I’m the technical guy in the room, but yes, you could call me a salesperson if you were feeling vicious. I work with many vendors and my job in Technical Pre-Sales is to pitch their solutions to the Enterprise network administrator. Some vendors have amazing products, some of them not so much. Walking the line between what my knowledge and experience tells me to be the best for the customer and what is achievable is tough. Several factors influence the advice I give, and whilst I pride myself on my honesty, pragmatism overrides idealism in all cases.
The major influence is the customer itself. Many customers have little vendor loyalty and can be swayed by the “new hotness”; unsurprisingly the industry is full of nerds who love new technology. That said, customers who been previously burned by vendor X or are staunch supporters of vendor Y I’m not going to waste much time trying to convert. They will get about three “have you considered?” questions before I give them what they ask for rather than what they need or will cost them less.
Life in the Margins
Another factor is margins. I try to keep this out of my head, but it can be an influencer when a simple requirement could be served by multiple vendors. Every product has a “list” price which is little more than a guide to the vendor’s perceived position in the market place. No-one should ever pay this. The reseller or integrator gets a percentage. This varies a LOT between vendors. The product with the cheaper list price will often also have better margins; making the reseller more money. Whilst you as the customer may only care about the bottom line, going cheaper may not necessarily get you the best deal. If the vendor is shifting tin by dropping the price, the technical gap between them and the “next best” is likely to be considerable. It pays to be at the top for a vendor as they can sell on “value” and not having to give away so much to the pesky reseller.
For me at least, the final decision comes down to my own bitter experience. My advice is biased towards what I know works and which products tend not to generate hundreds of TAC cases. It also makes a difference as to whom will deploying the kit. If the customer is an elite triple-IE ninja, they can have whatever bleeding-edge unicorn poop they like. If they brain-dumped their way through an “A” cert or are unlikely to buy Professional Services days, I am going try to steer them towards something less easy to screw up. Ultimately, no-one should get any surprises.
Agendas and Perspectives
Sadly, being right doesn’t pay the bills. Conversely, forcing your agenda on a customer for the best or worst reasons (because it’s the right tool for the job or it’ll make you more money) is a strategy which long-term never pays. The point is this; the person trying to flog you stuff is probably doing their best, but inevitably the advice they can offer is a compromise. Get an independent perspective by paying for it or preferably performing your own research and evaluation; but do not underestimate the costs and time involved doing this properly. For many enterprises the “right” answer to a problem is also the first answer; it’s worth considering the motives of those whom you are asking questions.