Recruiting & Training: How to Create an Account Executive

Feb. 16, 2016
If you are having trouble finding tech-savvy salespeople, train and produce your own

High-tech security integrators have an almost insatiable need for talent — sales personnel and technicians who understand increasingly complex business models with a heavy emphasis on information technology (IT). Competing for this relatively small core of skilled candidates can become a barrier to growth for many integrators.

Technology centers from California’s Silicon Valley to Boston report wages, bonuses and benefits are soaring in what has become a seller’s market. A 2013 survey of Silicon Valley companies found that nearly 30 percent said competing for the employees they need was the biggest challenge they face.

Salespeople are often the first customer contact with a security integrator, making the need for finding and hiring computer-literate candidates even more acute. The sales team must understand the complex security solutions the company installs and maintains, as well as be able to comprehend the technological business needs of existing and potential customers. With security functions frequently residing on enterprise networks, sales pitches are often made to a chief information officer. That makes a fluent understanding of IT-speak absolutely essential.

Also, by the time a sales associate walks into a customer’s C-level suite, the decision to do something has likely been made.  Budgets may have already been allocated. These customers are looking for assurances the integrator can complete the job at an enterprise level.

From the very first meeting with a potential customer, the sales associate must establish trust. If that does not happen, the likelihood of developing a long-term relationship quickly fades. The inability of integrators to hire technologically competent staff can weaken the overall perception of competence of our industry in the minds of many high-tech customers.

The Mentorship Solution

How does an integrator reach out to new customers and continue to grow if highly qualified sales personnel are not available or affordable? For many integrators, the answer has become clear — recruit and educate your own expert sales team.

Studies have shown there is some truth to the old saying “great salesmen are born not made.” Smart integrators are now creating comprehensive plans for training candidates with at least two to four years of proven sales ability in other industries.

Begin by hiring applicants as “associate account executives.” Then, pair them with senior account executives, each with years of security industry experience. The arrangement can prove beneficial for both the team’s seasoned veterans and their younger colleagues.

As part of their security industry education, the new hires get assigned basic tasks such as research on prospective customers and new technologies. One immediate benefit is that it frees time for the senior executives, allowing them to be more productive and put added effort into developing closer customer relationships.

The program also sharpens the mentors’ managerial skills, setting them up for potential promotions into the company’s executive management team.

The Learning Process

For the associates, the process should include classroom time — at least 50 hours or more — during which they review customer files and read trade publications to build knowledge of the industry. Just like college, the program should include homework.

Assign the associates to visit manufacturer booths at regional trade shows to talk with product managers, receive demonstrations and collect literature to learn the capabilities and features of the equipment. Back in the office, they should report what they learned to the management team.

As their knowledge of the industry grows, the associate account executives can begin accompanying their mentors on customer visits to see how industry veterans handle those important meetings.

One of their final activities should be creating a proposal for mock customers created and played by the managers. Have the associates listen to the “customer’s” pain points, ask questions and then create a proposal outlining solutions. Those might include access control, video surveillance, fire, intrusion, biometrics, mass notification, PSIM, turnstiles, intercoms, nurse-call stations, cabling — whatever it would take to meet customer needs.

As they present their proposals, each associate can be grilled by the management team about why specific equipment was selected, how it integrated into a complete system and if there were less-expensive ways to accomplish the goals. Give the associates time to think about the management input and then hone their proposals until they are considered professional quality. With their “final” completed, they are ready to become full account sales executives.

This realistic, hands-on training and close mentoring enables the candidates to learn and understand specifically how the integration firm expects its sales executives to conduct themselves. But at the same time, they should also be instructed and encouraged to think and act creatively. Programs such as this not only build associates’ industry knowledge, but also develop confidence and an understanding of the customer-integrator role.

Benefits to the Integrator

An integrator will benefit by making the most of the associate’s previous sales experience. For example, an associate with a background in medical device sales will find making the change to an integrator’s healthcare customers an easier transition. And, of course, only take on as many associates as the business can handle — which may mean one every few years for smaller firms. Some larger, growing integrators may educate several associates annually.

With one group completed, be on the lookout for the next crop of associates. The best candidates only come along so often so be prepared to grab them when they are available. Also spread the work through social media and professional sales organizations to help generate a greater number of resumes.

To be successful, an integrator can no longer just offer parts, pieces and price.  That’s where the industry started — really as an offshoot of the alarm business. At the time, customers were far less engaged in their security solutions. Times have changed. Enterprise customers deal with technology every day. And it is certain the pace of change will only increase.

Today, a successful integrator requires a sales team capable of truly understanding technology and not just using current buzzwords. In other words, they can no longer just talk the talk, they also have to walk the walk. Developing the next generation of security sales executives requires an investment by the integrator.

There are many ways to build a sales team, but a comprehensive in-house training program comes as close as possible to guaranteeing the educated, creative and dedicated sales team you need to propel a security integrator into the future.

John Nemerofsky is a management consultant for Hamilton, N.J.-based Integrated Security and Communications.

About the Author

John Nemerofsky | Chief Operating Officer, Sage Integration

John Nemerofsky is the chief operating officer of Kent, Ohio-based Sage Integration.