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Last time I checked, cybersecurity jobs were going unfilled, with stats indicating that there are two jobs for every candidate. Cybersecurity sales is no different. Add the lack in talent to double digit attrition rates, and companies are dealing with lost revenue opportunity and a costly hiring process. It is imperative to hire the right sales rep and some are a better fit for the cybersecurity industry.
Sales managers look for a few things when hiring reps: sales experience in the industry, experience in similar sized companies, sales experience with customers in the target market, clear indicators of “success” from the past (including quota attainment, Club attendance etc.) and strength of network and relationships. Then there are well recognized traits: hunter mentality/ drive, charisma, intelligence, empathy, resilience and confidence. Finally, they look for “feel good” factor. After all, we want to work with folks we like and remind us of ourselves.
What's really different about cybersecurity sales?
Sounds thorough but the cybersecurity industry warrants more. It took conversations with 48 cybersecurity sales reps and correlating their success (quota/pipeline), behaviors (tracking level and frequency of customer engagement, strength of internal and external network) and competencies (via standardized testing) to understand what set the best ones apart. Let me explain.
Think about selling ERP and selling cybersecurity. Both sold into the IT department, the former all the way to a CIO and the latter to CIO/CISO. Selling ERP is hard but there is a predictable output (if you install x->a,b,c,d happens) and predictable path and tasks to get to the output. Studying the customer’s business and business process in detail, and you can clearly articulate how your product can solve customer pain. You are going where other customers and vendors have tread before, so likely there are well articulated answers to “If-then” scenarios. There is a method to the madness.
Cybersecurity is nebulous, more difficult to wrap your brain around. There are new threats and sophisticated attacks every day. The assessment of impact of these threats on business and assets is a learning process. Attacks creep up and blow up in unexpected ways. AI and cognitive computing are going to lead to yet unknown cyberattacks. There is limited budget and limited talent/resources to deploy against cybersecurity attacks – against who and what is most critical to protect? Against insider threats? Against third party attacks? Protect ERP systems? Business Applications? Customer/Corporate/Email/Order Data? What to prioritize? And protection is not foolproof, the puck is moving and all you can really do is skate to it but never catch it.
So, what's different about the good reps?
The best sales reps are the ones who recognize that uncertainty is the very nature of the industry, and are very comfortable with it. This is not a job for the sales rep who adopts a structured and rigid selling approach. Even the industrious ones who study the industry and customer well and plan for scenarios eventually trip up. They encounter a never seen before attack or customer problem, and are not able to coach the customer through the quandary. This is not to say that diligence and a plan is not important, and selling is improv. A good cybersecurity sales rep recognizes and reacts proactively to situations not in the playbook. He has reached zen state with chaos.
Can you teach this to a rep or do you hire for it? Given priorities for sales enablement in an environment of constantly shrinking budgets, I proffer that it is easier to hire for these traits.
Follow all the other testing procedures you must – experience fit, company/culture fit, competency fit etc. – but also ask questions around comfort with uncertainty. How often do they try something new? Do they read widely and enjoy multiple experiences? (makes you more perceptive to oncoming change) What’s reaction time and course of action when they mess up badly? What do they expect worst case scenario with a customer (in this industry) to be and how would they recover? Do they sound unabashed about failures? How do they cope with substantial changes (in life)? Wanting to win in sports aka competitiveness is one thing, it’s almost another to risk everything you own/family/kids for a dream. You get the idea!
You might contend that high attainment in the cybersecurity industry is proof enough of a sales rep capability. That may well be so. But, the rep could have been handed accounts built by someone else. Quota accuracy may have slipped under the radar. Or it could be a large customer already entrenched in the product. Is account maintenance enough? Or are you looking for a hunter? Moreover, there are not enough good cybersecurity sales reps to go around (remember talent shortage?). You will have to hire from other industries.
In that case, evaluate if it is easier to train a new rep on product/technical know-how, selling behaviors or for innate traits required to execute sales tasks in the cybersecurity industry.
Cybersecurity employment stats
Practical selling tips from a CISO
Good article on best ways to hire salespeople can be found here
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