Hey, tech industry, have you noticed Amazon in the rearview?
It's time to bring your sales into the 21st century
Sysadmin Blog Dear readers, I apologize in advance for the cursing, horrible metaphors, similes and so forth that will populate this blog. I am writing this after a day of dealing with a network cryptolocker outbreak and finally hitting that wall where I no longer care about anything except venting unto the world that silent rage that has been building inside for years.
Dear IT vendors, I have a very serious question to ask you, both individually and as a group: do you all still want to be in business in 2020? If you answered yes then I must, in the politest possible fashion, also ask: what the fuck is wrong with you?
Amazon is kicking your asses, individually and collectively, and none of you seem to be able to understand why. I have worked with CEOs and serfs, talked to top architects and technical marketers, sales engineers and VPs. With very few exceptions, none of you have managed to put down your crayons long enough to look at the page you're scribbling on and the result is an entire industry that hasn't the first clue about why the world around it has suddenly become strange and confusing.
Let me try to explain what you've missed as simply as I possibly can: Amazon is winning because you can take a credit card, go to their site and minutes later things are working.
There we go. That's it. It's that simple. Every other thing Amazon does: culture, technology, APIs...it's all irrelevant. Ease of use is the only thing that matters for the overwhelming number of today's IT workloads and this is something that our entire industry simply cannot wrap its mind around.
It is said that science advances one funeral at a time. The IT industry is clearly no different. I've had this argument hundreds of times over the years, and the excuses used are as weak as they are irritating.
Vendor business models, software design and even many datacenter architectures are simply outdated and irrelevant. It's all from a time when IT was something that only nerds did. IT was the domain of a priestly caste of specialists who decided what to buy, how it was implemented, who got access and so forth.
Tech sales in these halcyon days was a process. It took weeks or months. Emergency needs could be left unmet by blaming the technician trying to solve the problem. This, of course, enraged said sysadmin and led to resentment, but it was entirely possible to not care. What were they going to do, go elsewhere?
Enter the future, stage left. Tech isn't a series of monopolies any more, and every vendor and fanboy who says that lax, lousy, irritating, degrading or horribly inefficient sales processes are okay because "you shouldn't run into those problems if you did it right" should have a large moon dropped on them. One that's covered in acid and on fire.
Remember, this sort of hubris is exactly how mainframes were overrun by PCs: technology became available to and usable by individuals outside the priesthood. In case you hadn't noticed, that started happening all over again a decade ago.
Today's example is solving my cryptolocker problem. The short version is that I have a client with a user who got cryptolocker. The user in question is one of those omnijerk-class twunts who whines and whinges until they're given network superpowers because they're a special unicorn princess.
They of course don't actually comply with anything resembling rational security processes or pay any attention to what they're doing. And they browse the internet using Internet Explorer. In theory, this user could have infected every single system on the network. They absolutely did start encrypting files all across the network because they had 14 mapped drives, many to places they under no circumstances should have been mucking about in.
As part of the clean up I need to get a second opinion virus scan of my (sadly Windows-based) file servers to make sure the malware didn't infect them. Of course it's never that simple.
Vendor after vendor refused to take my money. They wanted me to "engage with a partner", download a crippleware trial or request a quote or otherwise start the multi-business-day process required to buy a copy of their software and use it to see if the server dun got pwned.
A special shout out to Vipre Antivirus who, despite being highly recommended, funneled me to a page to find a partner, only to not have any listed for my country at all. Fantastic. You get a gold star. Made out of sadness. That explodes.
After yelling at Twitter, AVG was suggested. Lo and behold, it worked! They let me give them money and in exchange I received goods! Let's all party like we're Australopithecines, because the aforementioned successful sales process is at least that old!
Congratulations, AVG, you're at least as smart as primitive hominids that took 100,000 years to change the shape of the spearheads they use, and this conclusively proves you're still somehow more competent than the bulk of the industry you occupy. Unbelievable.
