Building a High Performing Cyber Security Sales Team… Hiring For ‘Career Diversity’: Q&A With Adam Philpott

Creating the perfect team is no mean feat. Not only do you need highly skilled individuals, you need the right people. Those who share the same vision as your business and those who can see opportunity from a different perspective. The first step to building a high performing team is hiring!

Thankfully we don’t have to explain how to build a high performing team, we have an expert to do that for us. Adam Philpott, Senior Vice President at McAfee has been building his team for years, with a proven track record  in doing so. So we sat down with him and asked him a few questions around Cyber Security Sales, the successes he and his team have achieved and how to hire for career diversity.

Q. What got you into Cyber Security Sales?

Like most, I did not grow up as a child thinking: “I want to be in Sales”. However, we all follow a path of skills we are naturally good at and enjoy. You need to be entrepreneurial in sales, for me this started early after leaving University, I joined a Distributor which gave me exposure to several IT organizations, I was fascinated by cyber security and the noble endeavor to fight the bad guys! Unlike any other industry with end-users, it was not about gaining a competitive advantage, there was a sense of community and wider support system outside of the organization.

Q. What drove you to move from selling to management?

I chose management due to natural progression. I still LOVE selling and always get involved when I can with customers, I do not agree with being 100% hands off. However, you can only do so much as one individual, being able to grow teams allows me to achieve so much more working together. There is nothing wrong with the ‘lone wolf’ style salesmen, every organization needs them, I can just do more having good people around me.

Before we discuss how to hire for career diversity, first we must define what is the role of a Cybersecurity Sales professional?

Q. What is the role of a Cyber Security Sales professional?

In short, the role of a Cyber Security Sales professional is to ‘diagnose and prescribe’ NOT sell a shiny product into a client to make commission, you will create bigger problems down the line. Equally if you cannot help that client, be honest and say, you are also helping them save by not wasting their time; they will value that.

The skill set in Cyber Security Sales is very diverse and this goes back to why I like building teams and the strength in numbers. We are humans not robots and there is no right or wrong, someone who is more technical will have more success selling to technical teams and someone more business focused will have better success selling to C-suite, it is about aligning skill sets to the right market.

As a leader, setting up processes so my sales team know what they are and are not responsible for is fundamental to ensure our clients remain satisfied. A sales professional cannot be everything to everyone when selling SaaS, which is why we have Pre-Sales and Customer Success aligned within the business.

Q. What has your most successful hire done at McAfee to achieve success?

They bring the right attitude and energy; they are not afraid of a customer to develop, even the lengthy ones and do the right things to accelerate that process. They do their research on clients and understand projects being run by their customers, they eventually become an expert and can talk to all levels within that sector.

Q. Everything you just highlighted above is a soft skill, how do you assess this at interview?

  • Presentation, energy, credibility, and other soft skills can be assessed in an interview.
  • Other skills, such as discipline, require good questions that goes beyond mere theory and articulates credible examples
  • Exploring different angles on a given skill helps get a more 3-dimensional view as to its strength
  • Finally, having a clear, structured set of desired skills and using a panel thoughtfully to explore them across a set of interviews helps.

Q. Why do you believe salaries continue to climb in Cyber Security Sales?

This is a challenge in the industry to both attract and retain the right people, it all comes down to supply and demand. We are defining supply too narrowly; it is ironic cyber security is all about risk, not just to reduce risk, taking risk to mitigate it to an acceptable level. However, when we think of talent, we do not apply the same principles we go low risk and conservative… “I want someone from the industry who has done this exact thing previously” which is creating the supply issue.

We need to define what skills and experiences are required for a potential hire to demonstrate and not just see that in realms of cyber security, you can see this in an adjacent industry. You form an emotional connection with the things that matter most, you will never find the perfect fit and even doing so it could impact productivity finding that perfect candidate.  

Q. In most industries, it is always of comfort to hire someone with sector experience, do you see this as a risk when hiring outside the sector?

I do not see any risks hiring out of the sector. To help manage the associated risk, you must zoom out from that individual hire and look how diluted your team is, in a specific subject matter. If you look at your team and realize you are too diluted and lacking subject matter experts that can become an issue, you then need to hire from a specific sector. Equally, if you keep hiring in the same image you can become too concentrated, a team so aligned to legacy technology they love and unable to innovate. It is like anything in life, it is about balance when looking at talent.

Q. What is the biggest challenge in Cyber Security Sales right now and what advice would you give to anyone in the industry struggling?

It is hard one to answer, for me there is more opportunity than challenge. The market is super-fragmented right now, the one challenge talent has is the desire to move around too quickly. I would recommend work through that learning curve and demonstrate success, do not move for cash alone, your earning potential is driven by experience. Leaving too early, you might leapfrog where you would normally be in 1-2 years but long term you are going to be undervalue to where you should be.

When you are in a role, think about when you stop learning, think about how you push the company you are in (in a timely manner) and if that development stops then it is time to move. Where is the development moving into a similar business, in a similar role for a small uplift in the salary? We are not in the Scouts; we are not collecting badges for how many Vendors you can work in.

Why is a career in Cyber Security Sales so rewarding?

Fighting the bad guys, is the most rewarding part of what we do, there is a noble endeavour when working in cyber security. This has created the most amazing community of an industry that supports each other.