Risk of Hiring IT Sales People

By John Honovich, Published May 16, 2008, 12:00am EDT

One of the sexiest but riskiest ideas in video surveillance is hiring IT sales people. It's easy to think that we are now moving into IT, the technology is new, the problems are different, the industry is being transformed. Unfortunately, it's just not the case.

In my experience, IT sales hires have been consistently poor performers. By contrast, good security sales people have been able to improve their IT skills to make a successful transition.

Here are the dangers:

1. IT sales people lack relationships in security. This cripples their ability to grow business.

2. IT sales people don't really know that much about technology so it's easier to train your existing sales people.

3. IT sales people are arrogant. Their arrogance makes them underestimate learning about security.

4. IT sales people expect to make more money than security sales people.

1 and 2 are the most critical explanations for the failures that I have seen.

Lack of Relationships:

As a sales person, your existing relationships are critical to meet your numbers. It's your biggest asset to cut down the time and costs it takes to close deals. When an IT sales person makes the transition to security, it takes them 6 months to simply figure who's who in the industry. They obviously are missing their numbers and struggle to make up for it. Say what you will about IT being the future but most deals are closed by working with security managers or security integrators. It's hard to have no relationships in these areas and win deals. Maybe if they struggle for a few years building relationships, it will eventually work but that's not a good result for either employee or employeer.

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The main counterargument to this is that pucrhasing power is shifting from physical security to IT. Therefore, the value of security sales people relationships is being eliminated. If this is correct, then hiring IT sales people makes sense. However, this has been predicted for 3 years now and most industry participants (including myself) have been surprised about how slow that shift has been (e.g., the CEO of Intransa, an IT storage company, recently discussed their strategy of targeting security integrators). This is a strong indicator that this phenomenon is not as powerful as many have predicted.

Secondly, I believe that what is happening is that IT is generally not making decisions but is being called in to review (a different and secondary role in the sales process). With the first generation of DVRs and access control systems, the same dynamic occurred but power returned to security managers. I believe this will repeat iself (IT influence will decline in physical security [link no longer available])

Lack of Technology Knowledge:

90% of sales people's technology knowledge is a bunch of acronyms and canned phrases about market trends. That's ok. It's probably preferable because sales people win deals based on relationships and knowledge about the pricing and product offerings they have. Nevertheless, this reduces the value of the IT sales person. It's fairly easy to train security sales people on IT acronyms and market trends and much cheaper than bringing in a new person who knows nothing about your products or industry. (I worked in IT/telecommunications before entering security so this is not philosophizing, it's based on direct detailed experiences.)

The main counterargument to this is that security integrators lack the technical expertise and therefore should partner with IT companies. One, security integrators have been integrating IT systems for a decade (e.g., access control and DVRs). That is not to say, security integrators are as good as IT integrators technically. However, most security integrators have a solid foundation for today's IP video systems. If you are a security integrator and need to partner, it is best to partner with a smaller IT company or an individual. The amount of technical expertise you need is small and by partnering with companies smaller than you, you keep costs down and eliminate any conflicts over who is the prime contractor on the deal.

These two are the heart of the matter. But there are two other phenomenon I have noticed that make it worse.

Often companies try to hire senior IT sales people. Generally those sales people make significantly more money than their security counterparts (whether this is an integrator or manufacturer). They expect to make the same or more when making the transition to security. This puts burden on the hiring company to justify their pay, especially when they have difficulties performing (especially in year 1 when they are learning the ropes). Moreover, senior IT people generally look down on security because it is perceived as being less sophisticated. However, their hubris undermines deals because security managers and integrators can see the IT sales person's arrogance. Similarly, it hurts the IT person from really buckling down and learning the nuances of the people, players and practices of the security market.

The pattern of success I have seen is bring in younger people who have at most a few years of technology experience (sales or operational). These people are more hungry to become successful, less wedded to IT and will be ok with making less money while they are learning the ropes.

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