Thursday, July 22, 2010

What the customer is telling me ...

I attended another sales kick-off meeting for a client of mine, and no matter how often this happens, I always come away from such meetings energized. I hear technologies expressed in ways I hadn’t considered before and markets explained from different perspectives. Always the discussions are peppered with lively comments about “what the customer is telling me!”

Readers of the Real Time Blog may recall the post of February 6th, 2009 “Gaining momentum, enthusiastically. And with passion!” where I covered my last kick-off at GoldenGate Software and where I discussed how contagious enthusiasm becomes and how quickly it generates passion. I wrote of how Chris McAllister explained that the source of all the passion came “from all you guys – just as it does when I engage the NonStop community!” This year I have participated in sales kick-off for ISVs such as comForte and Integrated Research and I am pleased to report that at both of these, there was just as much enthusiasm and passion visible as I had seen at GoldenGate’s kick-off meeting more than a year ago.

Vendors continue to invest in the NonStop platform and new products are regularly released into the marketplace. When I talk to colleagues who are now working on other platforms there’s always an awkward moment of surprise while they comprehend the news that yes, there’s still a lot of investment being made in the NonStop platform. They are sometimes even more surprised when they hear of major, Fortune 100 type corporations, upgrading their NonStop platforms and re-committing to their use for another five and sometimes as long as ten years! Financial institutions like Barclays, JP MorganChase, Bank of America, Visa, as well as numerous telephone companies and even stock exchanges can’t all be so out-of-touch to not understand the impact their decisions to use NonStop have on the marketplace! Paraphrasing my good friend Sam Ayres, who is perhaps the biggest advocate for Java on NonStop, “NonStop Rocks!”

Of late, HP NonStop Enterprise Division (NED) has exhibited a more enlightened approach when it comes to interacting with the third-party vendor community. Particularly, when it comes to those vendors developing the tools, utilities, and services so many NonStop customers rely on to better exploit the NonStop platform. It has been my experience, as I have sat in on numerous meetings between vendors and HP’s NED management, that when faced with reasonable requests these HP managers have been only too eager to assist. When the complex issue of what to develop next is raised, however, these same HP managers now assume that through the close relationships third-party vendors enjoy with their customers, vendors are actually better-positioned to know what’s required than HP!

Sales kick-off meetings are events to go to if you really want to hear what’s needed in the marketplace. There’s not a sales person or solutions architect who isn’t prepared to lobby hard and long for a feature or component critical to a customer they work with to be added to a roadmap. Long nights spent with their counterparts from other territories, particularly with their management present, will see these same sales folks extolling the virtue of having the feature integrated into the next release! As Chris McAllister summed up so eloquently back in 2009 – “you want passion? Just look at all these guys!”

Maintaining close ties with customers has always been a critical component in the success of any NonStop partner – particularly those providing tools, utilities and services. HP NED does a terrific job of developing platform roadmaps, but every now and then, the details in some areas are a bit thin. HP NED has to prioritize their development according to commitments already made to customers as well as to ensuring continued participation in some of the bigger, HP-wide, initiatives. However, HP is well-informed about which third-party vendors are doing well in the marketplace, and in which market segments, and often just leave the roadmap “boxes” empty knowing full-well others will step in to fill the holes!

This doesn’t come as a surprise to most customers although, on occasion, you can hear some mumbling under their breath about why HP just doesn’t buy all these third-party vendors and then provide all of the capabilities for free! Not that this hasn’t been considered by some HP NED managers, I have to believe, but having an ecosystem committed to the NonStop platform and prepared to invest their own nickel in a myriad number of features, is perceived today as more of a blessing than a curse. A thriving third-party vendor community sends such a positive message into the marketplace that in the end, platform vendors including HP seldom want to mess with the dynamics.

And this is what impresses me most with sales kick-off sessions - they have such a strong sense for what customers really want and successful vendors have process in place that ensures much-needed features and components are provided on a regular basis. In my most recent blog posting to Real Time View, “It's on! Let's network!” I write of how the major attraction for me in attending events like the upcoming NonStop Symposium and Exhibit is to hear of what has worked for a customer. In these times, no matter what a NonStop user may be thinking of deploying, there’s a good chance someone else has already done it – and there’s much that can be learnt from talking to them. But it makes me wonder, how much of what’s now new has only succeeded because of the diligence and cooperation that has come from a third-party vendor working closely with the NonStop user!

“What the customer is telling me,” is a very strong, almost intoxicating mantra! However, it’s also the most critical story any sales person can take back to their company. Observing, as I have this year, the discussions at various sales kick-off events, I am very pleased to report that third-party vendors in general are listening. And are busily updating roadmaps! Heading, as we are, towards a converged infrastructure, such interactions can only lead to even better products and longevity for NonStop that will continue to dumbfound my colleagues working on other platforms! Unless they catch my enthusiasm and reconsider their career opportunities, of course!

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