Knocking door-knocking

Readers overwhelmingly disapprove of the summer-model
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Friday, July 31, 2009

YARMOUTH, Maine—Summer-model sales companies and door-to-door salespeople have been in the news quite a bit lately, with demands for a code of ethics and industry-initiated law suits against individual door-to-door salespeople dominating headlines. To see what its readers thought, Security Systems News conducted an opinion poll from late July through early August. Is the summer-model legitimate? Is a code of ethics necessary to regulate door-to-door salespeople? What has the impact of the summer-model been on the industry as a whole?

As of August 3, roughly 33 percent of voters thought going door-to-door was a “great way to generate new accounts.” Far fewer of you—roughly 18 percent—were lukewarm on the topic, claiming you thought whatever worked was fine. The overwhelming majority of voters were of the opinion that going door-to-door was not legitimate, with roughly 49 percent knocking the sales practice.

Security industry consultant Albert Janjigian, of Watertown, Mass.-based Expedeum, says legitimacy means simply that the model gets results, not that it is necessarily desirable. “Unfortunately, the model has seemed to be extraordinarily effective from a sales perspective; however, from the information I have so far, most of the companies engaged in this practice have seemed to be less than desirable,” Janjigian said. “If the model were tweaked such that it provided decent service, perhaps it should be an approach that the industry needs to investigate.”

Dave Simon, senior manager of communications for Irving, Texas-based Broadview Security, feels the issue is not black and white, and at the end of the day, the problem is with individuals, not models. “While door-to-door sales are a legitimate method for generating business, all companies must take care to address potential customers in a fair, legal and honest way,” Simon said. “The bad apples—those companies going door-to-door and doing bait-and-switch tactics with homeowners—give the industry a bad name. Poor installations from these same companies also lead to false alarms, and muddy the reputation of our industry further.”

The second question in the poll asked if the NBFAA’s general code of ethics (www.alarm.org/about/codeofethics.html) was sufficient to govern door-to-door salespeople. Roughly 15 percent of you said yes. Nearly double that number—27 percent—voted the general code of ethics was not sufficient. Perhaps tellingly, the vast majority of readers who voted—a little more than 59 percent—had, in fact, never read the NBFAA general code of ethics.

Fort Smith, Ariz.-based Guard Tronic’s regional manager Jordon Brown believes the industry has no place getting involved in a code of ethics. “It is the state’s responsibility to determine what is appropriate for their state,” Brown said. “National associations, including NESA, have the responsibility of educating alarm companies, employees, and to a large part, customers, on ethics and professionalism. It is not our responsibility to regulate a state’s licensing law.”

Mark Matlock, senior VP of San Antonio-based United Central Control, believes a code of ethics is definitely needed. “Door knocking in and of itself is not bad, per se. But what we see today is pushy, unethical, nonlicensed salespeople angering customers and giving the industry a bad name,” Matlock said. “That needs to be stopped and a real code of ethics needs to be adopted and the offenders must be punished. The sanctity of existing alarm contracts must be protected and upheld, as well.”

The poll’s final question on the impact of door-to-door sales on the industry as whole showed the biggest discrepancy in votes. Almost 15 percent of you thought door-knocking had a positive impact, introducing the alarm industry to people who wouldn’t otherwise have contact with it. But almost 74 percent believed door-knocking negatively impacted the industry and angered potential customers with pushy and dishonest tactics.

Rick Echternacht, GM of Edina, Minn.-based National Home Security—an authorized GE and HAI dealer—thinks door-to-door sales damage the industry. “The high pressure tactics used by many of the salespersons door-to-door gives all of us dealers a bad name. If door-to-door is allowed to continue, then the companies that do use it must police their employees and not allow them to bully/high pressure the potential customer,” Echternacht said. “Unfortunately, I believe that some of these companies actually train their salesman to use those tactics.”

Sean Bell, IT director for Orem, Utah-based Pinnacle Security, agrees there is an issue, but lobbies for a more balanced view of the summer-model. “The negative publicity seen in the news represents a very small percentage of these companies’ total sales,” Bell said. “As an employee of one of the largest summer sales companies, I know first hand the extreme amount of effort that goes into maintaining our reputation and that of the alarm industry.”

For a wider sampling of voter commentary that didn't fit in the story, please visit Security Systems News' Monitor This! blog.