The New Frontier Of Networking Sales

Getting involved in clients' business planning process is not just good marketing, it is a critical part of good long-term customer service. Those that don't compete in early stage

August 24, 2004

3 Min Read
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Cisco has been getting lots of criticism lately for its practice of getting involved early in the planning process of its federal, state and local government clients. (I am pretty sure Cisco does this with its private sector accounts as well.) The basic jist of the criticism is that Cisco is inappropriately influencing the technology direction agencies take, freezing competitors out of lucrative business opportunities in the process.

To this I say: companies that wait for RFIs and RFPs to get issued by clients before getting active in the marketing and business development process in any market -- much less the public sector -- risk (and maybe even deserve) being relegated to the second tier of competition. Companies like Cisco (or for that matter any major technology player) know that technology is no longer an afterthought in the development of business management strategies being implemented by any enterprise: large or small, public or private.

Technology in general, but networking in particular, is playing an enabling role in making e-government initiatives that make it possible for agencies to better serve constituencies. To make business plans without taking technology considerations into account during the early stages of the thinking would be like taking a round the world sailing trip without thinking through the kind of boat and gear that will be needed during the voyage.

The fact that Cisco is making resources available to clients and participating in discussions that help administrators better understand the options and consequences posed by new business processes and operational strategies is not only ethical, it is a vital service that the technology community in general needs to offer the market.

The ante has in effect been moved up. The battle lines have been moved closer to the planning process. And this means that companies who want to meet Cisco on that field of competition need to pick up and present themselves as "trusted advisors" and thought leaders in their technological and vertical fields.For those who feel they do not have the resources do this on their own -- the way a major player like Cisco can -- then the ticket is to establish partnerships with the community of government contractors, systems integrators and others who have already established themselves as consultative players with government agencies.

Effective government officials would welcome input from a variety of perspectives during the planning process. One caveat: in this marketplace of ideas, putting technology into operational contexts is more effective than explaining the performance characteristics of offerings. So if companies are going to go head to head against Cisco in the early stages, they better bring a better vision about the role networking can play in supporting the mission critical objectives of their government clients.

And, no, this does not just boil down to understanding the "pain points" of clients vis-a-vis their technology environments. It means that technology options must be put into a strategic perspective that provides clients with a clear picture of how an entire business strategy can be enhanced.

May the best strategic vision win.

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