Best practices for door-to-door alarm sales

Alarm industry pros tell SIW about 26 tips that work for door-to-door sales of security systems

Don't let your sales people act suspicious. "We're from the alarm company." "My business cards aren't ready yet." "I just started and don't have cards." "Just call this number if you aren't sure." If you hear your sales people using any of these lines, you can be assured that the message that they're giving customers is "Run, don't walk, away from this unethical sales person."

Adopt vehicle signage and uniforms if possible. It's not always possible, but if you can, then by all means encourage and implement this. Whether it's painting the logo prominently on the company van, or having sales reps wear a golf shirt with your company's logo, you're providing comfort to the potential customer.

Perform background checks. Strade said ADT checks its in-house employees, but also extends background checks to the owner of the dealer firm and to any key persons in that organization. The dealer then agrees to take responsibility for conducting necessary background checks of their local employees.

Provide a 3-day rider for the customer's decision. This might even be required in some areas, but it's a good practices in all areas. This allows the customer to back out of the agreement. It's a great option so your customers won't think they were pressured into a sale. As a bonus, said Brenchley, "If a customer [with a new alarm system] can feel it, touch it, see it, use it, then they get engaged."

Focus your people on principles, not just money. Brenchley says that while most outside sales people focus on money, as a company owner or manager, you need to focus them on principles first. Are they improving the safety of their customers or are they just there to make a buck?

Ensure licensing. Big companies like ADT and APX have compliance programs to ensure that all sales and installation staff members are licensed. One thing APX does is that they have their sales IT system set up that the sales person can't check the credit of a potential customer unless he is actually licensed. The company had to invest heavily in IT systems and infrastructure to make it work, but the model worked well for a high-volume firm like APX.

Identify your bad apples. Utah-based Pinnacle Security faced criticism and lawsuits over door-to-door sales practices until it was able to catch up to its explosive growth with good personnel policies. Good alarm companies need to track who is generating the complaint reports and get them out of the organization. "With the growth that we experienced, there were cases where we had sales representatives that would do or say things that were not in accordance with this code of conduct," said Pinnacle's COO Steve Hafen. At ADT, said Strade, "if you step over the line, we start discipline."

Develop a compliance department. As Pinnacle responded to early problems, its spent a million dollars on systems and on a new compliance department that is taxed with following up on violations or complains of code violations. Hafen said that investigations have to be thorough and the company has to be ready to create consequences. "Those actions include everything from written warnings, to fines and terminations depending upon the extent of the infraction."

Create a customer quality assurance program. Pinnacle's model is simple; two phone calls are made to customers. One is made before the system is installed and the second is after the installation. The calls ensures that the customer understands the terms of the agreement and it gives the customer a chance to provide feedback on the sales representative and installer.

Formalize everything with standard operating procedures. SOPs create the baseline of service, explained ADT's Strade. They're useful for when enforcing consequences for the bad apples, but they are also set your minimum expectations and any standards that are part of your outside sales business.

Train, train, train, and then train some more. At ADT, Pinnacle and APX, everyone we spoke with said that sales people have to go through an extensive training process before they can hit the ground running. ADT runs a monthly sales training class for all the dealers (it's one of Strade's primary job duties), but other firms might find it necessary for individual managers to train their team members. As a business operator, you need to determine where the balance between centralized, standardized training and distributed training by local managers will sit, but either way, training has to be the first priority.