Sales Call Gone Wrong and the Innovator’s Dilemma Moment

Absolutely horrific sales call today with prospective client. It started down the wrong path when customer said they just wanted the technical details regarding the Plexxi solution and did not want any marketing messages. To a sales team, this is red flag because customer is telling you that they have complete working knowledge of your product without ever taking the time to listen. In this case, the customer just wanted to ask “technical questions” to “ferret out the holes” which is an interesting directive because it assumes a working technical knowledge around our product set as well as controllers, photonics, switching silicon, network architectures, switch design, graph theory, etc.

After twenty minutes of answering questions, I found myself telling the customer that our products did not work the way they had assumed and if I could just provide a level set, it might be helpful to them in understanding where the core value lies in our solution. I have encountered preconceived notions may times in the selling motion and usually people are receptive to a level set in a group setting and sanity returns. Not today. I was then confronted with a speech regarding the applicability of our product set and it was obvious to this customer that we were targeting a very narrow use case. At this point, I decided to end the call on good terms and move on; but wait there is more.

Just when I thought we were done, one of the other participants decided to ask their SDN questions. This was when the steam shovels versus hydraulics moment occurred. Please see pages 64-73 of Clayton’s book. I suddenly found myself in this bizarre world with a customer loudly declaring that “we do not believe in SDN” and “there are two types of network people in this world, those who believe in SDN and those who don’t and we are the kind that don’t,” but wait there is still more. “We have been building networks for a long time here the same way we and we like configuring each network element in the CLI and we are not about to change. There is a long history here of doing it this way and we are not about to change anytime soon.” I will now borrow from Clayton, which I pulled off the bookshelf when I got home to write this post:

The early users of hydraulic excavators were, in a word, very different from the mainstream customers of the cable shovel manufactures – in size, in needs, and in the distribution channels through which they bought. They constituted a new value network for mechanical excavation…Hydraulics technology ultimately did progress to the point where it could address the needs of mainstream excavation contractors. That progression was achieved, however, by the entrant companies, who had first found a market for the initial capabilities of the technology, accumulated design and manufacturing experience in that market, and then used that commercial platform to attack the value networks above them. The established firms lost this contest. “ Pages 66 and 71

Much of that prior post summarizes how I feel about building networks using a Controller architecture that people often refer to as SDN, but SDN has many meanings and the term tends to have convoluted and confused connotations in the market.   We simply believe it is a better method to build a network and it has transformative attributes at scale – but the early genesis of this evolution does not begin with the network engineer stuck in the past sitting in his steam shovel. It takes root in a different place within the IT landscape and then moves into the mainstream; just like the hydraulics companies had to find a different application for their technology before they could earn the right to put the steam shovels companies out of business.

Later in the day I got a call from the CEO who said “I poked my head into your office, but I saw that you were on a customer call so I did not interrupt. I heard it went bad?” I replied, “no it went great. We absolutely qualified the customer out and there is no need to waste any further cycles with them for twelve months as they are still buying steam shovels.”


4 thoughts on “Sales Call Gone Wrong and the Innovator’s Dilemma Moment

  1. I have the same feeling that a few customers are not in pursuit of SDN, while they are likely doing alternative things by using openstack, or they could have protocol stacks on their own. It fully depends on what their product stands for in the market and the requirements they need. SDN is always a good option which gives flexibility to customers though they may not use it for certain reason.

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