Member Discussion

What Has Been The Biggest Change In Security Sales In The Last 20 Years?

It's been a crazy 20 years for every profession, but how has selling in the security industry changed? Obviously, technology has made a huge impact, but what changes have been forced on you?

One major shift that I've seen is the timing of a sales professional's involvement. Twenty years ago we were often invited to discuss opportunities at the inception of a project or issue. Today, we're invited about 30% - 60% into the process. Most of our clients' research is done online before they ever reach out to sales. Knowing this, the sales professional has to position themselves differently within their accounts and ensure that their clients view them as experts that understand the client's industry, not just their own services.

That's one of many changes. What have you seen?

I can't talk about 20 years ago, as I was not a part of the profession back then, but here is an interesting tid-bit that should bring back some memories to some.

I asked a sales rep in their 50's what it was like being is sales before cell phones/car phones, a few years back, as my phone was always ringing or getting an email/text. They said they were constantly stopping at Pay Phones and would be at Pay Phones for long periods of time.

Way to make somebody feel 100 years old Jeremiah!

Although true, its not as bad as it seems at first, since the modern day Pay Phone should not be confused with what would be considered 'shared office space' today, the erstwhile executive essential, the Phone Booth. For in about the same amount space that you could fit 32 Avigilon NVRs, Ma Bell provided many sumptuous comforts like:

  • Wooden or Aluminum Seat
  • Overhead Light
  • Heater/Fan
  • Triangular Shelf
  • Thousand page reference volumes
  • 360 degree Wrap-around glass with Accordion door
  • 24 hour live assistance (often free)

Though the effects of the Bell monopoly could still be felt: the coin return refused for 20 years to make change in any situation, prefering to round up to the nearest coin :(

Don't forget the pager. That's what told us that we needed to go to the above-mentioned phone booth in the first place. I carried the model shown below when I sold and installed alarm systems in the early 1970's. This one just beeped, telling you that you needed to call your answering service for a message. My later models provided a voice message and then a numeric message.

That's an old one! Satellite or Radio Repeater driven? Do you think that the pager and the switchboard could be from the same era? i would have said that any balanced TT cable style manual patchboards were gone by 1960...

Early pagers operated on VHF radio frequencies. In the US, the first paging systems were run by the local Bell Telephone operating companies. Each pager had its own telephone number. When you dialed the number, it caused audio tones to be broadcast over the radio channel. If the tones matched those of your pager, it would cause the pager to beep.

Telephone switchboards predated the pager by decades, and I believe remained in use as PBXs at some companies until at least the 1980's.

I used to have a membership to the US Air Club. Before 9/11, we could go through security without a boarding pass and you could hang in the club with just your membership card - you didn't need to be flying that airline.

When I was near an airport with a US Air Club, I would pull off the interstate, walk through security and settle in a cubicle in the club. I would plug into their dial-up to check email and use my calling card to make my calls before the work day ended.

Sounds dreadful, but those were really fun days.

I have to figure 'internet price shopping' is a huge difference.

Price comparison used to be asking for three quotes, and seeing who offered the lowest of the three. Now it is asking for three quotes, then sitting in front of a search engine to see how much markup is being added to each element.

I know we make fun of end users for being uneducated a lot on this forum, but the reality is they are way ahead of where they were 15-20 years ago because of the proliferation of the internet.

In addition to having the Internet as a resource, buyers today are generally much more knowledgeable of technology in general through their experience with computers, digital cameras, home networks, etc. 20 years or more ago it was rare to find a buyer who knew what a "pixel" was or who understood "bandwidth". Today it is rare to find a buyer who isn't at least somewhat conversant in these topics. Also keep in mind that unlike 20 years ago, buyers may be on their second or third security/surveillance system and know specifically what they like and don't like.

As much as we hate to admit it, our technology has more or less become a commodity and most consumers no longer need a sorcerer to decode its mysteries.

I think one of the changes in the security world is similar to that of the general IT world. Not just a commodization, but a lessoning in expectations in quality, either consciously or subconsciouly. The old 286 to 486 computers were very expensive for their time, but they were generally pretty tough and lasted awhile at least functionally, if not practically. They were generally more durable than the computers of today. But then over time component quality and endurance started to take a back seat to low cost and they just don't last as long or have higher out of the box failure rates.

With the Internet and flood of ads for cheap components, security customer expectations have turned heavier towards low cost. Even if's it's not the cheapest system, they don't want it to be too much more expensive than the stuff they see in box stores.

I have to agree with this. Low cost has been taking precedence over reliability for a while now. Aside from just the end-user even some security integrators will step out of their way to sell a "workstation" bought at the local computer store or slapped together in their basement out of consumer grade parts. I have also seen far too many consumer grade TVs (tuners and all) or consumer PC monitors in monitoring locations over the years. There is a reason that pro-grade displays are so bulky -- lots of cooling built in to support that 5 year warranty, better capacitors, etc.

First of all, thanks for the memory lane posts above.

The biggest change I've seen is that knowledgable and strategic sales professionals are now held in much higher regard, while our technology might be considered commodities. Twenty years ago, one might argue that sales people were commodities because the sociable guy who had a nice expense account won a lot of business, regardless of their knowledge. That doesn't work today (maybe sometimes, but rarely).

Customers have to be on top of their game today because their peers and their bosses can find basic info with an online search. Twenty years ago, they could hold that info as a mystery, and they had to rely on the expertise of their sales people ... who didn't really have to know too much because they had the "relationship" and weren't held accountable to the truth until after the sale. Today, those types of sales people are not employable.

I think Brian and Michael S. nailed it above.

As the breadth of technology increases and most integrators dont have the day to day visibility, leaning on your Distributor partner has become more of a practice. Even the consultant community utilizes a Distribution knowledge, as it assists them in providing the best solution, as opposed to the old "cut/paste".

I agree with Brian above, many end users have no experience but use the knowledge of others to promote their internal net worth.

"leaning on your Distributor partner has become more of a practice."


I don't want to disclose who you are, obviously, but, from what I know, your company is more the exception than the rule.

For example, I find it hard to believe that integrators lean on ADI now more than they did 10 years ago, there's just so many more online buying options and direct knowledge sources.

Understand your comment, but sadly the word distributor, unfortunately puts you into a group. Our go to market is completely you referenced.

From my perspective, I can see that there are more competitors doing the same thing. Security was not as “hot” 20 years ago. 9/11 changed a lot of that. Now your infrastructure / data guys are all selling security solutions.

Commoditization of certain products for sure. IP cameras are one product for example. It seems like every major electronics manufacture is selling their flavor of IP camera. The good thing is that there are so many options that it is overwhelming from someone outside of the industry. Buying one or two cameras is one thing, deploying 200 new IP cameras is another. Customers have to be on top of storage and bandwidth and camera types etc… So for this, I still see the need for your typical security sales rep to really step it up into more of a technical sales consultant more than a product pusher.

Your college grads make great inside sales reps – cold calling with enthusiasm… but if you’re up against someone(s) on a project, you better have you’re “A” game.

Today, you better know your competitors product better than you know your own.