs right over every single counter is because some salesjerk was buddy-buddy with some manager.

agreed.

Relationships are clearly important for successful long-term solutions selling, but the OP had the word THE capitalized, so as a literalist I was forced to vote No. :)

For small to medium sized system sales, the purchasing decision is often made by a single person. In these cases, relationships can be the determining factor in the sales process. People tend to do business with people that they like and trust, particularly when buying a product that they have little or no technical knowledge of.

For most large systems sales, a team rather than a single individual often makes the purchasing decision. Having a good relationship with one or more members of the team can help, but relationships alone will rarely get you the business unless your proposal also ranks favorably based on other criteria (price, experience, depth of abilities, etc.)

It is important to remember that most buyers at larger organizations have to be able to justify their purchasing decisions to their higher-ups. Saying that you made a $500,000 surveillance system purchase because "the guy was my buddy" is rarely an acceptable answer.

Michael, thanks.

What have you seen in decision making when it comes down to 'relationships' vs 'technical fit'?

If relationships really are most important, a strong relationship should trump a weaker technical / product fit. Any thoughts on that?

The decision making criteria obviously varies a bit from organization to organization, but for larger projects, here are the major factors that I have seen go into the decision making process, listed in order of priority:

#1 - Will the selection be seen as a "safe" one by senior management. This is the old "no one ever got fired by hiring IBM" mentality, and often causes the buyer to favor the larger national integrators over smaller companies.

#2 - Ability to meet specified needs and requirements.

#3 - Price.

#4 - Who is "Major Company in My Area" using? In the Seattle area, if Microsoft and Amazon are using a manufacturer or integrator, they must be good. (related to #1 above)

#5 - Previous experience and relationships.

#6 - Local presence. Even in today's cloud-based, WebEx connected world, being physically close to the project location(s) can be a strong advantage.

Of course relationships are not THE most important thing in security sales, but relationships are very important. Hard to get in my front door unless I already know you. However, when it comes to my RFP's I will talk to or meet with anyone that comes back with a decently thought out quote.

In the past I believed relationships were the most important factor. I now believe that while it is extremely important to have a good relationship your professionalism (especially in the security industry, you’re not just selling a widget, you're selling a security solution to protect what they hold most valuable) is the most important factor.

Relationships can get you in the door but they don’t always keep you there (or get you good referals); professional sales presentations, communication, appearance and performance of the installation are what make up a good relationship and keep you in the door. I have chosen my friends competitors over my friends because I like what the other guy had to offer and how they presented it. On that note, when my father left an employer over 25 years ago to start his own company, many of his customers followed him because of the professional quality work he provided.


Like Marty said, it is not THE most important factor in selling.

No...Future relationships are.

Considering that a good chunk of the formal purchasing process is designed to prevent collusion or preferential treatment, I'd say the answer is academically 'not important'...

However, anyone who has responded to an RFP or solicitation knows relationship is at least a factor.

What about the trend? Are sales becoming less or more relationship driven?

It has most certainly become less important, as technical information has become easier to come by, making it easier to compare apples to apples. Used to be a salesbro could BS his way into a sale, and no one would understand that they'd been bamboozled until long after the sale, if ever. Ten years ago, 200% markups were still standard industry practice. The internet has made it easier for the customer to do their own research, not just into price but into capability of the products, and to come up with viable alternatives the vendor never would have told them about.

But relationships is still the number one factor in who gets to pitch first, and that is the number one factor in whose bid gets accepted. Today, it's merely difficult, instead of nearly impossible, to poach a sale on the strength of nothing more than a more efficient and cheaper design.

John - this is a better question than my original post. I believe personal relationships have become much less important than they were 10 years ago, and exponentially less important since 20 years ago.

Ari states it well. In addition to access to the information, your points of contact are expected to do 50-75% of the research before calling a few sales people. 20 years ago when there was a need, they called "their guy" immediately.

Relationships are still very important. However, a sales professional better have substance and value for their point of contact today or there won't be a relationship - your poc's job depends on their competence today.

Yes, if the question is precisely, "Are relationships the single most determinant factor in winning jobs?" Since so far at least the only other contender for most important factor is technical fit/superiority, let's simply ask, which has the greater likelihood of success?

1. Good product and Great relationship

2. Great product and Good relationship

In my experience number one wins > 75%.

