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Tired of summer-sales stories?

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Friday, August 7, 2009
Here's today's summer-sales model story. Promise I'll get off of this jag, but it's Friday, and we're finishing up our September issue today...Busy bees around here. This story says 35 Apx salespeople got their license revoked in Nacogdoches, Texas for "heavy sales tactics." Uh Oh. NOw if all 35 were being such bad boys, that would be impressive. Got a call into Stuart Dean at Apx to get Apx's version of what went down in Nacogdoches. It's still very early in Utah, but he's usually pretty quick returning calls. Here's the story. Just got a call from Stuart. Apx is looking into the situation in Nacogdoches right now, he said. One thing Apx corporate does know at this point is that there were not 35 sales people involved. "We had 35 licenses, but we did not send 35 people down there. That would have been a full court press," he said. "It was a group of 10 to 12 salespeople. We're investigating right now and we'll certainly address the issue. We take any complaint of this sort seriously," he said.

Summer-model poll commentary smorgasbord

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Thursday, August 6, 2009
The results of the most recent SSN Newspoll are in, and the results are interesting. What's even more interesting is sitting back in my comfy office chair and relaxing while reading through all the voter commentary. I thought you all might enjoy reading some of what the voters had to say about the summer-model, summer-model companies, codes of ethics, and the plight of the industry in the face of sometimes dishonest and pushy door-knockers. Sam and Martha discuss the poll results at ssnTVnews, as well. I've included below a sampling of comments that didn't make it into the story. I've decided to keep the comments herein anonymous... Enjoy. Here's a gentle and balanced take.
Some good, some bad, seems to vary with company and even with branch office in terms of how aggressive they are.
Some did not hold the door-knocker in high regard (note the ALL CAPS, which is the text equivalent of shouting).
DOOR-TO-DOOR IS ONE STEP REMOVED FROM SIREN CHASING.
I think all company owners who participate in door-to-door sales, a.k.a. stealing accounts, should be beaten with a wiffle ball bat.
Many voters focused on the real issue here, which is honesty, or lack thereof.
I don't think the ethics of the alarm companies are the issue, but those of the individual reps themselves. There are thousands of sales representatives out there every summer who do their jobs with integrity. Unfortunately, there are a few who feel they can get away with a little misinformation here and a promise they can't keep there. These seem like small things at the time, but eventually they grow into bigger issues and the next thing you know the company you work for and believe in is on the news below words like "SCAM" or "PREDATORY."
This came about because apparently some sales people were CLAIMING to be ADT reps..... and apparently a lie. I'm more concerned about other lies like "police will respond and be here in three minutes". Alarms are fine... but the limitations should be addressed honestly.
In burglar alarm companies, I understand why they do it, because it works. That doesn't make it right, but it is what it is. The real problem is people that run some Integrated Security Companies actually try to make their sales personnel try these same tactics as a way to generate sales of Integrated Card Access and/or CCTV Systems. One business owner in Carrolton, TX still does this to this day. Not only does it not work, it puts the sales personnel in a no-win situation.
We get numerous calls from customers and concerned citizens every summer regarding the summer sales companies that operate in our area. Many times these people feel they have been victimized by unethical salespeople (pushy, dishonest, etc.). I realize the companies don't necessarily train their employees to act in that fashion, but their sales model (how many accounts can we sign up in the shortest amount of time) encourages this kind of behavior.
One of the problems many addressed was the difficulty in policing the behavior of door-to-door salespeople.
We require all of our representatives to have ID cards from the police department which requires finger printing and background checking. We also require these reps to be honest but find this is very difficult and have had several terminated because of unethical tactics, lying, etc. We need a very strict code of ethics for field reps protecting dealers and companies and holding these reps legally accountable for misrepresentation, dishonesty, etc. As a group, door to door sales reps have a horrible reputation and can hurt this industry if they are not kosher!
I think the larger companies have difficulties in maintaining the integrity of the salespeople's presentation just by the fact that there are so many people in remote places to manage.
They need to undergo more training and be supervised a bit more. Many are great and have the best intentions but there are some that undermine the industry.
Certain companies with the door-to-door model talk a good game but don't take steps to police the tactics of their summer sales forces. Obviously, deceptive sales practices are tolerated in the field while corporate gives lip service to setting standards. I think the recent ADT lawsuits directly against the predators are a step in the right direction. Enterprising college students or not, they need to be taught a lesson.
It's greed all over again. Ever see a Doctor knocking on doors??? This industry has really gravitated towards the bottom feeding with fast talking, misleading salespeople who are NOT trained professionals!
Some people cut right to the chase and claimed the problem was not with door-to-door sales as a model, but with those who wielded the practice unethically.
I think Door to Door sales is a great model for building new accounts and creating industry awareness. There are many many salesman that are honest and work with integrity that do a great job promoting our industry.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with door-to-door sales - if the salesperson conducts their sales in an ethical manner. (see the NBFAA Code of Ethics)
