This article originally appeared as the cover story in the September 2023 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter.
Security integration firm leaders are constantly looking for ideal technicians, back-office personnel, and technologies to push their businesses down the path to greater profits, but what about the ideal client?
Integrators should be looking for clients that offer challenging and rewarding opportunities to learn, grow and, of course, make money; however, what makes an ideal client certainly varies from one integrator to the next. That said, there are some standard criteria appropriate for finding clients that offer a great fit.
How do you identify your ideal client? Security Business convened its exclusive expert integrator panel for insight. The panel includes John Nemerofsky, COO of SAGE Integration, Michael Ruddo, Chief Strategy Officer for Integrated Security Technologies (IST), an Unlimited Technology company, and Shaun Castillo, president of Preferred Technologies.
Identifying and Defining the Ideal Client
Creating a model of an ideal client helps focus an integrator’s efforts on locating, pursuing, and landing new business. Nemerofsky says an ideal client for SAGE is a company in the Fortune 500 with an annual security spend of $2 million or more. While that may be a high aspiration for many integrators, other criteria likely fit a broader spectrum of security providers.
“Look for a company that has a dedicated security team leader, not one that has someone from HR or legal running things,” Nemerofsky says. “Make sure the company uses existing technology platforms that you support. Look for a company with a North American footprint that wants to be a true security partner and fits within some of the verticals you already serve. The model created serves as a baseline for an integrator’s sales team to hook the next client.”
Castillo says at Preferred Technologies, he counts on his executive team to list the company’s top 15 clients and then describe each in detail, looking at the company’s size, vertical market served, and the annual revenue and profit margin generated. “Once we aggregated and analyzed the information, we had a good idea of what our best customers offered us,” he explains. “Essentially, we built an avatar of what we want and need from an ideal new customer.”
IST focuses much of its business on federal government and critical infrastructure clients; however, Ruddo says the ground rules for seeking ideal new clients are primarily the same within the commercial market. “We often have clients within clients,” he says. “We may deal with security, IT, procurement, legal, or other departments, and they may not all work well together. Still, we must make everyone feel heard and cared for. We do ourselves a favor when we identify the client within the client that helps best helps us do our jobs and create an ideal client.”
Ruddo adds that examples of multiple clients within a client are not limited to federal government and critical infrastructure clients. They can be found in school systems, state and local governments, and top-tier private companies such as healthcare.
The definition of an ideal customer can change over time, Castillo says. “Customers change; they grow and move in different directions. We are market servants, so we must be open to change.”
Castillo’s teams regularly meet with top-tier clients to discuss more than security. These sessions include questions about how the client is making money. Clients are asked how they see changes in risk, how they are handling cybersecurity and AI challenges, and more. “We must change with them to ensure they remain ideal clients,” Castillo says.
Ruddo says that IST continually grows to meet its ideal clients’ needs, noting that once growth occurs, it often changes how an integrator goes to business. “When you are a small company, you work with other small companies, but as you grow, you gain more resources that enable you to consider a different level of clients,” he explains. “We have developed the expertise to deal with departmentalized clients who require you to walk into the room and handle security, facilities, IT, and other departments’ operational concerns and issues.”
Vertical Market Expansion
Says Nemerofsky: “When you create your ideal client profile, you become knowledgeable in each of the verticals you are serving, and as you understand your clients’ security and business operations, you become a great partner to them.”
Ruddo says looking for an ideal client within a new vertical takes extra effort. “Go for an ideal client in a new vertical, especially one you feel passionate about – but be careful. Don’t change your whole business without really understanding what you are getting into,” he says.
Ruddo adds that an integrator should research thoroughly so the entire business operation is not put in jeopardy by going in too fast without the necessary knowledge. “You can’t just jump in and deal within a new area. You need past performance and expertise on staff to show value, and you have to learn it,” he says. “That may require an internal effort, or you may bring in a consultant with the
Taking that into consideration, Ruddo adds that smaller integrators must stretch themselves if they intend to grow their business. “Be sure to leverage your industry contacts and organizations to learn what you need to know, or you may get yourself in trouble,” he says.
Having the resources to meet client needs and ensure they align with potential new business opportunities is vital in successfully gaining the type of customer an integrator wants and needs. Before approaching a potential client in a new vertical, Castillo says he and his team first determine if they have the necessary resources to do the job. Then, he will admit to having little or no experience in the vertical.
“I tell them that if they bear with us, we will commit the resources to learn how to operate in their business,” Castillo says. “It is cool when they agree to help mentor us. Not all customers are willing to do that, but we have been lucky to find a few.”