This is where a bunch of sales VPs come whooshing through the door on their slip 'n' slides full of bullshit and start bleating plaintively about "the channel". Believe it or not, folks, I actually know a thing or two about this, and providing people with the instant gratification required to solve the mundane or time sensitive issues in life doesn't have to come at the expense of the channel.
Inconceivable you say? I don't think that...well, you know the rest.
Let me give you the short version of how this works. You have negotiated agreements with your channel partners that grant them a given percentage margin on sales. Or a guaranteed fixed base amount with you (the vendor) getting the margin delta. Maybe you even have separate rates for if the lead comes from the channel partner or from the vendor.
Either way, this is all quantifiable information. A series of look up tables can define the economics of the business relationships. In exchange for getting a chunk of the sales, the partners handle tier 1 (and sometimes tier 2) support issues. Channel economics 101.
None of this has to change if you sell through the vendor site!
The website can assign the new customer to a relevant partner based on an algorithm that takes into account factors like customer locality, partner speciality, partner customer loading and so forth. The information about "who to call for support" can be included in the email with the licence key, and make available in to the user on the support section of the website. They log in, they get their partner's info listed.
You as the vendor forward the new customer's info on to the vendor in an automated fashion and then can either forward them their take from the sale, or hold that money in trust until the end of the quarter in case manual adjustments needs to be made on partner assignment because the algorithm had an oopsie.
None of this is rocket science. I've built these exact systems for other industries. If it works with partner channels in other industries, it can work in tech. Vendors just need to remove cranium from sphincter long enough to realize that the '80s and '90s are both long gone and we're getting awfully close to the '20s. The 2020s, that is. Banjoes down, gents.
And just so we're clear, I can still go to Amazon, feed them a credit card, and things just start working. So don't bother with whinging about "demonstrated customer need" and "we don't hear a desire for this".
If you think your sales people are going to report to you that your customers are asking for technologies that may automate away a large part of the job of sales people, then you should charter a flight over Antarctica. There you can throw yourself into the lava lake of Mount Erebus so that tech can do that moving forward into the future thing.
Infrastructure is different!
Next up are the infrastructure kings and queens, waving their participation trophies and explaining loudly just how none of the above applies to them because they're special. Enterprises, you see, need SANs and compute, switches and hypervisors. This has to be planed and architected and tested and whatever else.
Nutanix. SimpliVity. Scale Computing. EMC. HP. Yottabyte. The list goes on. If you count vendors who only sell EVO:Rail there are over 40 hyperconverged vendors on the market. I don't need no stinking SAN. I don't need to spread the blood of goats over my switch and burn incense in the hope it works. I can get a cluster, plug it in, turn it on and go.
Or I could go to Amazon with a credit card and...
Now, I am not saying the world is binary. Just like you don't have to abandon the channel to sell me some software, making it easy to bypass your pointless, neurotic, desperate and incompetent sales droids for the mundane stuff I don't need training on doesn't mean this is how all hardware has to be consumed.
If I am building out an entire data centre, or buying millions of dollars' worth of gear then of course I want to engage with the vendor. I want to take advantage of the sale engineers, architects and subject matter experts they retain. I want to plan my network as a whole and, for the most part, stick to that plan.
But some days the boss comes trundling into mission control with a bee in their britches and a problem legitimately needs to be solved right now. Not a sales cycle and three business days' worth of "back and forth" later. Now.
It's my job to know the difference. So let me do my job. Sell me your gadget without interference and make it simple to install, configure and use. Yes, do make available the resources to consult with you to make sure that I not making gross errors at an architecture level. This is a great bit of sales for the larger buys. But these approaches need not mutually exclusive.
Ease of use, ease of use, ease of use! Adapt or die. Amazon is coming for you. In the cloud. As a seller of physical goods. As a seller of software, of content and who knows what else. Are you going to adapt, or make us wait for your funeral before we can move on?
Always remember: the vendor exists to serve customer needs. The customer does not exist to serve vendor needs. Those that forget that are doomed to be on the mainframe side of history. ®