How Northland Controls Decides When to Fish or Cut Bait

CEO Pierre Trapanese and President Paul Thomas explain why sometimes an integrator’s best move is away from a customer.

The April issue of Security Sales & Integration includes my in-depth profile of Northland Controls and interview of the high-technology specialist’s executive management. Although I have gotten to know both Northland Controls CEO Pierre Trapanese and President Paul Thomas through the years, this opportunity allowed me to probe much deeper than ever before. I encourage you to read the full story in either print or online (which includes a sizeable extension of the interview). But for now, here is one of two blogs reflecting a couple of the especially juicy topics we got into, in this case the circumstances in which an integrator sometimes needs to walk away from business. Enjoy.

Do you ever find you have to walk away from a client, whether it’s because of the project load or because their expectations are unrealistic, or you don’t feel there’s a match?

Pierre Trapanese: We walk away from clients on occasion. Let me give you background. We do not have salespeople on staff. We have no one who is driven by commission or by selling or upselling a client. The selling pressure is off. We believe we’re going to grow and continue growing through just doing what we do, a clean delivery. That said, we are putting together a sales and marketing team for the GSOC [global security operations center]. There’s a lot of education involved in what we see as a new service, that being managed services. We are educating the end user as to why they would want to essentially outsource their physical security system. There is sales there. It’s not sales pressure. It’s more of an education kind of thing.

By not having pressure to grow, we have the freedom to walk away from clients. We don’t need to grow the top line, so on occasion we will walk away from a client if we are philosophically misaligned, and those are just business cultures. Each of our clients has a different culture and we adapt ourselves to their culture. A lot of our clients have very different cultures. Our team that’s embedded there needs to adapt themselves to that culture without being them. Our clients have hired us not to be them, because they can hire their own employees to do that. But they also can’t have us in constant dyssynergy with their own culture. Some cultures are just such a bad match for Northland that we cannot keep working with them. Sometimes it’s an individual within that company. We look for a couple of things. We look for appreciation and a thank you.

RELATED: Northland Controls Leaders: Services-Savvy Integrators Most Likely to Succeed

We’re perfectly willing to lose money for a client doing whatever it takes. We look for the challenge. We enjoy the challenge. We’re having a really good time. But if a client really only finds the negatives, sees the glass as half-empty all the time, we will walk away from them because we will do everything we can to make that client happy. But if by doing that we’re taking away time, energy, and resources from the clients who do show appreciation, who do value what we do, we’d rather take that time, energy, and resources and put it to those clients.

Paul Thomas: We have a very robust onboarding process with our customers. It’s pretty rare we would run into a customer mid-cycle, once we’re doing work with them, that we would walk away from them. Although that has happened. It would be more likely during that onboarding process that we would see culture differences or misalignments with a customer, and not even make it all the way through that onboarding process. It’s not because they’re a good customer or bad customer. It’s just because it’s not a good cultural fit usually. That’s a lot of time where it would happen, where we’re trying to bring on a customer and realizing it’s not going to fit well.

Trapanese: If it happens, sometimes the customer really wants to fit the culture, and sometimes we really want them as a customer. And we’ll discover that although we both really want it to work, it’s just not going to work. But like Paul said, usually we’ll discover that in the initial interactions that it’s not a good fit, and just be able to walk away early on, not midstride.

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About the Author


Scott Goldfine is the marketing director for Elite Interactive Solutions. He is the former editor-in-chief and associate publisher of Security Sales & Integration. He can be reached at [email protected].

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