One reason is because from the perspective of the decision maker, the assessment of the relationship is one that they themselves determine, i.e. 'I like Bob, he's down to earth like me, and not a bullshitter. If there is a problem later, I feel like I could say WTF Bob? if I needed to..."

The better product/solution for the job though, is more subjective, and far more dependent on external evaluation of contradictory information.

Since both pitchmen are saying they have a Great Product, unless the deficiencies of the one product are glaring, you will believe the one that you trust more, usually the one you have a better relationship with.

Also, it should be pointed out that although the person with the Great relationship can get undeserved work by using the standard 'full-court press' after 'pulling out all the stops', this will lead to the loss of relationships and therefore is ill-advised... Unless the job is really, really big!

I believe relationships are important, but not the most important factor. I have seen sales go wrong because the relationship lead to the sales person cuttin things to bring the cost down.

I believe that professional relationship should be establish from the get go. thus, establishing through aforementioned relationship a degree of trust.

With ~50 total votes, a pattern is beginning to emerge: integrators find relationships to be much more important than manufacturers.

~75% of integrators agree that relationships are the most important factor in sales but only ~50% of manufacturers agree.

I'd hypothesize that integrators are typically more sophisticated than surveillance end users, meaning that relationships are less useful / powerful for manufacturers. Agree/disagree?

I'd hypothesize that integrators are typically more sophisticated than surveillance end users, meaning that relationships are less useful / powerful for manufacturers.

In addition to being more sophisticated than end-users, they also have a upside-down pyramid advantage over them, since it takes many end-users to support one integrator. So integrators often become the sole source of information to the end-user, and that's powerful! Whereas on the other hand, integrators will have several channels for information, and cannot be as easily lulled by a single piper.

As for manufacturers let's not forget that they produce real tangible goods and are proud of it. They view themselves as the visionaries who guide the future through their creations, and are therefore cognitively biased towards placing the greatest value there...

"As for manufacturers let's not forget that they produce real tangible goods and are proud of it. "

Expanding on that, manufacturers can offer far less products than integrator sales people. So if an Axis sales person finds a customer who really wants Bosch or Cisco or Dahua, he's lost the sale even if he has a 'relationship'. By contrast, an integrator has far more flexibility relative to offer / support other brands.

If an end-user's integrator is their sole source of info there is a major problem.

Let me be more exact, everyone has at least the internet, but as for flesh and blood contacts, lower volume end-users will likely have few options.

For example, I've been known to go to the dentist from time to time. He is my sole human expert I have into dentistry. Can I look up what he tells me on the internet? Yes. Do I? Rarely. Could I obtain another expert? Only with effort/money.

Another way to look at it is that end-users are often really "part-time" end-users, Carl aside of course. My dentist is a full-time dentist. I am part-time dental patient. I'm a 'part-time' a lot of things... Is this a problem? Not for my dentist. As for me, as the patient, I'm sure I've been guided towards this 'product' or that one without even being aware. Do I care? A little yes, enough to do anything? no. I'm just hoping they're not the dental equivalent of a 'trunkskammer'.

The question of what is "the most important" is subjective. There is no one answer. I voted no in the poll.

There are many possible answers including relationship, price, features, ease of deployment, the abiltiy to solve problems that cannot be solved with existing technology or with the competitors' technology, or it could be the guy who did the most listening and the least amount of talking...that last one often unknown by my competitors, according to my customers.

I think people who say "its all about the relationships" are living in the past, and are often the guys who everyone knows and likes, and are often the ones who buy the fancy steak dinners at ISC and ASIS.

Last, there is such a glut of competitiive product on the market that will compel buying decisions that trump "relationships" in the final analysis.

Thought of this discussion today because of an email I received that definitely speaks to relationships being the most important thing in security sales. Remember you can always sell on your own, BUT having lots of other people who can sell for you or who will bring you jobs that they are working on and flip to your brands: As a Rep that is the holy grail.

Michael, the true test of relationships is when the product you offer sucks. Seriously.

You have Exacq. It's a strong, well respected product.

I am not doubting your relationships. I just want to emphasize that even the best relationships are constrained by having something of substance behind it.

In my opinion NO

Relationships get you in the door but, Knowledge, Ethics & Honesty will keep you in the door.

I am new to IVPM but, have been in sales for about 27 years

Absolutely if your equipment and service performance is on par. If not you leave a huge opportunity for someone else to get their foot in the door.