Josh’s Rules on Selling Solutions

So here I am at 2:15 AM.  Storming outside and me all hopped up on caffeine.  I just took a break from righting my last post:

Welcome to the HP Dream world where reality does not apply.

During that little breather I though you know what people must think I am a Cisco Zealot.  Well that could not be further from the truth.  I am a self confessed Technology Zealot.  It it is new, shiny, blinks, chirps or at some point in its lifecycle lived in a Data Center I want it.  But alas at least at this point in my life I have to make money.  I do that by working for a Cisco VAR.  We sell 90% plus Cisco.  Unlike past jobs I do not rep Juniper, HP, F5, Foundry…oops I mean Brocade, Arista, 3com, Shoretel, Avaya or anyone else that directly competes with Cisco Networking, Compute or Unified Communications.

That being said I do not think Cisco has the best product in every segment.  But I wont flesh that out on my blog.  If you want that info there is a price.  You are either a customer with a requirement I can’t meet at which point I will be honest with you or you are a professional friend who I feel comfortable discussion the finer and rougher points of our industry with.  What I will say though is I have some Rules for what I will sell and I wont sell.  I am going to lay those out to you and in a few cases why I feel how I feel.  I hope this will provide insight to others who design, sell and deploy solutions in our industry for clients.  At the end of the day our integrity is all we really have, Vendors crash, employers go under and clients come and go.

1.  If I wont run it in my basement I wont install it at a client!

This is pretty simple.  I run my home like a client network.  It keeps me sharp gives me a “Production” network to try things in and when it breaks my family does not get internet or TV so they are a lot like end users in an enterprise.  If Patti does not see Kate screaming at John then I hear about it.  How I decide what I will run in my basement is not quite so simple.  Most of the things that I will not allow in my home are from personal experience.  Point in case HP and 3Com switches.  I have worked with both platforms over the past 5 years from edge to core and they are garbage.  Flaky, underpowered and a really PITA to manage.  I hear good things about the next gen of stuff coming from HP post the 3com acquisition but I have been burned on client site by both platforms and will not be racing to put them in again soon.  That said and to be fair though I will put HP stand alone severs in my Prod and Test rack all day long.  They are tanks and seem to keep running years after they should have died.  I will leave it at that an not talk about blade chassis if you know anything about me you know how I feel about that topic.

2.  If I have never heard of your product I will probably not sell it.

I HATE THIS RULE!  And the probably clarifies that it is not a hard and fast rule.  Simply put I have been burned hard twice now in my career by two separate products and companies who where unknowns to me that I was forced or enticed into selling.  Sad thing is that one of those products was really phenomenal and the company decided to commit suicide in the American security market.  I just happened to sell their system right as they did it.  The fact of the matter is I love new cool tech.  The fact of the matter is that lots of new cool tech is half baked and poorly supported.  Bringing new products to your clients is a careful dance in a mine field while artillery goes off all around you.

3.  If I don’t believe in it I wont endorse it.

Back to the point I made about having to earn a living.  I do not always have the luxury of jumping up on the table at a client and screaming “NO DON’T DO IT YOU WILL REGRET IT!”  But I do have the luxury of shutting my big stupid mouth.  Let me take a non current job example of such a situation.  When I worked for the State of Ohio I was lied to by my management team.  I was told that the solution I was selling was going to be resisted do to past sins of said management team but they had repented of their evil ways and would no longer screw customers out of money by luring them into free services and send a bill later.  Well it took about 8 months till I realized they were lying and I simply quit trying to sooth my clients fears about the possibility of future costs.  I did not have to tell them my management team was full of corrupt liars but I also did not have to defend them.

4.  When I am wrong I eat the bullet on go on.

A few weeks ago I made the simple statement “Well I was wrong about that”.  Right away someone in the room when um can you say that again?  Well that pissed me off.  The insinuation is that I think I am always right.  Honestly I approach many things with the perspective that I am right but I am always open to new ideas and the possibility I am wrong.  If I cut right to the chase people don’t pay me to be wrong, they pay me to be right every single time.  So when I am not I really pisses me off.  Not because I had to loose face I am way to old and over myself to give a crap about that.  But because I was paid to be right, and I did not do my job 100% if I was wrong about something.  Even if me being wrong about something is not my fault I feel like I have failed.  I am hard on myself and that wont change.  But the key to all of this is if you screw up eat the bullet, admit your mistake and move on.  You and your clients will find it easier to work with you.  Plus no one likes a know it all.

