During a break in the meeting, I wandered away from the table. I just wanted to stretch my legs. One of the older gentlemen from the group headed in the same direction. He put his hand on my shoulder.
"I'm impressed that you figured it out so young!"
I simply replied, "Thank you." I wasn't entirely sure what he was talking about.
"The key to security is the realization that we're all in sales. The sooner we embrace that, the more successful we'll be."
It was the late 90s. Security was still considered "new" in the corporate space. I was representing Accenture (then Anderson Consulting) at a meeting hosted by Network Associates.
The meeting was for the leadership of the newly established security groups for large consulting companies. I was not the leader. I'm not really sure why I was asked to go, but it was a great opportunity. (Aside: good reminder as leaders to send our younger members to big opportunities. They'll learn and we'll all be better.)
Sitting at the table, I felt a bit like the kid who graduated from the kids table at Thanksgiving dinner. I don't recall too many details from the meeting, save the exchange about sales.
I reflect back on that moment often.
Over the years, I've come to understand that his observation about my embrace of sales was not a conscious effort on my part. Rather, he saw my natural ability to translate complexity into understanding and help groups reach consensus. I bet he knew that and found a gifted way to help me see it, too.
Almost 15 years later, it's a realization long overdue in the security community.
If you're in security, then you're in sales
We're constantly selling our solutions, ideas, processes, and changes to others. We sell executives on the need for budget. We sell our partners on the need to conform to our policies. We sell our ideas and solutions at conferences and meetings around the country.
Own it. The key to our success is our ability to sell security.
A negative perception of sales is holding us back
Over the years, I've worked with brilliant sales people. They taught me that true sales is not "selling something." They view sales as an opportunity to explore challenges, craft solutions, and help people reach their goals.
Sure, they have a quota. It's the way sales works. But their primary goal is building strong relationships and honing the ability to deliver results. They win when their clients win.
Want to be (more) successful? Embrace selling
Even better, learn from the experts. Sales executives are compensated for their success. They are experts in uncovering and understanding challenges, building relationships, and crafting solutions. Those who excel in sales have mastered the lessons we need to be successful in security.
Not partnering with successful sales people is foolish.
Collaborate. Let them guide you through the internal sales process. Yes, that means they may sell something: a solution to a problem. Done right, they help you get what you need to be successful. You're success is theirs.
Engage actively in the process. Ask them how. Probe why. Watch and listen as they build rapport with other decision makers. Pay attention to how they create consensus. Ask for their help to justify the effort in business terms. Enlist their expertise to explain why this solution increases business value.
Trade experience and insights
In return, offer them an honest look into your challenges. Give them context to the daily struggles causing you to seek out a solution. Don't assume they know. Freely offer your insight and experience to help them get better (with you and with other clients).
Embracing the partnership is a rapid and effective way to learn the key elements of the sales process.
Practice your ability to sell
Use the knowledge and test it out during meetings. Use questions to find out about the needs and desires of others. Listen to their struggles and consider how to use security to help them solve the problem. Patiently build consensus and make sure everyone has the same understanding.
There are no magic secrets in security or sales
The key is to learn and understand both, then blend them to produce results.
This is why I share three curated articles every weekend. It's a purposeful effort to provide insights from other fields. To cross-pollinate and shift thinking. Ideally, it leads to a change in behaviors. It helps us figure out where we need to go.
Now that you're in sales, take a moment to be glad you don't have a quota. Then think about how to bring people together and use what you do to solve their problems.
Their win is your success.
Let me know how you sell security in the comments. Or share your challenges and we'll work to overcome them together.