How to sell IP video

Selling is, some would argue, the ability to communicate the value your company is creating. It is also the art of appropriating as much of that value as possible.

Many products and services in today's economy are designed and integrated with other products in a way that selling becomes consultative and informative, rather than transactional. It is no longer a matter of shifting off-the-shelf gadgets for cash--selling is ultimately about helping your customers out, regardless of the products and components included in the solution. This situation is even more prominent in times of technological change, when new products and techniques provide radically different services and functionality. One area that clearly resembles this new selling landscape is IP security products, such as surveillance equipment and access control.

The LUSAX team, Lund University, Sweden, has done extensive research on the challenges and success factors facing integrators who want to expand into the domain of IP security products. In terms of the specifics of the sales process, we have identified a range of issues that must be included and resolved.

Technology: Obviously the first thing is to decide on technology in the overarching sense. As is the case in many industries assimilating new technologies, there is a tendency to hype new solutions and inflate expectations. There are still instances when IP may not be the best option, and where analog solutions might be more economical. This depends of course on installation sizes, legacy equipment and general knowledge of technology. It is however the duty of an integrator to apply a sober perspective on IP, to understand what it can and cannot do and understand the value it can create. This is regardless of what the customer says.

Dave Hood, vice president and general manager of First Alarm Security Services, Aptos, Calif., said the company, a traditional security integrator moving into IP, had some great successes and some horror stories in learning to deploy IP surveillance systems and they are battling their own learning curve as they work to educate themselves on the technology. "Some IP products want to be 'friends' and some don't," said Hood. "When selling, we focus on performance-based specifications rather than product-based bids, and convince the users to stick to performance as well. We train our sales personnel on IP technologies and products so they know what's possible and this also expands their concept of what's attainable for the end-user. We also start with: 'Where are the cameras going to go and what do you want to see? What are you trying to accomplish?' Our central station manager is also much more involved with a video installation on the design side and once the project gets over a certain size or dollar value we bring in our two-person engineering team."

Real cases: Do not try to sell by referring to technical superiority or novelty. Rather than hypothetical or theoretical references, show hands-on what the products can do for your client and use only real cases if you refer to other installations.

That's just what Current Technologies did when it went to bid a high profile IP installation for the city of Naperville, Ill., according to Anthony Valle, an IT and engineering specialist for the company based in Downers Grove, Ill. "They were blown away by our presentation because we had an actual IP installation set up so they could see the end result and they were amazed," said Valle. "In addition, we brought in the deputy police chief from the city of Maywood, Ill., who recently decided to go with our IP and video management system for that municipality, which was a testament to our services."

TCO and ROI: Another basic requirement is to be able to show the expected total cost of ownership (TCO) of the products you market. This is often a simple process. What is perhaps more complicated yet still highly sought after among end-users are estimates of the added benefits of the new products. So, do not only compare the costs of different options but also the value of the effects on the performance of your new solution, e.g., the financial value of different functionality. This way you can offer estimates of the returns on investment (ROI).

"We have an enterprise solutions group that is able to show the benefits of IP and we lead with IP in our sales presentations," said Craig Summers, vice president of Allied Fire & Security in Spokane, Wash. "Selling IP is cost-driven for the customer. We show them how they can transition to IP and have the capability of handling both IP cameras and analog solutions while they migrate. Selling can be a challenge; we take a lot of time and map out the solutions and the product lines. We've also brought IP folks on board to assist with the selling. The IT department of the customer is a driving force and they are involved; they understand IP," he said.

Alternatives: It is probably unwise to showcase 'The One' solution. Prove your abilities and help your customer see the possibilities by displaying at least three different alternative specifications.

The right contacts: Make sure to approach the right people and decision-makers at the end-user facility. Typically, this means you need to get to know the IT side of your customer's operations. This can sometimes be sensitive, as your regular security contact does not necessarily have the right internal connections.

After-sales services: This is an area that has been slightly neglected in the past, but one that proves to be in demand, and an area of expansion for many integrators: How can we help our customers by offering maintenance, upgrades, operations and systems management?

Vertical differentiation: There are differences between the needs, preferences and willingness to pay, of bankers, retailers and others. Over time, make sure to accumulate experiences of the differences and demonstrate your differentiated knowledge to end users.

All these examples require experience and rarely are there shortcuts. Accumulating this competence takes time and don't expect or push things you can't deliver. Customers will see through you if you offer things beyond your competencies. This only goes to show the importance of getting started with your accumulation of experience and training. This is a trial and error process and you need to be prepared for the occasional failure, but don't wait for it to come automatically.

Quick Tips Get Contracts

The first obvious difference that comes up when making a decision to migrate to IP video is the slightly higher cost of an IP camera compared to analog devices. However, the customer should know the higher unit cost of IP video products is compensated by few factors:

- For new buildings and sites that do not have an existing IT infrastructure, once a reseller is in the door use that avenue to up-sell the value-add solution of voice and data. It is key to a sale to provide that differentiation. Promote and communicate effectively your company's value-add, as not all resellers are ready to sell the total solutions package-but you can be. If the infrastructure already has network wiring, there is a huge savings on the physical installation budget.

- IP video eliminates physical monitoring at each location and with remote monitoring the customer can view all sites, from anywhere in the world, without banks of viewing monitors.

- The final system will offer a lot more features than an analog-based system, including remote connectivity and multiple monitoring points.

- It is easier to expand. With IP video, it is, in fact, easier to start small and grow as needed. So salespeople can initially sell a smaller system and tout easy expansion as the business requires. This is not necessarily the case with analog video where central infrastructure (encoders, multiplexers, DVR, etc.) needs to be planned and sized well in advanced. (For instance, Grandstream Networks offers at no cost a VMS called Gsurf that allows users to monitor up to 36 cameras.)

Other Considerations:

- Work with vendors that offer video server/encoders that allow customers to keep existing key analog cameras while turning them into IP devices at a low cost.

- Peak the customer's interest by promoting industry standards such as SIP/VoIP that allow customers to integrate multiple network systems and management with one system.

- Stress the importance of using industry standards for products, fostering integration and ease of installation.

- Partner with a product vendor with easy access to superior support.

- Offer solutions that provide a unique proposition. For example, products which offer the ability to integrate video surveillance and telephony, making the total cost of ownership that much more attractive and cost-effective. Source: Grandstream Networks (

Professor Thomas Kalling PhD is director of the LUSAX Security Informatics Project, a global economic study on the impact of IP technology on the security industry by the Institute of Economics and Management at Lund University in Sweden.