5.  DON’T MAKE CRAP UP!

If you want to avoid to many holes in your head from point #4 then don’t lie!  Yes that is what making crap up is.  Don’t stretch your resume, if you saw a WAAS demo don’t put WAAS on your resume!  If you are asked about how wine is made in Tuscany in the winter during your prepared VDI presentation, tell them you can point them to a good resource called google or your Grandma (if she is from Tuscany) but that it is out of the scope of your presentation and experience.  The biggest failures in any solution are based on half-truths, lies and half-assed work.  Talk to what you know, do they work required and the rest comes pretty easy.

6.  Don’t let a vendor build the design.

Yeah I know I sell Cisco.  Yeah I know that I look for and follow best practices around Cisco like SAFE.  Yeah I know that my SEs are smart.  Yeah I know that the guys in the Channel are cool and often a lot smarter than me.  But guess what…at the end of the day they vendor is not responsible for the design or the deployment.  Did you know that Cisco SE and CSEs are not allow to work on a production client network as written into they contract?  So why then should I expect them to have the investment in a client that I do?  I get the calls when it fails, I have to figure out what to do with optics are missing from the BOM, I have to stay on site 36 hours straight when we deploy, blow up , re-architect around a problem and then re-deploy over a holiday weekend.  I lean on my vendor reps and engineers all the time and I count on them for their feedback and experience but in then end I am responsible.

7.  Don’t treat customers like friends.

This was a hard earned lesson.  Heck twice in the last 3 years.  The first case I worked 2 years with a client.  We took Krav Maga classes together, he came over and watched UFC with me and my buddies, I offered to take him and his family in when things went bad in their life for awhile.  In the end he cost me my single biggest client up to that point in my career.  He took every thing he knew about me and used it to advance his career.  To this day I am not welcome at that client site and I am responsible for 100% of the success of their network team and the vision change of that organization towards technology.  Customers are Customers.  We can like them but at the end of the day they pay us to do work for them not like them.  Maybe we are just IT whores.

8.  Always speak up.

I spent way to much of my early career asking the wrong questions and keeping my mouth shut during the important points.  I don’t do that anymore.  If a client is planning on spending $30,000 to wire a solution for a 15 minute goal that we could avoid all together I tell them they are wrong then explain why and how to fix it.  If they don’t agree, I will probably be annoyed but I did my job as a consultant and I move on.  The first time you don’t speak up and it all hits that fan at 4am on 4th of July, you don’t get to say well I thought of that.  Nope all you get to do is fix it and see item #4.

9.  Complexity is fine.  Complexity to show I am smart is stupid.

As an engineer I need to know complex ways of doing things because sometimes they will get me out of a design problem.  But I also need to understand they simple ways to do things so that I can quickly and consistently deploy good stable solutions to clients.  Using policy routes to move a sub-set of and IP range out a secure wireless gateway is wrong if all it would have taken was a new VLAN.  Yet IPSLA is wrong if the client really needs BGP load balancing for their public app via two ISPs.

I am sure there are more.  These help me survive and provide solid solutions time and time again to customers.  I hope these do not sound to preachy and I hope that you have been able to pull some value from these.  Hopefully it has also given you a bit of perspective on who I am why I say some of the things I do both here on on Twitter.

Here is to giving clients the right solution every time, on time with superior up time.

About Josh O'Brien

Josh is the CTO of Language Access Network in Columbus, Ohio. Over his career he as had extensive experience in networking environments. These experiences have led him to design and implement hundreds of customer networks as a consultant. Currently Josh focuses growing nationwide medical networks and providing cutting edge video services to the medical community.

  • Bill

    Your rules on Selling solutions are spot on. At the end of the day you have to do 4 things,

    1: Make money for your company
    2: Support your family
    3: Live with yourself
    4: Live with yourself (needs repeating)

    At some points in my career I have fail 1&2 to Live with myself.

    Bill

  • http://cosforum.com/ StetHaineeson

    I am normally just an observer when it comes to blogs, but this actually made me desire to leave a comment. Great work!