Sell Me This Firewall.

This morning, I waded through several articles on the infamous sell-me-this-pencil routine. The collective advice seems to be that selling pencils requires first learning about the buyer. And such Dale Carnegie-style sales advice seems reasonable. I see it in action when the Tesla salesperson asks me probing, personal questions: Got any kids? How far do you drive? Ready for something new? (Translated: Is this your midlife crisis?)

Job interviews in sales apparently include this pencil bit, so I can see why readers might need advice – even if it comes from that ridiculous Wolf of Wall Street character. But my observation is that selling cyber security solutions requires an entirely different approach. Enterprise security buyers tend to be unique specimens (ahem), so buttering them up with platitudes about their kids probably will not work. Sorry.

Instead, to sell firewalls, and MFAs, and SIEMs, and UEBAs, and the like – the salesperson must learn a different method. And if you clip and mail the coupon below, along with a check made out to me for one-hundred and fifty dollars, then I will share with you my incredible secret to selling cyber security solutions! OK, OK – I’m just kidding. Read on, and I will explain below exactly what you must learn to do – and it begins with an exercise.

Start by standing in front of a mirror. (Yea, I know – but bear with me.) Now, in one minute or less, sell your security solution – but here’s the catch: You cannot mention the product or service. You must sell the solution without ever mentioning once what the product actually does. Any reference to product features, functions, or capabilities dings the bell and you are disqualified. Now, go ahead and sell into the mirror. I’ll wait.

If you did as I recommended, then you discovered how difficult this exercise can be. I’ve watched it done many dozens of times. The cyber sales person usually travels to non-product issues like the growing cyber threat, or the challenge of finding security staff, or some obvious problem like that. Unfortunately, this won’t work. In fact, talking to an expert about known threats or staffing issues can be super-annoying. Trust me.

The correct approach to this exercise comes instead from a place that can be summed up in one word: Belief. That is, to sell me a firewall, you must explain what you and your company stand for. Why do you exist? What do you believe? Why should I care that you are even in business? Everyone knows that there are thousands of security vendors pitching the same-old, same-old – so why should I care about you?

The Girl Scouts, and most non-profit organizations, use a belief-based sales approach. That is, when those young scouts in their uniforms are perched on my stoop with an order pad, they barely mention the product. Instead, they demonstrate the persistence and belief system of their organization by just being there selling. I buy because I am proud to buy, and because I believe what they believe. They could sell me pencils.

The Apple Corporation with Steve Jobs also understood belief systems. When Steve Jobs explained that his company believed in thinking different, he knew that it didn’t matter what he was actually selling. It could have been refrigerators, cars, or even pencils. I am certain that his sales pitch would have been the same. Just imagine Steve Jobs in front of a mirror selling: I’d bet you three dinners, he’d tell you what he believes.

So, now go back to your mirror and decide what you and your company believe. Here are some hints: Did the founders (or you) quit a safe, high-paying job, because they (you) wanted to change the world? Well, that’s a more powerful sales statement than explaining that your firewall has three more features than your competitor’s product. Buyers connect with people who commit to something meaningful. It’s catching.

Or perhaps you spent your life in government or law enforcement. If so, then your belief in justice, or service to society, or helping citizens with their lives – might be a good place to start. Bu please be careful: Buyers don’t want to hear that you’re cashing in on techniques learned in the military. Your belief must stem from a sincere desire to provide continuing service to others, not commercial opportunism.

Here’s the one-minute mirror pitch I give for TAG Cyber: “For the past four decades, I’ve committed my life to cyber security. It’s my vocation. When I retired from AT&T, I knew that there was something I had to do. The cyber community was being poorly served in research and advisory. It was polluted by pay-for-play and bad reporting. So, I rented a little office and got to work – and I haven’t looked back since.”

That’s my pitch. Notice that I don’t say what I do. I explain what I believe – and I can assure you that security professionals resonate with someone on a mission. This approach has resulted in hundreds of research sponsorships, consulting projects, and coaching deals. And I’ll bet I could use it to sell pencils (maybe with the image of Charlie Ciso on the tip – hmmm). Yes, I explain to buyers what I believe, and then I invite them to join my quest.

Now the bad news, and I hate to end on a sour note: Sometimes, there is no belief system. Sometimes, you search and search, but come up empty. Sometimes, you find that revenue is the only greedy purpose of a company, and that nothing comes close to a decent mission. My advice in such cases is simple: Find another place to sell. But make sure that the new place you pick is built on a solid foundation of belief. Good luck.

Let me know what you think.