Addressing the IT Buyer: Your Best Foot Forward
Talking with some IT professionals is a little bit like playing poker â€” if you blink, you lose. To others, the network is like their first-born child; you’ll create a favorable impression among your prospective customers’ IT staff by assuring them that you will handle their network with great care and that no harm will come to it because of your security equipment.
The thing to remember about IT directors is that they usually can tell when you’re bluffing.
“Be honest, be informed,” advises Thom Helisek, vice president â€” information services for Vector Security Inc., Pittsburgh. “You need to know the rules that exist as defined by the buyer’s IT department regarding standards, testing, bandwidth, guidelines of handhelds, network usage and security.”
A face-to-face meeting may be the best way to begin to learn those rules. For Key-Rite Security Inc., Denver, “Once we talk with a customer and find out their requirements, we will meet with their IT people and say, ‘This is what we’re doing [and] this is how we will impact your network,’ and get them involved from the start,” relates Chris Diguardi, Key-Rite Security’s president. “So when the project comes about, we have contact names, and they’ll know what their end of the project is.”
Entech Sales and Service Inc., Dallas, also starts with a small meeting. “Usually, it’s just the security folks to begin with,” describes Dan Rice, Entech’s account manager. “We start discussing what their needs are, and if we do see an IT solution is going to best fit their needs, that’s when we start pulling in the IT people.”
Rice thinks doing a hands-on demonstration of the equipment is most effective in gaining the trust of an IT department. “We do use Powerpoints, and whenever possible, I like to do live demos,” Rice describes about his company’s initial meetings with security directors. “We generally like to do a show-and-tell at that point, and take a network camera out and hook it up, and show them how they can control the bandwidth that is transmitted over the network. They can play with it and show that to the IT people.”
Helisek also relies on demos at an existing customer site in a live production environment. Here his employees can obtain information about the customer’s network and customer’s questions can be answered. “After a demo, a trial period in the buyer environment might be the next step,” he suggests.
It’s very importantly in these early sales meetings for integrators to demonstrate their IT knowledge and expertise, in order to gain the confidence of IT directors who may influence the purchasing decision.
“From the sales perspective, that’s a help to us,” emphasizes Jim Casey, senior sales executive at MAC Systems Inc., Canton, Mass., which recently was acquired by Siemens Building Technologies.
“In face-to-face meetings, we answer the tough questions,” adds Glenn Heywood, director of sales. “We would sit down with their IT people, discuss the bandwidth requirements and what effect it’s going to have on their network. We have specialists just like their specialists who speak the same language.”
The company also relies on customized marketing materials. “When you’re trying to sell large IP solutions, we want to customize it for those end users,” Heywood stresses. “Consequently, we’ll bring the resources necessary for that proposal. We stress our capabilities in that presentation.”
Avoid acronyms when explaining security products and try not to gloss over important details, advises Vector Security’s Helisek. “Just because a person knows IT does not mean he or she knows about electronic security,” he says. “Show them your product with confidence and detailed knowledge about it. If you lack these, you won’t sell it.”
USE VENDORSâ€™ RESOURCESHardware and software vendors can be helpful in establishing the IT credibility of a dealer or integrator. “We normally rely on some of our vendors and get them involved, and let them do the presentation,” Diguardi explains. “Normally, it is their regional sales rep, or sometimes they have a local rep. The companies we work with value us as a reseller. When we ask them for a presentation, they know it is legitimately prequalified, and they will go the extra mile for us.”
Some customers might want their own IT employees to be part of the team that implements the security system. IT expertise frequently is provided by the end users, Diguardi maintains. “What we’ve found is the customer’s IT people like being involved in these projects, so asking them for help is right up their alley,” he asserts. “As far as structuring the system, it’s usually our project manager and the IT person from our end user.”
Doug Taylor, a sales engineer with Advanced Control Concepts Inc., Pensacola, Fla., points out that IT managers are becoming more familiar with security, which may make the sale develop more smoothly.
