21st Century Security: Selling a "Cultural Shift" to Executives

by Dan Dunkel - President, New Era Associates

Published in Today's Systems Integrator

I believe the physical security industry, for the most part, has come to terms with the inevitable "security convergence" issue. After all, technology cycles are as old as technology itself. The industry is making progress hiring IT professionals and embracing open and interoperable systems as platforms for collaborative security solutions. However, the security industry fails to comprehend or proactively address the need to hire IT executives with sales, marketing and business development experience into their own organizations to accelerate the global IT partnerships needed to extend their scale and scope of opportunity. I chalk it up to a lack of strategic vision. "Convergence" is a technology issue. "Transformation" is a cultural one. The security industry is in a state of transformation. Dictionary.com describes transformation as "a process that includes a change in form, appearance, nature or character". When you consider the changes occurring at virtually all levels within the security industry, this definition is accurate. Transformation also alters competitive positioning in industries.

The security industry has evolved beyond technology convergence and entered a cultural shift. Product development cycles, sales and support channel relationships, executive roles and responsibilities in customer accounts, and the process of selling solutions to senior level executives have all impacted the business cycle. At the core is a fundamental alteration of value proposition. It has evolved. Perhaps more to the point, is that the audience for your sales message is also evolving, as security and risk become increasingly important to the overall business. As the sales campaign steps into a higher level, it is important to understand that scare tactics are replaced by the benefits of operational efficiencies and ROI models. The good news is that the senior executive understands the financial benefits behind replacing proprietary silos of stand-alone technology. More importantly, they have been approving IT budgets for decades for exactly this reason. For the physical security industry to succeed quickly at this level (new for some) the answer lies in circling the wagons early. I suggest working the process as follows:

1. Involve the CIO organization early and often, not as an afterthought, and be positive.

Part of this new selling process is in understanding the key players, their motivations and technology issues. For example, the CIO (chief information officer) is a V.I.P., along with key individuals on their IT staff. While their technology responsibility is global, understand that the CIO role demands a lot from the IT organization. Many organizations are overworked and understaffed as employees wrestle with proprietary silo deployments of numerous technologies. Sound familiar? It is not like the physical security group is alone in this situation. In fact, if physical security came to the CIO (IT group) with a strategic plan to deploy security applications across the IT infrastructure and migrate from proprietary to open architecture, I believe you would find a supportive colleague more often than not.  Ask for their help, but do your homework upfront. They would prefer to be allies as opposed to enemies. It’s all in the delivery. If you are not prepared to partner, or if you lead with something like, "We want to run video over your network or we can’t do our job," how would you expect them to react? Understand the audience and their motivations.

2.  Sell the CFO (and their staff) on the security value proposition to the business.

You need them eventually, so why not introduce your solution early in the process. Remember one very important fact about the CFO (chief financial officer) and their organization; they have a history of being an early and successful adaptor of new technologies. Cisco Systems had tremendous early success with the financial departments buying early router technologies, IBM sold them systems as they were adaptors of many of the initial computing platforms for financial spreadsheets. Finance understood the rationale behind leveraging technology to run the numbers of the business. Do not make the assumption that security technology is beyond them, but embrace their support and educate them to the value of security solutions in protecting the brand and shareholder value. You will have a receptive audience if you have the sales skills to play at this level. 

Eventually, you and/or your proposal will reach the CEO and/or board level for approval. Having the relationships built and the value proposition understood by the CIO and CFO (and the CSO, in support of your campaign) will certainly increase the probability of closing the business. Perhaps more importantly, done correctly you will leverage your product and/or service within the security policy deployed across the entire organization. This is where the repeatable business process comes into play.

Qualifying both IT and finance organizations early also gives you the benefit of answering a key question at the onset of your sales campaign: Am I dealing with reasonable people?

Every good sales professional understands the golden rule: "Patience is a virtue" does not apply to sales cycles. Startup firms know this innately because "patience" is not a word in the vocabulary of the venture capital community.

The point is that if the organization does not buy in at the senior levels, for whatever reason; "security is not important to us," "we don’t buy from new vendors," "we will just hire guards"…move on, don’t waste valuable sales time and limited corporate resources.

The fact is, security is becoming a more important and visible component of global business today. Transformation is opening up global opportunities for security policy to be deployed across the global enterprise. This does not mean that those companies will not come around. The terms "innovators" and "early adaptors" as opposed to "conservative" companies or "laggards" are there for a reason. Spend your efforts on the former group. The only way to understand the issues early is to sell to decision makers.

Transformation is changing everything; it is not business as usual. In the long run, this is a very good thing for the future of the security business!

Good Luck & Good Selling!