I’ve been receiving a number of calls and emails from vendors. I accept that as part of my job. Lately, however, I have been seeing a trend that concerns me.
What distinguishes them is an inward focus. The emails and calls talk about filling someone else’s calendar, or talk about their product and how great it is, or how Gartner thinks they are great.
If you make it about you, I’m not going to listen to you, and I may give you a very curt reply. It doesn’t mean that I’m not an executive. It means I’m a human being giving a natural reaction to a bad sales attempt. For me, it hits home.
I’ll let you all in on something. I was a vendor for 11 years. I started in this business as a consultant 21 years ago, and learned how this business operates from that perspective. I failed a lot in the beginning.
I really dislike seeing people trying to make a living fail because they don’t know the basics. I want to help. You need to understand said basics before you can do better. Really, I want to see you succeed and do well. I’ll discuss some basic lessons learned and hope there are some great takeaways.
I can recall three work experiences that augmented that.
- Your first job will follow you throughout your life.
My first job was at a Genuardi’s Supermarket in Bensalem, PA. I bagged groceries, swept floors, cleaned up messes, and stocked shelves. I did this until right after I graduated. I had to deal with a great variety of people and attitudes, and learned the value of customer service from this job. Two people in particular taught me lessons.
One of the people I worked with to bag groceries and stock shelves ended up becoming the field service and customer support technician for a major medical device vendor. We always got along when we worked together, and I respected him tremendously. During a chance encounter in a hallway at my previous job, he recognized me. We were able to reconnect, and due to the past relationship we had at Genuardi’s, were able to leverage that to reduce the onboarding and service time needed for these particular medical devices and provide excellent customer service to my previous employer.
One of my customers who I bagged groceries for became a co-worker. I remembered him — he came in on Tuesday nights and was always a nice customer. Fifteen years later my previous employer acquired his organization and we became peers.
The lesson here is that you need to treat everyone with respect, and you should never discount anyone because they are just a grocery bagger or work in food service. They may become your co-workers later in life, or your manager.
- You need to understand needs.
When you’re a vendor, you need to understand what the customer is really looking for. The way to success in this business is not by the number of calls you make, but by the level of service you give. The business we had was almost entirely based on referrals for quality of service, effort, and dedication to meet customer needs on time and under budget.
Our best salespeople were our customers. We started as low-end contractors doing low-level work for a large consultancy, and worked ourselves up to designing products and doing higher-level work. Our customers saw this and referred us to friends and colleagues. This started a chain of events that led us to our current jobs.
In the security field, this is truer every day. As the CISO role evolves, the level of collaboration must increase correspondingly. We talk about who provides services and how they do it. Lately there’s been a lot of talk about people putting product above needs. The ones that understand needs will always get more business than those who push product and try to get numbers.
- It’s about the messaging.
Your customers don’t like dealing with an alphabet soup of acronyms and problems. Information Security is confusing. Part of your job is to explain what it is that you do, define the problem you’re trying to solve, and relate it back to the business. If you can do that and relate to the customer, then you have a good chance to make a sale. If you make it about the greatness of the product and how awesome it is, then you’ve lost me. If you use acronyms and don’t explain them, you’ve not only lost me, but also my peers, who may not even realize they have a need. Take the time to think through your messaging and strive to address the need, not the product.
Hopefully I’ve been able to provide some guidance. I hope you take this to heart and understand that we don’t wish failure on people. We want to see people do well. It really is about the messaging and understanding needs, which is critical if you want to succeed.
This piece was written by Mitch Parker, Executive Director of Information Security and Compliance at Indiana University Health, and Adjunct Lecturer of Health Informatics at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis. Previously, he held the CISO role at Temple University Health System.