7 Lessons From a Security Sales Expert

By Carlton Purvis, Published Aug 26, 2013, 12:00am EDT

The sales side of the house often takes a back seat to engineering on IPVM. In this interview, we flip that, speaking with Chris Peterson [link no longer available], President of Vector Firm [link no longer available], looking at key issues driving security sales, including:

  • Biggest Change in Sales over the Last 15 Years
  • The Increasing Burden on End Users
  • The Future of the Low End Market
  • Fighting off Low-Cost Competitors 
  • Most Common Issues Between Sales and Engineering
  • How To Differentiate and What Almost Everyone Does Wrong
  • Tradeoffs between Open and Protected Dealer Channels

Biggest Change in Sales

It used to be that taking an end user out to lunch every now and then was enough to build a strong relationship and rapport. Things have changed. The relationships have to be more than friendship. They have to provide some professional value to that person. 

"Fifteen years ago, everything I'm about to say could be summed up in 'Take them to lunch once a month.' Just taking a guy to lunch and to ball games is nice, but you have to do more today. You've got to provide them with tools to succeed internally in their organization. You have to provide them with the knowledge to convince [their organization] to go with their suggestions. Give them enough to go to the committee and show them what they want to do." 

Burden Increased on End Users

Peterson says the burden has increased on end users as the Internet makes more information available. There is not as much of a need to go to trade shows to understand what technology is out there. "Now anyone can go online and look at the specs," he said. Combined with misinformation from Hollywood, it provides non-security personnel just enough information to challenge the security director and make the buying process harder for them.

The Future of the Low End Market

Peterson says the low end market is not gone yet, but it needs to "have a retirement plan for the next 10 years or figure out something else to do." This includes the simple, small, single site installation but is increasingly impacting larger customers with more basic needs.

He told us a story he heard recently from an integrator. The integrator was visiting a high end hotel and saw a man on a ladder installing an Axis camera. Interested in finding out what integrator the man was with, he started small talk. Through that conversation (and the man's shirt) the integrator found out that he was actually one of the facilities managers installing the camera. 

"Manufacturers are making equipment easier to install today, so if someone can find it online and the markup is only 10 or 15 points, they're going to buy it for themselves. End users are not always relying on integrators anymore. If they have a facilities person or an IT or engineering department who can do the install, they will. It's just the evolution of technology. If you want to stay in business you need to provide more complex and integrated systems."

Fighting Off Low Cost Competitors

Customers will often point out other products that they can buy for cheaper. "One thing that people do, especially anyone getting beat up by offshore competition, is bash the technology or bash the customer service." Peterson says. However, "If the customer is asking about it, they are already interested or impressed," he said. As such, it is important to check these kinds of comments to keep from painting yourself in a bad light to your customers. 

That is also where a good relationship with the end user becomes important.  "A good relationship with a customer will help you account for 15 or 20 points," but probably not much more than that. If the service or product does not have a big differentiator from the competition, you have to make sure you provide your own service and value. 

However, "If I knew a competitor was going to fall on their face, I'd probably pay for shipping," because of the long term value that would come from being there for the end user when the cheap product fails, he said. 

How Integrators Can Add Value

Peterson recommends the integrator serve as the one-stop resource for their clients, emphasizing that "Technology changes and industry rumors leave many questions for the security director. One way to consistently provide value to their clients is to proactively create informative campaigns on a regular basis. Every month, bring valuable information to their clients whether there is a sales opportunity or not. Some examples – in February bring the Brivo RSM to discuss the pros and cons of hosted access control, in March spread the word about the latest trends in video monitoring, etc. They need to have the mindset that their clients shouldn’t just buy from them, but be addicted to working with them."

He also said integrators should work more with A&E firms and consultants. "The specifiers know the manufacturers - they need support from the integration community. Understanding the products is important, but knowing how it all works together will greatly help the consultants in their designs. If an integrator gets serious about this and creates an educational program for the local specifiers, everyone will benefit – especially the end users," he said. 

Most Common Issues Between Sales and Engineers

"The mindset of an engineer is to make sure things are perfect. They don't realize that in the world of business that timing is important too. They have to be able to deliver something on time and not worry so much about it being perfect. They need to realize that a functional VMS integration with an access control system is not perfect. Why? Because a perfect system is never functional," he said. 

Peterson recommends that engineers spend some time in the field with sales people to better understand issues and see what the challenges they face when talking to end users. He also says there should be a designated person to facilitate communication between the sales and engineering teams in addition to monthly meetings where the two teams collaborate and discuss issues.  

"There is always going to be some turmoil between sales and engineers. If there's not, then sales isn't pushing hard enough. The easiest way to manage this is to make sure they understand each other's roles," said Peterson. 

Engineers should also be more aware that there are other products out there that are similar that they are competing with.  

How Integrators Can Differentiate Themselves

Within security, and surveillance especially, there are a lot of companies doing similar work. To be successful they have to find what their differentiators are and the have to find what makes them stand out, he said. "I was giving a workshop and a guy in the audience raised his hand and said, 'I have trouble with this. There are six other companies in my area that represent the same manufacturer and are probably as good as we are.' What most companies don't understand is that their competitors may do the same things and be very effective, but it’s rare to find a group that can state their differentiator well. It sounds strange, but a way to differentiate yourself is to make sure your sales people are stating your differentiators."

He says companies should highlight things that are objective and quantifiable about their company. For example, instead of saying "Our people are top notch," using statements like "We have a combined 80 years of experience" or highlighting training and certifications are more effective.

Open vs Protected Dealer Channels

When there is a high demand for a technology, protected channels work. "I advise my manufacturer clients to be very protective. Offer an option, but an option that is not very attractive. They can buy it, but it's going to be more expensive. Then, have an airtight relationship and protect your integrator. It's worthwhile the other way too but, you're just not going to get as loyal of a following," he said

We asked Peterson if loyalty has become less important with the ability to get so much information online. "It's kind of like public speaking," he said. "You can get by without it today, but if you have it you can excel. If you are loyal today you're going to stick out and that's going to carry you to a degree. But if you're not loyal today, it's not going to hurt you as much as it would 10 years ago."

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