Getting security sales pros to work with installers

Today, in Baltimore at the Electronic Security Expo (ESX), I had a chance to sit on a session titled "The salesperson is not the enemy" by John Brady of TRG Associates – a business management company focused on our industry. It seemed to me that some of the info John was sharing really should have been heard by more than the dozen of us who stuck around for this end-of-day conference session (rather than going out for cocktails or the city's famous crab cakes).

John's presentation was about how a security dealer or system integrators' sales staff can work more closely with technicians and engineering to make sure projects are bid appropriately and that cost overruns don't kill you profitability.

Without giving away all the tips John had, I want to run down a few things he suggested that I thought were particularly salient:

  • For larger commercial projects, you should absolutely have your engineer walk through the site with your sales person before you submit your bid.
  • Installers, the ones who actually have to fulfill the installation bid, should help design the site survey sheets your salespersons use when they are out in the field estimating a project.
  • Consider having your service technicians do the final walk-throughs with the buyers of your systems – whether that's a big residential project or commercial. They are going to be the ones who have to service this system so they need to understand what kind of installed system they're faced with (obviously, for some companies, the installing techs and the service techs are one in the same, so this point may be moot for smaller companies).
  • Consider taking digital photos of your installation before the drywall goes up and your handiwork is hidden. Also, make sure you're providing the clearest diagrams of your systems for your files. This again helps your service techs when they have to come back for post-install work.
  • Get your salesperson to meet the fire marshals who are prescribing the code. This is a training session for your sales guys, but remind them to keep their mouths shut. They should be listening and learning, not trying to argue the fine points of installation codes with the AHJs.
  • Don't forget the whole issue of sales tax when it comes to your salespeoples' estimates. They need to be clear with your prospects on what will be taxed and what will not be taxed, as these taxes can give a notable cost bump to a project.
  • Link the installing technician, the installation manager and the sales person to project bonuses. Linking their bonus dollars gets them on the same page, and away from the all-to-common "us vs. them" situation that some dealers wind up in. One model John proposed was what he calls a gross margin bonus plan where they are paid out a percentage on jobs that beat a prescribed profit margin percentage.
  • Don't forget to specify your wire cost in your bids.
  • Your salespeople have to be very clear in their site surveys: Are there great rooms, uncovered beams, crawl spaces or slabs, drop ceilings, lath strips behind the sheetrock? Lots of site factors (these were only a few of the many that John mentioned) have to be detailed so that your installer doesn't arrive on site and find out that the whole space has 25 foot ceilings and he's going to waste two hours of labor rolling back to your warehouse to pick up the extra long ladders.

Well, that's just a touch of some of the "working together" tips that John had for today's audience, but whenever you hear the installers griping about the sales guys (or vice versa), it's a sign as a business manager that you may need to open the lines of communication between your sales staff and your installers. It might be, as John suggested today, as simple as improving your site assessment forms and getting pre-job walk-throughs done with both your sales guy and the installer. If you do that, please remember the golden rule of getting along: the sales pro is required to buy the installer's cup of coffee as they jointly head out for an early morning meeting at the site.