I sat down with Joshua Danielson (CISO at Copart), Ryan Fritts (vice president of product information and security, CISO, at ADT), Rob Geurtsen (deputy information security officer at Nike), and Sherry Ryan (vice president, CISO, at Juniper Networks) to talk about security budgets and evaluating vendor claims for solving mission-critical enterprise security problems. I heard many shared insights around their thought processes for protecting their organizations.
Building the Budget
Before a vendor meets with potential customers, they already possess security budgets with predetermined priorities. Copart’s Danielson notes that the NIST framework and others help organizations establish a shared understanding of risk and set common baselines. Using these baselines, CISOs manage risk registers, set priorities, and determine risk thresholds in their environments.
Armed with a basic understanding of the budgeting process, vendors must remember that, for CISOs, technology is a means rather than an end. According to Nike’s Geurtsen, “The technology is part of the decision, but not the decision. More important is a unified view of risk at that moment and how to mitigate it.” When customers evaluate solutions, they generally focus on gaps in their security programs and how vendor value propositions can fill those gaps. CISOs do not say “we need AI.” Rather, they say “we need to address a problem; if AI is the best way to do that, so be it.” This is a subtle but important distinction.
Think about ROI
Having identified customers’ view of risk, how can a vendor prove its value? Because security does not generate revenue, CISOs measure financial returns by asking the following:
- Does a solution address prioritized areas of risk?
- Does it provide returns by mitigating those risks?
- Will it replace incumbent products or augment an existing cybersecurity portfolio?
- Does this solution enable the business and streamline the corporate security program?
CISOs have increasingly prioritized these last two points as widely publicized human capital shortages in the cybersecurity industry force them to rally around solutions that mitigate operational management gaps.
Juniper’s Ryan sees great value in streamlined solutions. “We’re dealing with a lot of complexity already… so I’m looking for integration with other security tools with similar look and feel, and tools that easily integrate into my environment.” CISOs may want vendors to help justify investing time and resources in new products by ensuring that a solution is easily deployed and tested (reducing up-front investment) and can replace legacy tools (reducing overhead and demonstrating value).
Given today’s security talent deficit, CISOs must consider the cost of human capital, which vendors should keep in mind. A good starting position highlights optimizing return (risk reduction) and minimizes cost (deployment, integration, and maintenance).
Communicate Your Message
Ryan also insists that “if [vendors] do nothing else, provide clarity around the problem you’re solving and how it applies to me.” It sounds simple, but many pitches don’t succinctly articulate a core value proposition. In the noisy security marketplace, it’s easy for vendors to lose their audience. They must present a clear value proposition, differentiated from competitors chasing the same budget.
Generally, security solutions either focus on “blocking-and-tackling” to address prevalent risk, or “greenfield” solutions that speak to emerging risks. For legacy “blocking-and-tackling” functionality, vendors enjoy a significantly lighter burden of proof. Customers understand the problem, possess a level of comfort with their security postures, and want to hear how vendors provide incremental, differentiated value. In these situations, a top-down sales approach with a clear message is most likely to connect.
ADT’s Fritts, however, thinks the best sales approach for cutting-edge solutions is different. “For greenfield, vendors need passionate advocates downstream in the organization communicating upwards.” Ryan adds: “No one has pure greenfields anymore. Directly address where you’ll fit in, optimize across environments, and don’t add complexity.” The category of offering will determine how vendors mold their go-to-market tactics over time, with strategic messaging and tactical sales approaches.
Focus on What’s Important
When vendors finally get in the door, CISOs want pitches to get straight to the point. Fitts and Geurtsen were most impressed with presentations dispensing with filler. Fitts notes, “I could do without the headlines. Like logo slides — it’s great that they’re your customers, but tell me why I should be, too.” Geurtsen agrees. When a vendor “skips the five slides about their investment journey, I’m impressed. … Get to the conversation about how you’ll reduce or manage my problem quickly.”
I often hear from our advisory board that CISOs are well aware of headline-grabbing breaches like the recent incident at Capital One, and do not require lessons on what happened. Similarly, posing questions such as “does vulnerability management matter to you?” comes off as pedantic. Every CISO cares about security. Customers want vendors to focus on how their solution can address those concerns with minimal preamble.
Get CISOs’ Complete Attention
I hear two things from the Fortune 500 CISOs I interact with daily: 1) They want to see great technologies early to understand what is out there on the market, and 2) they are constantly filtering through the noise of 300+ vendor pings every day. CISOs are ready to hear great ideas if approached correctly. Vendors must start thinking like their customers and focus on mitigating risk instead of defining themselves with a technology. Before developing a “better” interface, consider what potential customers already use. When engaging, listen closely and focus on the prospect organization’s specific problems. Be concise and candid in every meeting. “Do that,” says Nike’s Geurtsen, “and you’ll have my complete attention.”
John Brennan, Partner at YL Ventures, specializes in seed-stage cybersecurity investing. Leveraging a deep focus on cybersecurity and his diverse background in venture capital, he takes a hands-on approach to supporting YL Ventures’ portfolio companies, especially those in … View Full Bio