I asked a group of security directors what product or service was most glaringly missing in the security industry. The unanimous response: Consumer Reports. Each one said they wished there was some independent, reliable source for product reviews, quality testing, and usability evaluations. In information technology, those sorts of reviews are all over the place. The team I ran at Forrester for a number of years and others like it, such as Yankee Group and Gartner Group, collect customer stories of what works and what doesn’t and report findings not unlike Ralph Nader’s famous advocacy magazine.

But the physical security industry doesn’t have anything like that. Sure, the trade magazines write “reviews” that basically restate marketing documents. And you can buy data reports about how much money is being spent on this technology or that. But independent testing and advocacy for the consumer is virtually absent. Therefore until I find a trustworthy source of product recommendations, my advice is “don’t believe anybody!”

BASIC VALUE PROPOSITIONS

I am an industry analyst, so many marketing folks believe I am an influencer of the market. As a result literally hundreds of technology companies pitch their products to me each year. My team and I take 30 minute briefings to understand the basic value proposition of each company and we keep our notes for later reference.

If a company is particularly interesting, we follow up with more conversations with technical staff, a demo and even calls to current customers. This is the best way to weed through the more than one thousand manufacturers and service providers serving the industry today.

So I’ll share with you some of the criteria we use to tell at a glance whether the company has their act together, or whether they are snake oil salesmen.

First, when the sales or marketing person starts talking, one of the first things you should hear is a description of a real problem that you are facing in the words you would probably use. That will show that the vendor has done his homework and understands what you and other security managers like you are facing.

I see a lot of vendors trying to sell products they created in a lab, far removed from the real life problems of the companies they are selling to. This annoys me. So I watch for the telltale signs of a company with a product in search of a problem to solve: Is there a lot of jargon and abbreviations in the presentation? If so, then either the presenter is a technical person who is not likely able to relate the technology to your problems, or the sales person is trying to hide the fact that he really doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. Either way, the vendor is not connected to the customer and probably has not designed the product to solve your specific problem.

Other vendors tell you that their solution is the greatest thing since sliced bread. But if you don’t get a clear description of what the product does NOT do, you should not believe the vendors’ claims of what the product does. Comments about competition reveal the best clues. The vendor should present two or more competitors and say how their own product differs. If you only hear that competitors are bad, then you can be sure that this sales person has no idea how to get value from his own product, let alone his competitors.

Keep an eye on my web site (www.4ai.com). I’ll soon publish a list of the companies with the best sales and marketing content and those with the cheesiest or most misleading. In the meantime, use some of these tips be become your own Consumer Reports.

On the Web Info Sources

Security Magazine columnist Steve Hunt is gearing up to provide the pros and cons of sales and marketing content through his Web site. In the meantime, try out the following:

Zalud's Blog provides a unique, daily twist on security technologies, products, about the security business and solutions at http://blog.securitymag.com.

The Security Industry Association, a trade group headquartered in Alexandria, Va., offers a free email-delivered news service that covers 15 topics of news and reports researched by LexisNexis from newspapers, journals, transcripts and other media sources. Go to http://go.reachmail.biz/SIA/ to sign up for one to all 15 of the newsletters. Subscribers receive headlines and links to full text. Four newsletters broadcast weekdays while the other 11 broadcast every other weekend.

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