I don't agree with door-to-door because people are often mislead. Some companies do this intentionally, others do not but the unfortunate part of it is that a lot of people don't realize that they are not getting as good of a deal as they are pitched. This has created a very negative stigma with regard to alarm companies. I have traditionally been involved with CCTV and access control systems but have had involvement with burg, for 23+ years on the integration side and I'm now on the consulting side of the industry. The alarm guys have always had this stigma surrounding them.
Door knocking is a good way to generate sales however when sales people are pushy and misrepresents themselves and the company they represent action should be taken. No company should build business on misrepresentation.
Door knocking is one of the oldest methods of sales in general. It only has a negative viewpoint when abused, just like any other sales or business solicitation method. It is not the sales method, but how that method is delivered that should be under ethics scrutiny.
Some voters pointed out other problems with door-to-door.
It does generate new accts. but most of these have a high attrition rate. It is a good thing only at the beginning.
Door Knocking is a great method of finding new clients. The problem is greed has created a situation where sales reps are taking customers from other companies, which is a tort...interference with contractual relations. The situation results in loss of client from the prior company, double billing issues for the subscriber, and then sales rep goes back to school in Utah and forgets about the people he screwed. Many times we hear, that the door knocker indicated they were from our company and were there to upgrade the system. Dishonest. The pattern is so wide spread, it could only occur with corporate encouragement.
Some focused specifically on the summer-model, claiming the practice damages the industry through casting a fly-by-night light.
Unfortunately, door-to-door sales people have given the alarm industry a bad name. Door-to-door sales is not bad, but the people doing it are! Why do people want to deal with a company that only sells in the summer? What about support and service? Is service a thing of the past?
The summer model companies that are currently operating have some very aggressive sales people. I'm not saying that they are all the same but the number of complaints about them is unsettling to say the least. The other thing about these sales is who is going to service these accounts once they have been installed? This type of selling gives the security industry a bad reputation. Most companies want to give their customers the best possible service but that doesn't seem to be the case with the summer model companies. Door-to-door sales when used properly is a good way to create some awareness and increase sales.
The summer program companies have not traditionally been companies that look into the future repercussions of their short term actions. With the evolution of that model, most of them are starting to learn hard lessons about long term attrition models and customer service. The bottom line is that if they don't spend the time and money to correct these issues the lawsuits filed by competitors and the regulations endorsed by municipalities will be of far greater financial consequence than their own training and diligence costs. Associations are typically ineffective at enforcing code of ethics violations.
Summer sales programs that behave like the "Music Man" blowing into town, making sales and vanishing into the night are not good for the industry; however, door to door sales conducted by a company with a permanent presence in the community are good for the industry.
Some claimed door-to-door should become a thing of the past.
It's really an issue of best practices. No sale can ever be successful unless it's approached as consultative. Pushy advertising makes little sense in the world of Web 2.0, where savvy consumers have access to information, research resources, and make decisions based on their needs, not the availability of a product or service. If a consumer wants security, they will seek out a company. That said, the most important aspect of this is to understand the selling of security. No system and no company can ever guarantee that a resident will be protected from crime. What's really being sold is the assurance of peace of mind. If a neighborhood feels that pushy sales people have infiltrated its sanctity, there goes any assurance of privacy, peace of mind, or security. Most view door-to-door sales as not just an inconvenience but a violation. In the end, the message conveyed is contrary to the service or product being pushed. Perhaps residents will end up purchasing security systems just to keep aggressive sales people from entering their property. One last thing; the more aggressive the sales tactic, the greater the perception of a company's desperation to sell, especially in uncertain economies. If the consumer believes that a security company is desperate or has hit hard times, then the consumer has little confidence in that company's solvency or financial security. We're in the 21st century now and our sales strategies should reflect that.
Home security is serious and private, and to let an unknown person in your home is wrong. Their action constantly damages the industry's reputation. Appointments should be pre-scheduled. I had one come to my door, he was a clever liar who had worked for another door to door company before. He said he made a lot of money doing this job and wanted me to pay twice what I already pay for my own system (I had to pry that out of him). He said his company would pay off my current contract. He and his installer were both unlicensed and misrepresented what company they were with. Sorry I can't comment further because of the lawsuit.
Door to door sales threaten public safety and violate privacy. People are becoming more scared of opening their doors to strangers, and for good reason. Home invasions are on the increase, and the public should be discouraged from opening their doors to anyone they don't know. I have a "No Solicitors" sign on my front door because I do not want my privacy invaded.
