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Take it to the next level

Whether a security company is just starting out or has been around for a while, it can be difficult to know how to build the business.

May 13, 2016  By  Linda Johnson

That goal is particularly challenging today — in the face of growing competition, shrinking margins, the rise of DIY and the presence of the telcos and other huge players such as Google. Entrepreneurs need to identify the best ways to raise their company’s profile and connect with potential new clients. They also need an ability to adapt. For not only have the ways to reach new customers changed but customers’ expectations of security have also changed.

Dominic Burns, president and CEO at Whitby, Ont.-based AC Technical Systems, says most of their new business comes by word of mouth and referrals. They do little social media marketing. “We still follow the old fashioned way. I think people buy from people: that’s my philosophy, not a Blackberry or an iPhone.”

Instead, one strategy they use to expand their customer base is educational Lunch and Learns. Held at consulting companies once or twice a year, these events aim to help architects or consultants understand more about new technology.

“You have a captive audience, and you’ve been invited in by the senior management team. That gives you a certain amount of credibility. We’ve done three of these in the last two years, and with all three, we’ve ended up with customers,” he says.


“We do the same for large property management companies. Over the last three years we’ve started to focus on the commercial property management market. We did a couple recently. From a marketing dollars perspective, the investment was quite minimal, but the return was pleasantly surprising.”

AC Technical also recently became a member of the U.S.-based Security-Net, a network of independent security integrators that refer work to each other. It gives members the opportunity to go after large, national accounts across Canada and the United States, Burns says. For his company, for example, it has provided new opportunities in the banking and financial sector in the United States, where corporate governance standards and regulations are very different than in Canada. “We have opportunities that we would never even have thought of before.”

Another move they made, four years ago, he adds, has helped them gain large contracts. As IT expertise became more critical, they decided — rather than combining the security and IT roles in one employee — to buy an IT company. When they go into a presentation, they have a fully competent IT expert.

“We’ve been successful when we have very large contracts because we were actually able to bring resources from a sister company to be able to execute the IT infrastructure piece,” he says.

For Contact Security in Chilliwack, B.C, word of mouth is the most common source of new customers, says manager Erik Devisser. And, because they’ve been in business for 20 years, they have a lot of repeat customers.

On the whole, they stay away from pressure sales tactics and are not “door-knockers,” he says. Instead, the company runs a very successful referral program, which gives $50 to customers who persuade someone else to sign up, usually as a gift card for a local restaurant. “Some of the customers take that quite seriously, and we get a few from them. They sign up their neighbours.”

In addition to referrals, Devisser says, they rely much on newspaper and online advertising, like Google Adwords. They’ve also hired a person to expand their use of social media. So far, he says, they have found contributing posts to Facebook discussion groups has been very successful. “We keep an eye on discussion topics, and often we can throw in our bit, putting our name out there. That works quite well.”

Helen Perry-Raycraft, marketing and sales manager at Saskatoon, Sask.-based Brigadier Security Systems, says, in addition to many referrals, they’re putting more time and effort into Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter. Other organizations pick up their Tweets and re-tweet them, spreading their name and what they do. Overall, they’re finding social media more useful than it used to be.

“Some of our market has more youth in it, like newly married couples. And the entrepreneurs just starting out tend to be younger. So they rely much more heavily on smart phones versus the old traditional newspaper and phone book advertising,” she says.

For Dartmouth, NS-based Frontier Technologies as well, referrals are a big part of how they are growing their business, says general manager Brian Mackintosh. While they are using social media and have a website, these have not been a big source of leads so far.

Most effective was their decision to invest in two full-time business development reps. For many years the company was focused on structured communication and then, two years ago, expanded into security. Since then, they’ve discovered that general contractors greatly appreciate their ability to take care of both the low-voltage structured wiring and the security work.

“We found that was a compelling business model. So, getting our name out into the market using our sales teams has worked pretty well because it is a different value that were bringing to the market,” he says.

As a third-party monitoring station, Montreal-based Lanvac Monitoring cannot advertise to the general public, says Anna de Jager, vice-president, business development. They rely on a combination of word of mouth, referrals and events such as informational sessions, CANASA shows and golf tournaments. Facebook and Twitter have proven very successful. “We’ve found that if you don’t exist online,” she adds, “you almost don’t exist in the eyes of most millennials. So we’ve really beefed up our online presence.”

Moving to meet demand
At Contact Security, Devisser says, they’re found customer interest in cameras has grown significantly. There’s also a much bigger demand for home automation products and services, which they are trying to meet.

“We have gotten into that more, too, with smart phone control, arming and disarming and notification. So we do that all now,” he says. “Our focus is still security, but we tie that in.”
For Frontier Technologies, Mackintosh says, one of the main challenges has been persuading customers to move from analogue to IP cameras. While many people see the benefit of the new technology, they often don’t want to pay for them. However, customers are starting to ask more and more about integration.

“They say, ‘I want my cameras to talk to my alarm system. Can you guys do that?’ Or ‘I want my intercom to connect to my camera system,’ ” he says. “It’s not just a whole bunch of standalone systems anymore. People really are starting to look for integrated systems, ‘so I don’t have three different apps on my phone or my desktop.’”

Based on their dealers’ inquiries, de Jager says, the emerging trends are lifestyle services, interactive abilities and video monitoring. “Customers are reaching out to dealers, ‘Do you do this?’ The ability to arm and disarm your system from your phone, the ability to talk to someone over two-way voice, medical monitoring — there are lots of opportunities for the companies that want to take on that business.”

Tech re-training
Devisser says they’ve been able to adjust to new customer demand without extra formal training. “It’s been a learning curve. Yes! We learn on the fly here, with myself mostly doing the research on it, trying to get up to speed.”

Perry, who says Brigadier is also seeing a lot more customer requests for home automation, says they will definitely have to re-train staff on some new technologies.

“As products change, especially in the home environment, where you’re getting away from the keypad and you do everything through your smart phone, we will have to re-train. You’re going to see more devices sitting on the Wi-Fi network. So you’ll also see more challenges when you’re dealing with the bandwidth of your Wi-Fi versus just an RF transmitter.”

For Lanvac, de Jager says, constant learning is needed to keep up with the latest product offerings and services, especially at the station level where additional hardware and sometimes manpower is required to provide various new services.

“In some cases, such as video monitoring or our specialty services desk, we’ve had to train specialized operators for the unique service requirement,” she says. “We’ve also found many dealers have a hard time keeping up with which product is compatible with which service.”
One of their main objectives for 2016–17, she adds, is to hold informational sessions aimed at helping dealers develop their ability to sell and compete in a rapidly changing market. “We figured if we give our dealers the ability to increase their sales, it’s another way of generating new business for us.

“There are tons of opportunities now for dealers to make more money, to upgrade systems, to increase the recurring amount they get every month,” de Jager says. “Now, imagine if they had that additional bit of information that would allow them to differentiate themselves from everyone. Now, more than ever, it’s critical.”  

Linda Johnson is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

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