Castillo recalls that when he and his team decided to serve the healthcare industry, Preferred Technologies had yet to experience working with medical centers or other healthcare providers. “We shaped an ideal customer and began to develop the necessary skillsets to serve the business,” he explains. “We begin pitching industry targets and listening to what the people want from an integrator. Then we honed our skills until we landed our first client. We now consider healthcare a major ideal industry for us.”
Nemerofsky warns of accepting new business from anyone but an ideal client. “We had a sales guy who was aggressive to make sales, and he sold a chain of hair salons,” he recalls. “Soon after, I’m at an important meeting with a Fortune 500 executive in New York when I start getting calls from a salon in New Jersey. I finally answer one of the calls and hear, ‘Hi…we can’t get in the front door.’ Stick to your ideal client profile to deliver world-class service and installation. If you don’t, you’ll fail somebody – either a hair
Sometimes it is possible to transform a less-than-ideal client into a perfect fit for the integrator. Castillo tells of a valued customer that made changes to its procurement processes. Suddenly, all outside jobs were awarded based on the lowest bid. Castillo showed the decision makers how his company provided extra value – at no cost – to invest in the relationship. Over a year later, the integrator won an RFP to become its sole-source security provider.
“We had to courage to tell them, ‘I know you’re a big name with tremendous buying power, and I know other integrators would love to serve you. You may have to go with them if we can’t overcome this hurdle,’” Castillo says. “We had to be willing to lose that account by negotiating with them. Now, they are an ideal client.”
Even within an integrator’s skill set, it is possible to run across a less-than-ideal client, says Ruddo. Problems with unrealistic expectations for turnarounds on an engineering analysis or other activity may arise. “The less-than-ideal client is the one who doesn’t understand the value that you are bringing to the table with your processes and expertise,” he explains.
Situations that require conversations with the client to resolve, in extreme cases, dropping a client, is something Ruddo says he cannot recall happening at IST; however, Castillo says he has dropped clients after determining there wasn’t a proper fit.
“We were working harder for those [less-than-ideal] customers than for our best clients,” Castillo explains. “By dropping those clients, we became more productive and efficient with customers who shared or fit our ideal model. It takes courage to drop a client, but luckily, we were financially able to do so. That is not always possible for all integrators who need the revenue.”
Dealing with Acquired Clients
Mergers and acquisitions have become a common refrain in the security integration industry, and that often means taking on a batch of new clients who may not fit the “ideal” model. These clients might be smaller than ideal, or be standardized on a less common technology provider than an integrator is accustomed to.
This was the case when SAGE acquired an integrator with some small monitored customer sites. “Our technicians weren’t happy as they are Genetec and Software House access control certified and were being pulled off large jobs to work on a panel at [the smaller site],” Nemerofsky says. “We had to eliminate most of these clients by recommending another integrator.”
Still, mergers and acquisitions can provide opportunities to reassess and expand an integrator’s ideal customer base. “M&A can be both positive and negative,” Castillo says. “Sometimes you must take on work that you don’t like; however, at the same time, the merger or acquisition can open up additional opportunities you didn’t have. So, there’s give and take.”
Making Changes to the Integrator-Customer Relationship
Nemerofsky tells of working with a large international cloud service provider that called needing service in Brazil. His team was able to find a subcontractor able to take the call. It was expensive and something SAGE did not want to do on a regular basis, so they resigned the account. Soon after, the client called, asking what it would take to continue working with SAGE. “We laid out some of the things we would need from a service account for a large Pennsylvania data center,” he says. “They agreed, and we’re working with them again. That’s one we turned around.”
Often, less-than-ideal clients can become ideal customers with changes in how the integrator provides service. Nemerofsky provides an example of a problem solved by adding an embedded technician: “We had a Texas healthcare facility submitting three to four tickets daily for service and material. We suggested an embedded staff member, but they felt we were trying to sell them an unnecessary service. Then we showed them how our tech would park there three times a day for $105 – a cost we passed through – and that made the difference. Now, our tech goes there daily to take care of the campus.
“Sometimes it takes time and numbers to get clients to understand why they need something different,” Nemerofsky adds.
The three panel members agree that changing technology plays a role in keeping the ideal client. Nemerofsky cites a security management system that links integrators and clients through a unified platform.
“Clients want to see how you are progressing with a project when it is convenient for them – not waiting for a call from the project manager,” Nemerofsky explains. “This platform enables our subcontractors and team members to create real-time reports, so, for example, clients can see we are 80% done with a month to go. They can check to see if calls have been dispatched and closed. New security leaders want more transparency and tools that hold integrators accountable.”
Paul Rothman is Editor-in-Chief of Security Business magazine. Email him your comments and questions at email@example.com. Access the current issue, full archives and apply for a free subscription at www.securitybusinessmag.com. Industry veteran and PR maven Jon Daum contributed to the writing of this article.