Some said: "Like it or not, the summer-model works."
The sales method from the summer model program is impressive, regardless of the opinion from alarm companies of traditional sales models. The introduction of high volume, low cost sales programs, introduced many years ago, caused a similar outburst among traditional organizations. The industry is evolving, causing new players to evaluate the opportunity and setting the stage for new sales delivery systems for alarm systems. I am sure in the coming years, another outside player will impact the industry with new technologies and point of sales mechanisms that will cause other traditional alarm companies to sit-up and take notice.
Door to door sales has always been, and will be for a long time, the most productive way to generate new accounts. Every successful sales person (on any level) in this industry makes "cold" calls. That being said, it is never acceptable to mislead or push your customer into purchasing a home security system that is not right for them.
Some felt door-to-door was good in that it helped end users to be proactive about security before a loss occurs, and puts the idea of security in their head.
As long as compliance measures are met by the company, I think that particular method of customer acquisition is great. Exposure to the need for security is spread throughout the neighborhood whether or not someone decides to become a customer and if anything, it gets people to think about security proactively rather than the unfortunate trend in our industry for customers to only buy a system once they have experienced a burglary. People don't usually pursue or research alarms until a crime happens to them or someone close to them. If a door knocker is able to help a family obtain a system they wouldn't have otherwise obtained then I say, AMEN!
The door to door model obviously works for the companies that adopt that model. The summer companies and even the ones that are here year round that use it are extremely aggressive to the point of using untruths to get people to violate an existing contract with their current company and switch over to their services. I think that in the long run they probably create more business for the legitimate alarm company, because the customer will have an alarm in their home, and eventually they will find a good alarm company to do business with.
Some voters pointed out the positive side of door-to-door sales.
I think with most types of media you are generally hearing the negative feedback. Some people get very bugged by someone coming to their door to sell them something, especially when they are pushy. BUT you have to realize those are the only stories you are hearing. What you are not getting are the people that are grateful their home and family is protected because a young man or woman came to their door and wanted to help protect their family... Something they probably wouldn't have thought to purchase themselves.
I think door-to-door sales is a powerful way to start protecting families! Every home is different, every family is different, everyone's needs are different, and every situation is different. Thus we need to have people personally come door-to-door and really get to know the people that the alarm company will be protecting. The business needs to run this way, so we can specifically meet the needs of every single person, and by doing so, the door-to-door sales people, the alarm companies, and especially the customers will know their home and family is always safe, and protected! Thank you to everyone involved in this wonderful door-to-door sales program!
I feel that door-to-door sales is a great way to for people to learn how an alarm system can protect their family. It is a completely different experience to hear someone explain the system, rather than read about it.
I think that it is very good. I have been in the shoes of the reps that do go door-to-door and i was able to help some people that otherwise would not have known what was out there. I think it is a very good tool for a company and it also helps protect more families. After all, isn't that what we in the alarm industry are all about.
To some, the theme should be caveat emptor.
It's good if you have the right people working for you. people that are dishonest don't need to work in this industry. on the other hand the consumer needs to be smarter about what they are getting themselves into. people get into something that they don't fully understand b/c they didn't read everything and by the time they get wise to their situation they look for someone to blame for their stupidity.
I think alot of the bad press is due to customer being upset about the agreement and not having enough money to pay for it, not necessarily the sales. although, i do think there is a bit of dishonesty with the sales tactics used and that we should keep a better eye on our sales rep as should other alarm companies.
It is a great way to contact people and to protect families. On a business side of things, because of the impulsive nature of the purchase on the part of the customer there are a lot of people that experience buyer’s remorse. They then put the blame of the remorse on the sales rep that sold them the alarm. On the other side of things there is nothing better to know that a family is safe when they had no precognitive intention to buy an alarm; nonetheless they are experiencing the peace of mind and protection that a residential security system provides.
I think that door-to-door knocking can be the answer to prayers for some families. Unfortunately, no one in the media really cares about a happy family. News stations thrive on negative news, and focus on the extremely small percentage of people that are displeased with this method. The only people who are unhappy with door-to-door sales are those who haven't the backbone to simply tell the sales rep that they are not interested.
Again, the above has been only a small sampling of the comments received on the latest SSN Newspoll. Check the poll frequently and let your opinion be heard.

