Security buyers still taking a worryingly short-sighted approach

  • Published: 18 March 2019,
  • The Say Team

It’s safe to say the physical and cyber security industries are booming. Both are set to grow considerably over the next five years, with cyber security in particular arguably entering its most critical age yet, following the data-hack disasters we’ve seen over the last few years.

Vendors in these sectors are therefore fighting for valuable slices of security pie – each scrapping to secure lucrative, long-term deals. However, getting in front of the right people and sealing the deal is not easy, with some vendors proverbially groping around in the dark when it comes to having a consistent sales pipeline.

To help get to the bottom of this, we conducted research to understand what matters to senior purchasing decision makers in this unstable time. With the PR hoo-hah surrounding state data sharing currently dominating the headlines, coupled with the reputational repercussions of a data hack, we asked various questions to understand what motivates purchase considerations, and what vendors need to do to make a good impression. Below are the key findings from the report, which have some interesting ramifications not only for the technology industry, but the PR world too.

1. Cost is still King

When asked what they considered most important when it came to purchasing, senior decision makers unsurprisingly opted for quality and cost as their top priorities; ranking above other factors including the vendor’s reputation, their compliance standards and existing relationships. So clearly whilst positive new stories and an impressive list of clients play some role in helping secure a deal, price will be one of the first hurdles to overcome when getting short-listed.

2. Marketing matters

A key takeout from the research was that vendors need to have a strong PR and marketing profile. Presence and authority in the print and online world, in addition to face to face meeting opportunities are seen as important by over two thirds of respondents (70.9%).  Coupled with this, physical security companies must make their approach to cyber security strongly heard, as it is shown to be important to almost three quarters of respondents (73.5%).

Interestingly, different stakeholders valued different mediums when it came to which sources of information they considered the most important. CEOs, for example, valued face-to-face interactions, notably at exhibitions or trade shows. Those who input on the decision but don’t have final say, however, favoured analyst reports. So for brands looking to make a sale, a varied on and offline marketing approach is needed.

Another lesson was that who a brand uses as a spokesperson matters too. The research showed that CEOs or technical experts were the most trustworthy advocates, with sales and marketing titles ranked the least trustworthy. So, whilst they might be pivotal in brokering a deal, they should not be used for marketing materials.

3. Don’t be all mouth, no trousers

The PR value of a good customer case study cannot be underestimated, with this source of information being overall the most trusted for useful, accurate and unbiased information. Nearly a fifth (18.5%) of respondents rated it as the most trustworthy source amongst the list provided, with almost half (47.6%) rating it within their top three levels of trust. From this, we can see vendors need to demonstrate a ROI and a strong history of generating results for clients.

Interestingly, coverage in mainstream, national news was seen as less trustworthy than specialist trade media, perhaps due to the lack of opportunity to show true expertise thanks to very limited space. In our world, national media is often seen as the pinnacle, so hearing that purchasers prefer more specialist input is a learning for both the sales and PR function.

4. Be open, even in times of crisis

For most companies, communicating they’ve suffered a data breach is not something they want to proactively communicate to the wider world. However, our research showed that the more open a security company is with its communications over potential and actual breaches, the more likely it is that customers will be willing to work with them. Whilst 17.3% of respondents indicated that a track record of security communications is essential, a further 27.2% said it would count in the supplier’s favour when considering whether to work with them. Even if a security vendor has suffered a serious breach, 29.1% of respondents were positive about a potential relationship provided that communication and rectified actions were taken. One of the first rules of crisis communications is to keep stakeholders updated, and this reaction from buyers shows vendors it won’t necessarily count against them to be open and honest in testing times.

5. Where a vendor is based is starting to matter

Foreign ownership was the most likely factor to stop customers doing business with specific security vendors, with over a fifth (20.8%) saying if the company was wholly or part state-owned by a foreign Government, it would stop them doing business with them. Slightly fewer (18.8%) state that if their data was processed outside of their operational reach, this would also stop them. However, when asked about value statements, respondents were more concerned about a vendor’s range of products and their specialised approach than how much they trust a company based on their country of origin. So, whilst there is growing concern about geography (hardly surprising considering the furore around Huawei and Kaspersky), buyers are still factoring in other concerns above that of data security – namely cost and how well known the potential vendor is. Whilst this is a short-sighted approach for now, we expect more of a shift in coming years as the threat and cost of data hacks grows.

What can we learn from this?

In essence, vendors need to be seen AND heard to get cut-through. To best optimise this, they should look to follow the PESO model to help them apportion budget. This includes generating content across Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned channels. There is no ideal ratio and every company’s proportions will be different, but working to this model helps educate, influence and forge relationships simultaneously. Whilst quality and cost will of course come into play, in such a crowded market those who proactively roll-out and maintain an integrated PR and Communications strategy will come out on top; so it’s clear vendors need to get marketing and demonstrate their worth, before it’s too late.

To read the report in full download your copy


By Louise SM. 

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