Mike Taylor has been involved in security industry sales for more than 20 years, on the front line of industry changes and watching how they impact customers. Among the changes is a shift in the nature of the sales function itself.
As Director of Sales, Americas, for Milestone Systems, Mike Taylor currently oversees a team that brings to market the full suite of Milestone open platform solutions. We sat down at Milestone Community Days (MIPS) earlier this year to discuss the technologies and trends shaping the market, from artificial intelligence (AI) and deep learning to cybersecurity and return on investment (ROI).
Q: How much of the technology we hear about today – such as AI and deep learning – is theoretical? Maybe it will come in the future, but your customers live in the real world. How far behind are they, technically speaking?
Taylor: When you say “behind,” the beautiful part is that we [at Milestone] are not behind at all. Through our integrations and the open community, we are well ahead of competitors. Competitors who do end-to-end solutions are always chasing, always trying to match the latest analytic that came out.
We have the ability to say, “this is the latest and greatest product, they have our API [application programming interface] and they’re integrated, so let’s go.” That’s the beauty of being the platform on which everyone rides. If you just sell cameras, you are always trying to catch the next camera company. Instead, let’s just open it to everyone; be the open platform.
Pull all those partners in, and as there are new advancements, we do integrations to them. We do Camera Pack releases every six to eight weeks, so we generally have camera drivers done to our software and released to the market before cameras are commercially available. We are well positioned as new features, such as AI and deep learning, come online.
Q: How do you bring customers along?
Taylor: As the field sales team, we go out and do multiple trainings to an integrator. The first training is “here’s what’s coming in the current version, and here’s the next version.” The next round of training is talking about future integrations, and new things coming to the market. We also do a professional business review (PBR) with our partners.
We sit down with them, go through all the business; it’s a review of how they have done and where they’re going. We also sit down and understand their business plan. We talk through with them what our business plan is and how we’ll partner with them. We also want to open their eyes to new technologies that will open new revenue and sales opportunities, or even new industries. A partnership we have could open new doors for them.
Milestone talks to customers about future integrations, and new things coming to the market, before doing a PBR
Q: Is there an appetite among security integrators to expand into new markets outside security?
Taylor: When you say security integrators, maybe not. What we’re starting to see is infringement of IT and IoT contractors, different groups coming into the space that understand it and see the opportunity there. I have seen a shift of companies wanting to look into other markets and create a better opportunity.
Q: Do you sense any lingering skepticism in the market about the next wave of video analytics, or about whether the new category of deep learning products will live up to their promise?
Taylor: For years, we [as an industry] would go into the marketplace and say, “if you install a video system, we will reduce your guards; we’re going to help your ROI by reducing the number of people you need.” The problem is, we have done a very poor job of that. In fact, it isn’t true. The fact is, we have brought in more data that has required them to hire more and more people.
When I put so many cameras in that you require three people to watch them instead of one, you have not reduced [labor]. I believe that, moving forward, AI will truly give us an opportunity to deliver on the ROI promise that we have been selling for the last 10 years.
I have a lot of faith that we will be able to comb through all that data, put it through a funnel, and just drop individual pieces of data that are important, and allow customers to reduce their overall staff, and give them a true ROI.
Q: There’s more data than ever, so everything is more complex.
Taylor: A cynical person would say that more data has made systems more complex, but an optimist will say that it creates new opportunities. Now that we have that data, what other things can we do with it? This will open an amazing amount of opportunities.
The amount of data can be overwhelming, but it absolutely creates opportunity – for us as a manufacturer, and also for our partners, and for integrators who want to evolve and do more than just deliver electronics or put in cameras.
The amount of data around on the market can be overwhelming, but it absolutely creates opportunity
Q: Cybersecurity is a lingering problem for the market. What is Milestone’s role? How can you help fill the gaps?
Taylor: We want to be a market leader, like we are in the VMS space. We want to drive innovation and do it from both sides. We are doing it internally with our hardening guide and more layers of security. We also want to push our partners to be more secure. We are an open platform, but if you want to connect to us, there is a level of security required.
We have a duty to educate our systems integrators and help them get stronger. We offer software support upgrades, including three new releases a year, with each one having more stringent cybersecurity built in. For companies that don’t charge for software support, but then don’t do an upgrade for two years, think about how many threats come out every month.
We need to be the industry leader and the ones to step up. We want to work with like companies that want to drive that message. We have to use our pulpit as the leading VMS to drive focus on cybersecurity.
Q: What will be the industry’s biggest challenge in the next year?
Taylor: I don’t see a lot of challenges in the marketplace, but the economy could be problematic. At Milestone, we are very confident where the product team has brought the product, and in the business plan we have laid out. We just need to work to the plan we have built and continue to invest.
The only problematic thing that I see is the economy, because it is completely out of our control. But even if that turned today, it would be a problem in early 2019, not this year.
Q: You have been in the industry a while: What is the biggest change you have seen as it relates to the sales function?
Taylor: It used to be that if you didn’t have a degree, didn’t have a profession, then you would go into sales. We are in a whole new world today, where sales is highly specialized and there is a specific skillset that you need. We don’t use the term sales inside Milestone, we use the term “GTM” or “go to market,” because this is the team that goes to market.
Milestone wants to focus on how sales roles have evolved from being numbers people to building strong relationships and delivering service and consultancy
We don’t have regional sales people, we have channel business managers who manage the VARs, the partners, the inside team. The biggest change has been away from “we’re worried about selling, selling, selling because we have a number to make.” Now we have really changed. We have a much higher level of person who is more consultative and who builds relationships for the long term.
If you look at Milestone, we have always just done software. That is our niche. It has been important to improve the customer service we give, to improve the quality of salespeople we have. That’s the biggest difference for me: The quality of the sales individual and how that role has evolved from being a numbers person to more of a service delivery and consultative person.
Q: What message do you have for customers?
Taylor: We at Milestone have been very stable and steady and steadfast in the idea that we are a platform. We are building a platform for others to build on. We want to be the iOS, and we want the Milestone community to be the App Store. We want to be the backbone on which people ride, and we have been steadfast about that for years.
Most of the people at our yearly Milestone Community Days (MIPS) events are key systems integrators to us. A lot of our partners come to MIPS to see what is next, what is the future, what are the new technologies that are coming. I love seeing the number of new faces and vendors at these events. We bring these opportunities to market.
I really wish there was an opportunity for all our partners to come to MIPS, although it would be a huge undertaking! We get amazing feedback from attendees. It’s more than just “that was an amazing speaker.” It is the networking that goes on, the opportunity to see our partners all in one place. For me, I would like to see double the attendance at MIPS. It builds that community.
And if you are a platform, you are only as strong as the community you support. We’re out in the marketplace saying, “tell me what your needs are.” And let us bring our community along to solve them.