Duncan Hart joined information security firm Integralis in October 2007 as client director, part of a series of appointments supporting ambitious plans to transform the business from a supplier into one of Europe’s leading providers of managed professional services, in 2010 he was voted Professional Services Sales Person of the Year after closing £4m of business.
Integralis was founded in 1988 and currently has 525 staff, with 250 in the UK. The company also has offices in the Germany, US, France, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, United Arab Emirates and Singapore, and turnover in 2009 was €173.7m (£145m).
Hart, who has sold IT solutions and services for 13 years, had been away from the market for five years before joining Integralis, having worked as business development manager at secure messaging company Boldon James. He also had spells in other technology providers including Vistrom and Cirel.
“In my absence the growth in the number of IT security companies and advances in technology had a significant impact on the market. Products that I would have previously sold as cutting edge had now been commoditised.”
Understanding this shift, meant that an evolution needed to take place in its business model, from a product reseller focus to a company offering consultancy and managed security services.
This holistic approach, which saw Integralis help organisations identify, meet and manage the multitude of security challenges they face in today’s highly interconnected world, has helped differentiate it from the basic resellers that have flooded the market in recent years.
A career in sales
It’s also meant a change of mind-set for Hart and his colleagues, aiming to make their sales quotas but increasingly looking for a healthy mix of longer-term relationships with clients.
“The key to winning trust in my experience is to under commit and over deliver,” says Hart, who works within the company’s managed security services division, which now contributes a significant chunk of Integralis’ annual revenue.
As the focus has moved from selling product to consulting with clients to help them understand and manage the risk to their businesses; responsibility for ensuring the integrity of data has shifted further up the food chain. This is also reflected in the seniority of the people Hart now deals with – typically chief information officers or global heads of IT.
“You depart from a conversation about technology and instead it becomes about business challenges. What you sell is only part of the puzzle. Understanding the people involved in the process and what makes them tick is very important if you’re going to be successful.”
It’s an approach that has obviously paid off with Hart named Integralis’ Professional Services Sales Person of the Year in 2010 after bringing in £4m of business, the majority of which was in the managed services sector.
The rapidity of technological advancement and the new challenges it presents show no signs of slowing anytime soon. The overnight success of the mobile devices such as iPad and the coming of the tablet PC are a perfect illustration of this.
“Consumerisation is the biggest problem most businesses have probably ever faced in terms of security. Employees increasingly expect to be able to use their latest gadgets, be it a smartphone or tablet, in the workplace or to remotely access the network. Companies are very nervous about getting this right, as policy decisions taken now will have a significant impact in three to ten years’ time and could alienate or empower the workforce,” says Hart. “Consumerisation has become a board level issue. It’s less of a technology question and more about understanding and mitigating risk. “
As a sales professional Hart has always been adept at working his way around blockers within an organisation to find champions. However he concedes that with the fast pace of technological development and its impact on businesses, sales consultancy has become politicised and a delicate path needs to be walked so that senior figures within an organisation, who may see a new approach as a threat to their influence, are placated and kept onside.
“It’s vital that you always demonstrate your understanding of the client’s market, and that is very much about your own ability to communicate effectively, both in terms of presenting but also listening,” says Hart. “The role these days is about knowing the business issues that buyer’s in large organisations face, not simply the product you’re selling. If you can appreciate and incorporate these aspects, you’ll be a much more effective salesperson and move beyond the basic skill of being able to sell in a particular one-off product.”
Don’t sit on the fence
“I’m a salesperson through and through. I have an understanding of the technology I’m selling but I realised long ago that there was no value in trying to understand every last detail. If you end up in a meeting with a client’s technical guys they are always going to know more than you and in that situation you risk losing your credibility.
“You need to make a decision from the onset about what you want to do and be the best at it. There are very good technical people out there and very good salespeople but extremely few that are exceptional at both. So don’t sit on the fence, go down one path or the other and be the best at it you can – that will define how successful you are for your company and ultimately how much you earn.”