The five key questions to ask before selling a SDN solution

Maximise your SDN selling opportunities by asking your customers the right questions.

Software-defined networking (SDN) is hot because it makes network infrastructure less expensive, yet more agile and secure. But moving from a network defined by hardware to one controlled by software is a big change.

Here are five tough questions to ask to ensure your SDN sale delivers maximum benefit for you, and your customers.

 

1) Has the customer identified a business need for SDN that will provide a provable return on investment within a reasonable time?

All too often, your customer’s senior management approves SDN purchases because it’s a “hot” technology without identifying a business case. Six or 12 months down the road, the customer is back demanding a refund or costly rework because SDN hasn’t helped the bottom line.

Advice for partners: Whether it’s improved security, regulatory compliance, lower costs, increased agility (or a combination of these) make sure you and your customer agree on the business objectives before you start work.

 

2) Do the high level decision makers as well as the users and IT staff understand the need for and benefits of SDN?

SDN isn’t a “point sale” that affects only one technical or business group. It is a new approach to how your customers deploy, use, and manage every application and the infrastructure that underlies them. If everyone involved isn’t on the same page about the benefits of SDN (and the changes it requires) you’ll run into resistance and confusion that can slow or doom the project.

Advice for partners: From sales to implementation through support, thoroughly explain what SDN is, how it works, the changes it means for the IT environment (and the jobs of IT professionals) as well as the benefits it can deliver.

 

3) Does your sales team understand SDN well enough to sell it?

SDN is in many ways a “conceptual” sale that starts with painting a new vision of how network services are created, delivered and managed. That’s a far cry from showing a customer a demo, or a specification sheet of a standalone product.

Advice for partners: Take advantage of free or low cost sales and technical training from SDN vendors that help your salespeople paint a full picture of SDN benefits and the challenges of implementing it. Make sure your sales staff understands typical use cases (such as compliance with data protection regulations and the need to reduce networking hardware costs) and the new ways SDN meets these challenges.

4) Are your sales and technical teams ready to make the “cultural” shift to selling solutions that may require extensive education before the sale and consulting services afterwards?

Even if they understand SDN, your sales and technical teams may find it uncomfortable switching from their familiar orientation around product sales to a longer-term, more “conceptual” sell.

Advice for partners: Consider adjusting their evaluation and compensation plans to take into account the longer sales cycles for SDN compared to simpler product sales, as well as the longer-term service revenue it may generate.

 

5) Do you have the automation and cloud capabilities to maximise your revenue, and the value of your customer’s investment in SDN?

Having already adopted server virtualisation and software defined storage, SDN is often the final building block in a customer’s software-defined data centre strategy. Now they want payback in the form of reduced costs, increased flexibility, and more granular security.

Advice for partners: Offer consulting to allow customers to automate their network management, as well as provide that network management yourself if the customer needs it. Also consider reselling cloud-based services to give customers “burst” capability outside of their own data centres. Both these services can provide higher margins than either traditional hardware or software sales.

 

Takeaways

  • Prioritise your customer’s concerns and make sure they understand what a software-defined network is for and how it can help them.
  • Give your sales and technical teams the training they need to sell and implement SDN solutions effectively
  • Work with your customers to get their environments up to scratch and ready for movement towards SDN.

The Trusted Advisor Blueprint: A definitive guide to software defined networking