If you’ve ever had the “privilege” of buying equipment from a large systems integrator (or directly from a large vendor), you’re probably familiar with this process:
- The salesman (politely called the “Account Manager”) brings an engineer (“Sales Engineer”) with him. Although they do some network design in the presales cycle, their usual focus is the “kit list” they need to place an order.
- If you’re not proficient enough in the technology you’ve just bought, another team is brought in: the Professional Services (PS) team. Ideally, the kit list produced in the early design phase is accurate enough to implement the network. However, I’ve been involved in projects where no one knew what the kit list was trying to accomplish, and we were forced to design the network around the existing hardware (although half of it was superfluous) in order to satisfy the customer.
- Once the network is up and running and the ready-for-use (RFU) documentation is signed, the Professional Services team is gone. When you encounter post-implementation issues, you have to talk to Technical Support. If you’re a big enough customer, the Technical Support team might have the design and implementation documentation prepared by the PS team; otherwise, you have to explain to the Technical Support team what their Professional Services colleagues were doing.
When I was the technical director at a small (but fast growing) system integrator (NIL Data Communications) almost two decades ago we realized that this system was broken, and implemented a completely different approach that has remained very successful (even though the company has grown from 15 to over 100 employees in the meantime): a single engineer is responsible for all phases of the network lifecycle.
To start with, NIL has very few purely presales engineers. When salespeople need technical support (whether for a customer visit or a follow-up technical solution), they get the best engineers from the support group. These engineers also prepare the network design and sign the kit list before the proposal is sent to the customer. Ideally, if the customer understands the value of our services, a detailed network design would be done before we even start discussing the details of the kit list; otherwise, the engineer who produced the kit list also creates the network design that serves as the blueprint in the implementation phase (also led by the same engineer)… and he remains the primary support contact for the customer. This procedure ensures that there are no easy escape routes: if you’ve messed up the design, you will have to fix it yourself and live with the network – as you’ve designed it – until the next upgrade. Because no engineer wants that sort of headache, he ensures that the design is well planned, right from the beginning. Sound too good to be true? Believe me, it’s true (you can easily test it), and this approach results in fantastic customer satisfaction and loyal customers.