Alarm Dealers: What Is the Ethical Code on Upselling Home Security Systems?

Trust between alarm dealers and customers is above all else, says SSI contributor Al Colombo.

How do you as a security dealer — a professional in your field — know where the line is between selling what a client needs and what that client believes he wants? Is it ethical to knowingly escalate the device schedule for a quote beyond what is necessary without letting the prospect know? What value is there in this tactic for both sides, even when the client asks for the additional protection? Is it ethical to resort to this kind of up-selling in order to earn additional income?

“I had a client that wanted a glass-break [sensor] next to each window and he had more than a hundred windows in his home. Technically, I can do this, but is it necessary?” says one alarm dealer who I spoke with a few months ago. “After explaining that one sensor will cover several windows (usually up to 20 linear feet away and 10 feet on each side of center, for example), he told me that he still wanted a glass-break for each window.”

The dealer said he was fine with this as long as the homeowner understood that he was buying more protection than he actually needed. But what about other alarm dealers that load up their quotes with motions, glass-breaks and other devices without telling the client what the minimum or ideal situation is for his business or residence? Is this an ethical way to sell? What about salesmen who follow up months or years later who try to add to a system that is already sufficient?

RELATED: How Alarm Companies Can Protect Themselves From Potential Litigation

I posed the question to a second alarm dealer whether he has oversold simply to make more money. He replied, “Every dealer has been in that position to meet payroll, I would imagine. I understand that we’re in business to sell products and services but at what cost, especially when we sell the client more than is needed without telling him? What will happen to company relations with a good client when he learns the truth?”

Not only will this kind of deception likely destroy any trust the client had in the alarm company and/or salesman, but it could eventually lead to a general loss of overall income as word of mouth does its damage locally.

Where is That Thin Line?

When I sold for an alarm company in Canton, Ohio, I included add-ons to my quotes, such as cell back-up, Internet reporting, additional keypads and motion sensors in certain areas of the home or business, as well as optional fire alarm and CCTV packages. I also included optional services, such as a maintenance component, routine inspections and private security response. On every level the prospect knew these were adders and that the base bid was what he needed to fulfill the needs of his situation as discussed in person.

There is no price tag you can attach to the trust that can develop between yourself and a good customer. Don’t jeopardize it during a moment of temptation, because once that trust is gone, it’s often impossible to gain it back again.

The one thing I would not negotiate on was the rock-bottom necessities. In fact, I refused to reduce the device schedule below what was necessary for basic protection. In one instance, while giving a quote for a mid-size home, the lady of the house wanted motions only — no door switches. I refused to sell her the system because she refused to protect five perimeter doors. I explained to her that most if not all the motions will not work with the system armed in Stay/Home mode, leaving her and her family open to personal attack, especially in the late night and early morning hours when everyone’s asleep.

Frankly I can’t envision any reputable dealer selling her what she wanted. But the sad fact is, someone did.

As I further explained to the prospect, years from now she may not remember our conversation and my personal warning about the dangers of not having perimeter protection, especially when someone breaks in and unloads the house. Even if there’s a signed waiver absolving the firm and myself of all liability, if a visitor should be injured because of an unprotected entry point, such a signed agreement will likely have little or no effect in court because this visitor is not party to the original contract/waiver.

There is no price tag you can attach to the trust that can develop between yourself and a good customer. Don’t jeopardize it during a moment of temptation, because once that trust is gone, it’s often impossible to gain it back again.

Bio: Al Colombo is an Associate Electronics Engineer with more than 15 years as a field technician, 30 years in technical writing, and 10 years as an operations manager in an Ohio security company. You can contact him at [email protected].

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About the Author


Al Colombo is a long-time trade journalist and professional in the security and life-safety markets. His work includes more than 40 years in security and life-safety as an installer, salesman, service tech, trade journalist, project manager,and an operations manager. You can contact Colombo through TpromoCom, a consultancy agency based in Canton, Ohio, by emailing [email protected], call 330-956-9003, visit www.Tpromo.Com.

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