“A lot of the folks on the IT side are getting educated [about] security, and not just logical access for folks that log onto computers, but the physical side as well,” Taylor notices. “A lot of them in the past were more protective: ‘This is my network, and nobody is putting anything else on it.’
“Another thing is a lot of people have a lot more robust networks,” he points out. “When you had smaller networks, you didn’t want anybody doing IT because you didn’t have the bandwidth. Now with gigabyte networks, people are saying they can afford to let these guys use it.”
Executing a security system on a virtual local area network (VLAN), a separate branch of the IT network off a network switch, also helps build confidence.
“If you let us have three or four ports and let us have a security network, our stuff doesn’t interfere with yours, and you can control the amount of bandwidth our network gets,” Taylor sometimes offers to IT directors in order to gain their buy-in.
PRACTICE WHAT YOU PREACHDon’t simply rely on your vendors and your customers’ IT staff to help you secure a client and a new project. Your own staff must be well-educated and experienced. In other words, you must “talk the talk.”
MAC Systems has four full-time IT specialists whose primary function is to work on applications. Four are certified by Microsoft and two by Cisco. “Their function is to write code and implement IT solutions,” Heywood explains.
“Customers like to know we have the support system in place,” Casey points out. “We can train them and assist them getting up-to-speed. We’ve got a complete support structure to help us troubleshoot IT problems with them.”
Sales representatives do not necessarily have to have IT certifications. At Entech, salespeople primarily are educated by attending manufacturer training.
“We have numerous companies come in and present their products, and we pick up quite a bit during that,” Rice points out. “We have numerous people in our programming department that have the certifications, but salespeople can pick it up generally from the manufacturers for as much as a sales guy needs to know.”
SCI Inc., Albuquerque, N.M., has several reasons for not hiring IT people with certifications, explains Daved Levine, co-owner, who estimates that up to 85 percent of the company’s installations are IT-based security systems. “Most of our customers are in an arena where they have their own network servers, desktop servers and database management people,” Levine reports. Many of SCI’s customers are higher-end municipal, state and federal governments and utilities.
“So they’ve already made an investment in that intelligent staff; they’re looking for us to interact with their system,” Levine declares. “We’ll never be able to hire enough people with the cross-training in all the different disciplines our customers have.
“If the resources that are necessary exceed the skill sets of our existing staff, then we’ve developed partner relationships with the network service companies in our neighborhood that have those skill sets,” Levine relates. “We’ve been doing that forever, because we didn’t want to own the customer’s networks.”
A strong selling point is the type of training your company can and will provide to your customer, particularly to their IT employees.
Advanced Control Concepts trains a member of the user’s IT staff in its system. “We always ask them to provide an individual, and that individual would be the administrator of the system,” Taylor relates. “Ninety percent of the time, it’s somebody in the IT department that will administer it and get trained. We’ve had one or two clients that don’t want to mess with it, so they do an extended service contract with us, and we take care of it for them.”
The company can troubleshoot a problem remotely. “We offer an encrypted, secured, Web-based meeting we can have between our service technicians here and the [customer’s] system that allows us to go in and do certain diagnostics before we go out to the site,” Taylor notes.
“Some of the IT folks like it, and some don’t,” he concedes. “It’s a good thing for us, because we can evaluate before we send a technician out and make sure he’s prepared. We’ve had pretty good success with that so far, better on the commercial/industrial than the government side.” Government IT professionals obviously are more wary of a security breach developing through remote access, Taylor maintains.
BUILD CONFIDENCE THROUGH SERVICESystems integrators can appeal to IT buyers by emphasizing service agreements, policies, and records. Make a point of explaining what the client can expect to receive after the sale, whether through a service agreement or on an emergency basis.
Entech Sales and Service provides customers with a variety of options for maintenance agreements. “We always try to sell a maintenance agreement with the system, anywhere from just yearly inspections all the way to a total maintenance agreement, where all labor and materials are covered,” Rice relates.