Who's the summer-model bad boy today?

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Thursday, August 6, 2009
After yesterday's positive story about a summer-sales model alarm company, here's more of the usual. Today's is a story with complaints about Pinnacle salespeople run amok in Illinois. Based in Orem, Utah, Pinnacle is featured in these stories a lot. This is the company that has several salespeople (or former salespeople) who are being sued by ADT and Monitronics.

Positive summer-sales model story

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I'm telling you every single day I read stories from all over the country detailing complaints about summer-sales-model companies and their sales people run-amok. Some of this is to be expected, given the hundreds of college kids that are dispatched around the country to sell these systems. Though, I can tell you that there are way more stories this summer than last summer. So here's some bonifide news on that front. No, it's not another chipper local television new reporter investigating complaints of a door-to-door alarm scam, nothing like that. Sam actually found a positive story about one of the summer-model companies, the big grand-daddy of them all, Apx Alarm. Apx is the biggest and most well established of the summer-model companies, and they've made big strides in getting good press over the past couple of years. Don't know if one of their guys pitched this story to the local Moorhead, Minnesota TV station or not. Might be something they and other companies might want to do in communities where they feel they're having a positive impact on families. Here' the story.

Say you wanted to build...

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Wednesday, August 5, 2009
I've discovered this new site, www.embedded.com, which is for hard-core dork engineers who are tasked with building things for OEMs. Some of it's way over my head, but it offers interesting insight into how products come to market. Anyway, I came across today an interesting piece on building a cheap, wide-dynamic-range camera. It might be worth a read as it takes the curtain away from some of the product that's out there on the market. I won't go through the whole thing, but what's interesting to me is that some things taken for granted as difficult in the security industry sure seem easy for this guy. Like megapixel, for example:
These attributes dictate the use of a low-cost image sensor. While the latest consumer cameras boast image sensors with more than 10Mpixels, this design can use a device with as few as 1Mpixels. Such devices are available at very low cost, thanks to the proliferation of image sensors in mobile phones and vehicles.
As few as 1 megapixel?!?! That's practically high-def, man! How are you gonna deal with all that bandwidth?!?!? The article then proceeds to make all kinds of image-capture problems seem ho-hum. I'm sure it's all more difficult than this, and there are very important security considerations he's missing (and I'm missing), but it's interesting to see someone from outside the industry consider questions the people inside it struggle with from time to time.

What does 'stable' mean?

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009
I'm working hard right now on a software special report - I've got some 8,000+ words of notes already - and it's shaping up to be a look at what it means for software companies to really be "stable" and "reliable." Of course, these are terms thrown around all the time by software manufacturers. Who's going to say they're NOT stable or reliable? But they appeared on face value to be pretty empty terms. How do you measure stability? I hear people throw around the term "five-nines," but how many of them actually have some sort of documentation that shows five-nines reliability? But I'm starting to uncover some metrics that companies use internally that make some sense and you should be asking about as a reseller: What percentage of customers make use of customer support in a given month? This doesn't necessarily speak to reliability and stability, as many customer support calls are because of user error or a reseller who's still unfamiliar with the product, but if a high percentage of customers are calling customer support on a regular basis, that's not good. You can also ask what the ratio of customer support staff to customers is - a high ratio can be a good thing, showing they're committed to customer support, but if all those people are busy all the time, it might make you wonder. Following on that, too, is: What percentage of customer support calls get elevated to the engineering team? Basically, how many of those calls are actually due to a user-discovered error in the software? If this percentage is high, that definitely speaks to unreliability. There simply shouldn't be that many problems that engineering needs to fix or issue an emergency patch for. If there are lots of patches being issue on an unscheduled basis, that's a problem. Because you know the first call is likely to be to you and you'll be rolling a truck way more often than you'd like. How many square feet is your test lab/What's your testing lab look like? Sure, beta tests in the field are great, but there should be rigorous testing done in the lab before it even gets to beta. You should see a big area and lots of actual product that the software is actually running alongside: cameras, readers, etc. If all of the testing is done through simulation, that's a problem - real world testing is vital. Really, if they're working often with video or panels that drive outdoor gates and the like, the company should have an outdoor test bed as well so that environmental factors can be considered. Further, you could ask: What's the ratio of money spent on development to the money spent on testing? Essentially, if all of the money is being spent on development, that's not a sign of a mature product, and you should wonder how reliable the end product is going to be. I had some manufacturers say to me that testing spend should be at least double development spend. But I think that's only fair for more established companies. If it's a young company still building out its feature set, it seems unreasonable to expect them to double that on testing. But maybe not, if you want the software to actually work. And, finally, though this isn't a metric: Who are some customers who can speak to the stability of your software? Perhaps this is a no-brainer, and maybe it should go without saying that if a company doesn't have a customer who's raving about their software then you should run away, but it's something to make sure you don't forget. Go and talk to integrators who've installed the software and go and talk to the end users who are using it. If neither is happy, neither will you be. Anyway, that's a start - I'll have a more robust report on this in about a week. Feel free to make notes in the comments about other questions that should be asked of software manufacturers as you're consider partnering with them or becoming a reseller.

