It’s all about transparency, honesty and communication

Issue 2/3 2023 Editor's Choice, News & Events

Born in Soweto and raised in what she affectionately calls ‘the hood’, Nontando Nkutha has been a working woman since high school, putting herself through her tertiary studies to graduate with a BA in Psychology from UNISA in 2003. It was not her intention to secure a sales role per se, but she is gregarious and empathetic, and so, she chuckles, sales found her.


Nontando Nkutha.

Her employer is the Canadian subsidiary of Motorola Solutions, which specialises in the design and development of video analytics, network video management software, surveillance cameras, and access control products.

I wonder how Nontando ended up working in sales, within the physical security industry specifically, and the question precipitates pause for thought.

She became involved in the technology sector as early as 2010, working for Altron, which was a Motorola partner. Meanwhile, Motorola acquired Avigilon in 2018 and soon after, Avigilon held a roadshow in Gauteng. It was here that she experienced Avigilon’s security solutions for the first time. CCTV was new to her. Video management software was new to her. Artificial intelligence was new to her. However, what she saw had an impact.

Fast forward to October 2020, and Avigilon found itself looking for a Regional Sales Manager for Gauteng. She fondly recalls her interview with Avigilon’s Senior Sales Director, Jamey Pietersen, during that first year of the global pandemic. Jamey had managed to secure a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg, yet their meeting remained a distanced one with not a handshake in sight. A difficult way to conduct an interview. Nevertheless, Nontando was offered the position.

Changing the world

There are also deeper reasons for her involvement in the security industry, beyond this series of fortuitous events.

As a young woman, Nontando was exposed to violence in numerous forms, and as a result, the safety and security of people has become somewhat of a passion. She wants to do her part to make South Africa safer. Her role with Avigilon is her ‘Why?’.

When asked to expound, and she cites an example: With universities as one of the verticals on which she focuses, she is keenly aware of the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of the world that students are living in today. With an 18-year-old at home about to start his own university journey, as she puts it, “What is going on in the world scares the heck out of me for my son."

What does she find most appealing about working within the security services sector? Without hesitation, she shares her enthusiasm around how much CCTV technology, specifically, has transformed in recent years. She cites Avigilon’s video management software as just one such example. She loves that, despite all its industry-leading analytics, the software that she provides her clients is rated one of the easiest-to-use video management software offerings on the market.

We chat around some of the challenges that she has had to face in the industry, and she tells me that Avigilon had been intentional in hiring a sales manager who did not have a history within the industry and could therefore bring a fresh approach to it. This came with both pros and cons. She chuckles looking back at her first few months. "There were people who did not think that I would last, yet here I am."

Fitting in

Reflecting, Nontando did not anticipate quite how aggressive competition within the sector would be, and it took her some time to understand industry dynamics. "This industry," she says, "can be cutthroat. You need to be able to be assertive." She found the embedded culture within the security industry to be quite a shock, and she grins when she tells me how she implemented the art of ‘just smile and wave’ during her first few months on the job.

When she set out, she was familiar only with Avigilon, and because Avigilon is a professional grade brand, which requires a certain level of technical insight, she had not expected that a constrained economy, would see her pitted against competitors doing a great job in the consumer grade space. She has found that clients need significant help understanding the difference between consumer and professional grade manufacturers. This is not to imply that there is not space for both, but clients sometimes do not quite understand the differences, she feels.

Avigilon is also keenly aware of global socio-political shifts. Nontando has found herself faced with a paradox in which, while some multinational clients have been instructed to remove security equipment originating in the East from their solutions, others maintain that as one of the BRICS countries, South Africa actually has a responsibility to support other emerging economies.

Breaking stereotypes

I wonder if she ever finds herself up against female and sales stereotypes in the industry. Her response is an emphatic ‘Yes’ – and all the time, but she does not take any of this personally. At the same time, she will not tolerate anyone crossing the line into disrespect.

She believes that people buy from people they like, and that her sales success is driven by relationships. Moreover, she explains that Avigilon’s approach is to show its customers what its solutions can do. Her customers find this helpful, and she finds the approach to be useful. The product, she believes, sells itself.

I wonder how she feels about losing deals. "It is horrible," she says. "I pour my heart and soul into my client solutions, so it is painful when I lose a deal, especially if there is no clear answer as to why." In this, she has come to learn that business relationships must be developed with multiple stakeholders. "Decisions are frequently made by someone right at the top, and that someone might have had little security context, or contact with me."

Speaking of client solutions, Nontando has found that the comprehensive technical training that Avigilon has offered her in her role has been unsurpassed. She is also ably supported by a team of solutions engineers, whose specialist knowledge she has no hesitation drawing on when needed. She feels that clients appreciate authenticity, and so when she does not have the answer to a complex question, she is honest about that, making sure to get back to her client with a comprehensive answer as soon as she has touched based with her team. Avigilon, she notes, is particularly involved in the early stages of the client solution, as the manufacturer of the product. It is Avigilon who must provide the specific product expertise to the partners who will ultimately install the solution.

That said, Nontando notes that, whereas previously her roles required her to sell directly to her end user clients, it took some getting used to, having to work via her distributors, through her system integrator partners.

Those partners are each other’s competitors, which means that trust in relationships is critical, and she notes that transparency, honesty, and communication are non-negotiable. Every partner must be treated fairly, she believes.

Peer support and time management

Nontando is a single mum and her role can be demanding, often requiring travel and working on proposals after hours. Being a working mother takes time-management skills and self-discipline. She and her son have had to make sacrifices and she feels that she has had to work harder to reach the same level of success as her male counterparts, being non-white, a woman, and working in a demanding industry. She feels that women need to be smart about the way they do business, and she notes that her company has been forward thinking in their support.

She also believes that peer support is critical. To that end, she mentions Manica Sanders of Ushaka Security & Fire Projects; another woman working in security, doing a great job in the industry and whose encouragement and support has been invaluable to her. Ushaka is a system integrator and collaborates with well-known manufacturers of professional grade CCTV solutions, including of course, Avigilon, so the two women have crossed paths often.

She also credits a Women in Leadership course through the Wits Business School for which she will be forever grateful. The course taught her how to deal with the specific difficulties that women face in business. The most important take-away? Not to take anything personally.

She passes on this same advice to other young women wanting to enter the industry. She believes that to be successful in sales within the security services sector, a woman needs people skills, self-awareness, confidence, great presentation skills, and a healthy dose of emotional intelligence. She believes that all of these traits can be developed along the way.

Nontando would absolutely encourage young women to become involved in the security services sector. "Technology," she says, "gets you around the world."

Nontando Nkutha can be contacted on 060 332 0298 or [email protected]. Further product info can be found at www.avigilon.com.

Manica Sanders can be reached on 083 783 7310 or [email protected]. Ushaka Security and Fire Project’s home page can be found at www.ushakaprojects.co.za.

Lesley-Anne Kleyn is an independent consultant and a member of the board of ASIS International, South Africa Chapter, heading up Women in Security. To join the conversation contact her on 064 410 8563 or [email protected].


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