Close your eyes and imagine you are standing in the middle of a car dealership showroom floor. What feelings and emotions are invoked? Do you feel stress, anger, hesitation, nauseated and a ton of other negative sentiments? If so, why do you think this is?

I believe it is because most everyone has had a negative experience at some point in their life with a salesperson they were working with during a transaction. And why is that? My thought is one missing action taken by the salesperson. The action missing is listening.

This translates perfectly into my world as a CISO dealing with IT Security vendors on a daily basis. Most days I receive anywhere from 50+ emails, 10+ LinkedIn messages and 10+ phone messages from vendors all trying to sell me the latest and greatest super solution. In all of those messages, very few every start out by even asking if I have a need for that solution.

In order to determine my needs, you must first LISTEN. But how can you listen if you don’t get the chance to speak with me? It is because I mean LISTEN as in the below:

  • Learn the Needs
  • Investigate the Company and Individual’s Background
  • Situational awareness
  • Time and Attention
  • Expectation Setting
  • Never…

Learn the Needs

Although most of us in the IT Security space have similar goals, needs, threats, etc., not all programs are created equally. A vendor should take a moment and really consider the needs of a particular company in a particular industry.

Take a minute to put yourself in the shoes of the person you wish to make contact with at a company. Do research on the industry as a whole to start. It is important to not only understand the company at hand but their competitors as well. Start big (industry) in your research and dig further.

Once you have a good understanding of the overarching business environment of a particular space, move on to the next step.

Investigate the Company and Individual’s Background

Research has never been easier or more accessible than it is today. I am always impressed by a vendor who has taken time to learn about what is happening with the company and with me personally. Some points are critical in this area.

First is to know the company’s name (true and real name). In today’s world of M&A, joint ventures, subsidiaries, etc., it is vital you understand the company’s structure and formal name. From personal experience, if a vendor calls the company where I work by the wrong name, I immediately stop listening to what they have to say. That is as insulting as calling me by the wrong name.

After getting a good understanding of the company’s background, do a little digging on the person who you wish to connect with or are speaking with about your offerings. I am always impressed by those salespeople who have taken a moment to read a few of my articles or have similar professional organizational affiliations.

Also, never underestimate the power of the reference. If a vendor has a strong relationship with another CISO I trust, the trust foundation already has a running start. By understanding the company and the individual, you will begin to paint a picture of their current situation which leads to the next layer.

Situational Awareness

Be aware and cognizant of what is happening in the world of the company and the individual. Everyone has goals and quotas to meet but if the timing is not right due to other known factors, it is best to revisit that potential client at a future time.

If the company and or the individual is currently working on a very large public initiative, there is most likely little to no time to devote to any other considerations. Be aware of those situations and plan accordingly. If the timing is right, then begin with the step of giving the time and attention that is required to build a relationship not just a sales pitch.

Time and Attention

Yes, time is money. Often you have to take the time to make the money. I am not suggesting a large amount of time be spent shmoozing the client. I am saying take the time to build a real and meaningful relationship with your clients.

You have done the research on the person and you have an understanding of their situation, therefore use that information to begin a valuable partnership and relationship. If the person is involved and attends professional networking events, attend as well and meet with them. When you meet with them, just listen to what they have to say and participate in the conversations without going straight to the product you have to offer.

In your conversations, use qualifying statements to show the individual that you are actively listening and trying to gain further understanding and insight into their needs. If you truly listen, the fifth stage of setting expectations should be easier.

Expectation Setting

Once you have gathered the research and put that into the correct context and spent the time building the relationship and are ready and welcomed to give your pitch, always understand expectations prior to the meeting.

Understand who will be attending and revisit the research step on the additional players involved. Set the expectation and whether  the meeting will be technical or high level in nature based upon who will be attending. Don’t assume you know. Just ask what level of detail is preferred. Gain insight into budgetary cycles.

This will set the expectation on whether this is exploratory meeting or more of an immediate need to be filled, which will help you present and give the proper message.  The proper message comes with several nevers both during and after the presentation which is the final step in the “listen”ing process.


Never depend on an outside opinion to sell your product for you. Yes, industry research is helpful to those of use making decisions on technologies but they are not the end all be all. I understand you have the “magic” but that does not make you an automatic fit.

Never sound desperate. We know it is nearing the end of a quarter or end of a fiscal year but my goals are not tied to your goals. This goes back to the step where understanding a company’s budgetary cycle will help you plan accordingly and therefore eliminate the need for the desperation in the messaging.

Lastly, never bash or say negative remarks regarding a competitor. All tools, company’s and even people have their pros and their cons. It is appropriate for a professional to point out the differentiators that make what you have to offer appropriate but not to talk down about another offering.

If we all take more time to really listen, we may just be amazed at what we learn.

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