RIF at ADT helped balance sheet

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Monday, August 3, 2009
ADT's parent company, Tyco International, reported its Q3 earnings last week. Click here for a look at the press release. According to Bloomberg, cost and workforce reductions, which took place at ADT and elsewhere are having the intended effect. Here's their story From the story:
The company, [Tyco] which is run from New Jersey, pledged to reduce costs by $200 million during the 2009 fiscal year as the global recession hurts demand for its products. The company has cut its workforce by 5,000 this year, Chief Executive Officer Ed Breen said in May. Most of the cost reductions were at ADT, which pulled out of some less profitable regions. “We are actively addressing our cost structure through both restructuring activities and tighter cost management, and these efforts were reflected in our margins,” Breen told investors on a conference call today. Tyco International rose 84 cents or 2.9 percent, to $29.64 at 4:15 p.m. in New York Stock Exchange composite trading. The shares increased 37 percent this year.
Here's a story I wrote about cost reductions at ADT in April.

Protection Bureau announces 2009 scholarship award winners

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Monday, August 3, 2009
I just got a press release from The Protection Bureau. They've announced the recipients of the company's scholarships for the children of current Protection Bureau employees. This years recipients included: Michael Lynch, Heather High, Brandon Canty, Brendan Lynch, Faith Handley, Lindsay Urban, and Charles Lynch. The Protection Bureau's Keith M. Ladd passed away earlier this year. The Education Fund was established by Keith and his wife, Protection Bureau co-owner and CEO Mary Ladd, in 2005. Here's the release:
Exton, Pa.—The Protection Bureau Awarded scholarships for 2009 to the children of its employees. This was a bittersweet event since Mary Ladd, CEO made the presentation without co-owner Keith Ladd who passed away earlier this year. In light of the tenuous economic condition of the world today, the company is very proud to be able to provide this program to help this generation further their education. This is the fifth year that these awards have been distributed. The Education Fund was established by Keith and Mary Ladd, owners of The Protection Bureau in 2005 for the benefit of children of current employees who enroll in formal programs for post-high school education. “This project was one that was close to Keith’s heart. I know this is what he would have wanted and I’m very happy to be able to continue it,” stated Mary Ladd. Initially, an anticipated distribution of four awards per year (up to $1,000 each) were planned. Recipients are selected each June for the ensuing school year and these awards help to defray the costs of tuition and/or books. This year seven scholarships were distributed to families in the office for students attending local colleges and universities. A panel of three independent judges received the unopened applications and made the decision with no input from the company other than to verify eligibility of the applicant. These awards are entirely outside the control or influence of company management.
Congrats to all recipients.

Johns Brothers: On the ball

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Monday, August 3, 2009
I had never heard of Johns Brothers Security until they contacted me last week about sponsoring a youth baseball tournament, but, then, I guess that's the point. Sure, you sponsor these things because you like baseball and kids and whatnot, but really the point is to raise your profile a bit. I'm surprised more companies don't do things like this, and I don't mean the Brink's, er, Broadviews, and the ADTs of the world. I fairly rarely see security companies sponsoring these kinds of feel-good community efforts, even though they're pretty much no brainers: security companies keep people safe, and what's more important to community building than everyone feeling safe? Good for Johns Brothers, but it seems like we should have been paying way more attention to them anyway. They've got a really nice web site, for one thing, so they're on board with marketing in the Web era, but they've also been around since 1892, apparently, so it's not like they're a start-up. If you're doing things like this, send me the information. Maybe not a story for the paper, but good information to have on hand nonetheless.

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