Security Experts:

Navigating the Rapid Digital Shift: Ticket on the Bus, Not the Whole Bus

Global Companies’ Evaluation of Cybersecurity Solutions Selection Has Been Steadily Changing 

If it wasn’t already obvious to cybersecurity sales teams, there’s been a sea change for large organizations evaluating and buying new security products to protect their businesses. Responding to COVID-19, transformation plans that enable “work from home” such as Zero Trust identity and access management have been greatly accelerated, while technology refreshes and other capital-intensive plans are being pushed back.

Now, several months into this new operations paradigm, there may be added credence to the adage “in for a penny, in for a pound.” 

Many large companies have successfully navigated the digital shift to most of their workforce working remotely, finding the transition less difficult than first envisaged and achieving higher productivity than anticipated. Because such companies have resolved long-held internal conflicts over the security and integrity of cloud-based business operations, many of those postponed capital-intensive projects are being reviewed with a cloud-enabled, subscription-based lens.

This has several ramifications for cybersecurity vendors—particularly the specialized boutiques and innovative startups looking to quickly capitalize on new security opportunities.

Global companies’ evaluation of cybersecurity solutions selection has been steadily changing over the past couple years. The rapid digital shift of recent months has reinforced the need for change. 

I’d like to offer advice to vendors attempting to reach out and position their new cybersecurity products.

1.“I’ll buy a ticket, not the whole bus.” For decades, startups have looked to the largest companies as the Golden Goose and focused great energies in selling into them. The premise being that by solving a critical problem for them at a very high premium, that will cover the costs of developing an actual solution that can be sold broadly—e.g., the sale will fund my company’s product development. Although there may be a few cases where only a custom-tuned solution is required, many large businesses now prefer to buy a close-enough solution off the rack and work with the vendor as an advisor—not an investor. CISOs are looking at the sustainable list price of the solution and will purchase at a discounted level proportional to their deployment’s scale.

2. “Cost projection is critical.” Although highly versatile and scalable, cloud-based services billing can be difficult to predict—especially if the cybersecurity solution requires multiple third-party and cloud-provider SaaS dependencies. Security owners and budget holders are requiring vendors to provide accurate billing forecast and tiered discount models for the complete solution—models that include all dependent service costs (e.g., log storage analytics, container management). Vendors need to remove as much calculus from the pricing as possible and be prepared for billed services to be pared back if overly optimistic projections exceed the planned budget. Cost discussions have replaced those about cloud solutions prices.

3. “Features must be pre-integrated.” If the product is a feature (which, let’s face it, almost all new startup products are!), recognize it as a feature and don’t position it as a partial solution. As a feature product, integration with the solutions businesses already use is a prerequisite, and sales representatives should lead with the integration and interoperability first. CISOs are looking to shrink their attack surface and simplify the portfolio of products and vendors they rely on, and are increasingly reluctant to take on the task of brokering partnership between vendors as a prerequisite for extracting new protection value. Feature products benefit greatly by being enabled from within a solution provider’s product or marketplace.

On a related note, with the surge to execute day-to-day business operations remotely with a diverse and globally distributed workforce, cybersecurity buying decisions will increasingly factor accessibility, usability, and inclusiveness in solution design and operability. Vendors will be steered toward cloud-standardized accessibility interfaces—enabling visually impaired employees to use screen readers or dexterity-limited users to employ voice-to-text controls—to perform their analysis.

These changes are not unique to the largest enterprise businesses and are trickling down to other educated cybersecurity buyers feeling the same buying pain. Forewarned is forearmed.

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Gunter Ollmann is currently the CSO of Microsoft’s Cloud and AI Security division. He is a seasoned information security leader who has defined and trailblazed new security markets through his work with globally recognized companies, including Microsoft and IBM X-Force, and startups, including IOActive and Damballa. As a seasoned C-level executive and technologist, Mr. Ollmann has been instrumental in several dozen M&A deals (as acqui-hire, acquirer, consultant, or adviser) ranging from tens-of-millions to billion dollar transactions.