“We find generally if we do a good job on the install, we will get any additions to the system without it going out to be a competitive bid situation,” he stresses. “Those systems start out small and grow.”
He cites one access job for a major telecommunications provider that started with one building and now consists of 1,800 readers for the company’s locations.
MAC Systems maintains software and hardware through its Customized Systems Support (CSS) service. “We have the capabilities to customize reports for you as preventive maintenance,” Heywood relates. “Additionally, we have the ability to run diagnostic programs to see how efficient your system is running and make recommendations before anything happens.”
UNDERSTAND REPORTING REQUIREMENTSFinally, IT professionals who may be involved in the decision to purchase a physical security solution are likely interested in reports â€” both pre-sale and post-sale.
Helisek suggests that reports be detailed. “In general, provide the buyer with frequent and detailed status reports about the project and its effect on their network,” Helisek recommends. “Depending on the buyer, you might be subject to audit or network policies. Prior, not after, to signing the contract, the seller should clarify these items with the buyer.
“Be sure to know upfront what guidelines the buyer wants you to follow,” he continues. “Don’t sell the project without knowing the reporting requirements and then realize you might not be able to deliver.
“Finally, you’re better off being able to provide all detail,” Helisek stresses. “Give a top-level summary of work completed and status with supporting detailed information available if they decide to read it.”
During the course of a sale and ensuing system implementation, admittance to customers’ IT facilities can vary widely. “It’s all over the map how much supervision we are working with,” Levine exclaims. “Some IT folks won’t let you walk in the front gate unless you’re escorted.”
Other clients’ facilities are more open. “It depends on who you’re working with and what level of control and policy they have,” Levine says.
Getting background on a customer’s system, having the training and information needed and explaining how a security system will interface with a network and be scalable and upgraded will make relations with IT specialists go smoothly during a project. Bottom line: You can best gain their trust by being prepared to speak their language.
SIDEBAR: End Userâ€™s Choice: Security Integrator over IT IntegratorAs an end user, Robert MacGregor, director of information technology services at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Buzzards Bay, Mass., liked that MAC Systems Inc., Canton, Mass., a subsidiary of Siemens Building Technologies, could tell him how much bandwidth each IP camera would need.
MacGregor had designed the Academy’s new network with another IT company, not the one that MAC Systems works with, before MAC became involved in installing an IP-based video and access system. So he preferred to have his people provide networking expertise.
“In this case, it was our expertise in-house that worked with MAC,” MacGregor asserts. “Every network infrastructure is different; there are nuances in this, and you have to be in-house and know the system to be able to answer some questions specific to that installation.
“It was fine, because we know the network inside and out with our staff,” MacGregor insists. “So I think no matter what, you’re always going to be working with the in-house IT groups, because they’re the ones who know the system.”
MacGregor had also spoken with two other companies about a video and access system; they had been in the IT business for years, but were just getting into the security business within the past year.
“MAC Systems had been in the security market for 20 years, and so that was the main thing that made me comfortable with them,” MacGregor explains.
At the first meeting with MAC Systems, MacGregor was shown a Powerpoint presentation and a demonstration of the IP-based access control system MAC suggested for the Academy.
“That type of architecture fits in with what we’re doing here,” MacGregor realized. “As soon as I found out it was a network-based appliance, I thought that would be a good fit. That initial meeting was all we needed to see to make that decision.”
He insisted on a four-year maintenance contract with MAC Systems, based on experiences others at the Academy had had with a previous analog system that kept malfunctioning after its vendor had gone out of business.
“One of the conditions of me taking it over was I wanted to be able to throw the old one in the trash and not even deal with it, because we had so many problems with it,” MacGregor says of the previous system. “The timing was right, because we had upgraded the campus network, and the IP infrastructure was there to support these systems,” MacGregor explains. “We had an all-fiber network with gigabit links to every building throughout the campus. So I wasn’t really worried about bandwidth, because I knew we could handle it.”