Winning the Game of Thorns

It’s been said that success in just about any role in any profession requires a certain degree of salesmanship. In security convergence, it’s all about delivering solutions to the true decision makers. Find out how the wisdom of a millennia-old “thorny” tale holds relevance for us today.

How do convergence projects and security migration plans get funded? Certainly the need is there with new technology and aging assets for many security directors. Forward-looking IT leaders face the same challenges pitching projects and system upgrades that help their companies mitigate risk while providing technology efficiencies. However, they both share the same challenges of gaining senior management support for proposals by systems integrators. So why don’t worthwhile security and IT projects move from the back to the front burner for funding in the senior management kitchen?

In a word … it’s salesmanship. Learning and understanding how to sell business value first and then the enabling technologies solutions second, has been my passion for 35+ years in this industry. This is only half of the formula for success. Our key customer stakeholders, being security and IT, are the other 50% of the puzzle to implement successful convergence programs. They must learn, with your help, how to sell business value as well.

Overcoming a ‘Thorny’ Issue

Salesmanship is considered by many customer stakeholders as the “dark side” of business. Their career skills, education and certifications are what they perceive as their value or contribution to their company. While true, it is way too narrow a perspective to truly define their potential company contribution.

Often in my work as a consultant, I hear both security and IT clients say, “Doesn’t senior management get it?!” The simple answer is, no they don’t, but with valid reasons. They must balance allocation of limited company resources for maximum impact. Three words describe this quandary: The Big Picture.

Companies have limited financial resources with unlimited needs and wants. Prioritizing these financial resources to meet the most critical needs that move a company toward management’s short- and long-term goals, is where the rubber hits the road. Applying traction toward those goals is the responsibility of security, IT and, more importantly, systems integrators. This is accomplished by helping your customers “sell” convergence programs to their senior management. Easily said, but much harder to accomplish. You help by acknowledging the big elephant in the room — salesmanship.

Your selling strategy is not simply to sell the first layer of customer contacts such as security and IT, but to push past that and help your customer sell the concept to their management as well. “Whoa, Paul we are the systems integration business, not the sales training business for goodness sake!” Think again, my friends.

This strategy helps you, the systems integrator, gain a competitive advantage in the buying and funding process. I know, sounds a little crazy, but am I changing your perspective? Does this approach really make a difference in winning more business?  It has for me, my end user and systems integrator clients.

Want a more objective opinion? Wisegate is a business-social-networking (BSN) company based in Austin, Texas. The firm held an invitation-only, interactive Webinar with CSOs and CISOs that focused on the greatest “thorns in their flesh.” The most eye-opening and confirming comment came from Candy Alexander, longtime CISO at Long Term Healthcare Partners. According to Joan Goodchild’s Leading Edge blog (“Hype or Reality: Which Security Trends Concern CSOs Today?”), Alexander said her “thorn” is learning how to translate very technical issues and threats into a business risk for nonsecurity executives.

“Even more tricky,” she said, is making these risks “relevant to the business. CISOs must understand the business objectives, drivers and processes before they can even begin to perform the translation of technical risk into business risk in addition to it not being compliant to many regulations and compliance requirements.” A thorn in the paw of our physical and IT security lions is the need to translate their technical/security skills into relevant business dialogue with their management. Remember Aesop’s fable, “Androcles and the Lion”?

That insightful quote by Ms. Alexander supports my field experiences, as a modern-day Androcles who has helped remove the thorn from the lion’s paw, helping both end users and systems integrators translate product/service ideas into fundable, front-burner projects with senior executives. In this tale, the lion and Andocles meet again years later in the coliseum. The lion remembers the kindness and fawns rather than attacks Androcles. The emperor is stunned and upon learning the story pardons Androcles and sets the lion free to roam his domain. Pretty powerful teamwork don’t you think?

Reading Management’s Minds

Here are some helpful suggestions for you to consider as you ponder the realities of convergence (you knew I would squeeze this word in at least once, didn’t you?) and professional selling:

  • Recognizing that selling middle management contacts on your ideas or solutions is only half the battle in selling effectively. Even if they love the idea they have to sell it to management. Are you OK with that idea? No, I never was either!
  • Understanding your customer’s senior management current and future business goals represent the key to how you help your contacts sell a project. They must position their project, with your help, in the right terms to gain attention.
  • Helping your contacts recognize how the project will support the big picture in small but concrete steps will enable them, as better salespeople and lions, to sell their project more effectively to their senior managers.
  • Ask yourself if you can concisely define how your project helps their department contribute to the big picture. If you can’t, then you have more work to do before getting to Broadway!
  • Your customers will reward your efforts with loyalty, appreciation and their business if you can help them remove the “thorn from their flesh” to sell more effectively. It isn’t easy, but it is infinitely doable.

Become a Hardnosed Detective

Be ready for some initial confusion from customers regarding your more insightful questions. Get comfortable with this. They will have to think about how they respond. Questions that challenge your contact’s point of view will take some getting used to. The insightful answers they share won’t be. Challenging conventional thinking should be based on doing your homework and confidence. Softball questions that are polite and vague will not help your customers get funding. Asking the right questions will. Some examples I suggest:

  • How will this project or program support your management’s goals this year?
  • What questions is your management likely to ask regarding this project?
  • Will you be offering multiple options for your management to consider?
  • Can you share with me the decision process for allocating capital funds for an IT or security project of this size?
  • If you were the CFO, what questions would you want answered about this project before giving your approval?
  • What other departments might gain benefit with this project? Which ones might lose?

It is important to understand how senior managers process information, which often dictates how you communicate and sell them on a project. Many IT and security professionals make their first mistake of communicating business value from their perspective or skillset, and then tack “business value” on to the big picture. Doesn’t work. You will probably lose the executive’s interest with this approach. Narrowly focused departmental goals typically don’t compete well for the pool of limited funding dollars. Selling skills are needed to position projects more favorably.

Learning From This Lesson

In sum, consider using your selling skills in new ways to help remove the thorns that pain your lions. Treat their wounds with sales salve. The moral to the tale is they will remember your kindness when you get an audience with the emperor! 

Paul Boucherle, Certified Protection Professional (CPP) and Certified Sherpa Coach (CSC), is principal of Canfield, Ohio-based Matterhorn Consulting ( He has more than 30 years of diverse security and safety industry experience and can be followed on Twitter at

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About the Author


Paul C. Boucherle, Certified Protection Professional (CPP) and Certified Sherpa Coach (CSC), is Security Sales & Integration’s “Business Fitness” columnist. A principal of Matterhorn Consulting, he has more than 30 years of diverse security and safety industry experience including UL central station operations, risk-vulnerability assessments, strategic security program design and management of industry convergence challenges. Boucherle has successfully guided top-tier companies in achieving enhanced ROI resulting from improved sales and operational management techniques. He is a charismatic speaker and educator on a wide range of critical topics relating to the security industry of today and an accomplished corporate strategist and marketer whose vision and expertise in business performance have driven notable enterprise growth in the security industry sector.

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