Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Selling over the Web

Continuing a theme which I've been on about many times in the past, CNN Money have covered the advantages of selling using webinars and remote demos.

The tool space supporting these demos is getting much more sophisticated, with many virtual sales-engagement solutions, also known as cloud-based collaboration tools, allowing vendors to place fully functional copies of their products in a cloud environment, and share these now-online ”virtual” products with leads, prospects and customers

The advantage of doing remote sessions is massive. I did 5 demos in one day recently, which would have been impossible without webinar tools. Although it isn't a complete replacement for visiting your customers, there are many ways this does extend the reach of the sales organisation (or the support or services branches) at a very low cost.

A good Sales Engineer or salesperson would follow up all virtual sessions with calls and visits if possible where it looks possible to build on the quick and early gain made by the virtual session.

With the newer tools in the marketplace however, it becomes possible to run evaluations and Proof of Concept (PoC) activities through the use of these tools. This is a great advantage, as often the hassle of getting hardware for an onsite PoC slows or kills off many deals, whereas an unassisted evaluation often will lead to failure.

Cloudshare for Sales is a tool which allows this in a flexible and accessible way, without wasting the resources of both sides. It gives the vendor control of the process still, yet allows running multiple activities in parallel, and means that activities that would normally have to be done on-site, to be done remotely.

Some customers may still want on-site activities though, as data protection is often cited as a key requirement for some evaluations.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tech Virtualization traps

Whenever an organisation looks into Virtualisation the cost savings is immediately pointed to as something that will just happen. This article points out many of the potential pitfalls or unexpected costs that can erode these benefits. Below I address some of the main issues in a virtual consolidation project.

FCW: 5 traps that can spoil virtualization savings

The main reasons are from some assumptions that your current IT systems are capable of handling the new infrastructure. This is not always the case for a variety of reasons. However each of these reasons actually can give way to new cost benefit. These benefits can make the case for going virtual even better than before.


1. Unanticipated Management Overhead
Existing toolsets don't understand virtual technologies. The additional layer of complexity is something that doesn't get represented well by older tools. However this does mean that we can manage this layer though and get added benefits. It can be advantageous to be able to map virtual systems to the hardware - so that you can find the physical box, minimise licenses, balance resources so that there is less waste in the overall system.

2. Running more hardware than you need
Many organisations building virtual clusters make them huge and future proof. Each individual physical system is overspecified and has lots of redundant capacity as organisations will overbuild systems to ensure that they handle the migration. There is an element of uncertainty in the migration process and every organisation has different needs.
To avoid this, ensure that you accurately measure the use of existing systems before migration and in the pilot phase of the rollout validate these needs on the new systems. It could be that the overall requirement is less that expected, leading to larger cost savings.

3. Licensing Bloat
Licensing virtual systems actually gives some benefits. Many vendors such as Microsoft have improved licensing usage rights that take into account virtual systems running on a host. However there are some vendors that have less than beneficial licensing metrics. Watch out for situations where you might need to license the whole physical server if you have an application running on a virtual server.  Isolate these to single servers or keep them physical.

Also, get a license management or software asset management  system that can keep track of virtual systems and calculating the best license metrics.

4. Virtual System Sprawl
It is very easy to create a new virtual server. Much easier than a physical server.  Instead of having to buy hardware, find rackspace to store it, get your infrastructure team to build the OS and install your applications, all you need to do is copy a folder of files and click start inside your management tool. This can lead to unauthorised or unplanned servers turning up in your network.  Avoid this by having the same strict levels of process around the commissioning of the servers in the first place.  Don't allow IT staff to just build another server unless there is a process around it.
Extra servers just waste your resources and cost you extra money in unneeded licenses, new systems and management.

5. Inadequate storage
In a large VM environment (or even a small one) a large amount of central storage is needed. To optimise this, the best way is usually through a SAN linked to the Host servers. Not all SANs are born equal however, and many new SANs support Virtual Server in better ways, recognising duplicate data to make better use of the storage.  So commissioning a new SAN to specifically support the Virtual systems may be the smartest idea and optimise the performance and data requirements from the system.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Working for the enemy

There comes a time when an SE might move on from their organisation and either work for the opposition or some totally new employer. Is it a moral question on what you can say and if you can write any analysis about your old product?


Of course, for many SEs, this is probably covered by a non-compete contract, or perhaps under an NDA that you cannot say anything (bad) about your old employer or their product.
However where this is not covered by a contract what should you do (and what could you do!)?


Many moral issues are black and white and I would not do anything like the following:

  • Write a full competitive analysis from your internal product knowledge
  • List all the bugs and problems that are known to the old company
  • Hire all the good people from the old company
  • Share future roadmap or directions of the old company
  • Demonstrating the old company's product (unless you are allowed to keep their software)

However there is still a lot of wriggling room in this list.  Part of an employee's worth is the knowledge that they have accumulated through their working experience. You cannot sign away your right to earn a living (at least not an honest living) so there are many things in my opinion that you should be able to do. These include the following:

  • Educate new colleagues about strengths and weaknesses of the old solution
  • Write a competitive analysis based on published product information
  • Write on forums about published usage of a product
  • Join the product user group
  • Work for customers of the old product (as long as this is clear in your contract)
  • Work with potential partners of the old company

Unless you have specifically agreed not to do items on this list, it is your right to do so.  I'd say that you should think twice about doing anything that would require access to product or information that is kept within your old organisation. You should delete any passwords, FTP access, VPN access, demonstration images or information that is of this nature. Keeping this kind of information (without permission from your old employer) could implicate you if any kind of leak was chased up by your old employer.


Also, keep in mind that many industries are actually quite small well networked groups, and what you do or say can well come back to haunt you. Don't burn bridges that you may want to cross again.  Many times the company your knowledge is most valuable to is the one you have just left.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Tips for Presenting Architecture Info

This article is a healthy reminder that you should know who you are presenting to!

Top Ten Tips for Presenting Architecture Information


Most SEs are probably aware of this, but every presentation you give should be tailored and structured to appeal to whoever you are presenting to. Don't just rerun the same slides and give a standard presentation. Make sure you present the way that appeals to your audience.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Recents Sales Engineering Stories

Here's what I've been reading lately. Lots of good tips!

Tech Demo Guy
Winning in a Crowded Field - How to differentiate your product in a crowded market
5 strategies for success in demo marathons - How to win in a lengthy product beauty parade

10 tips on how to think like a designer - thinking like a designer helps to match your demo to your customer's needs. Remember you are trying to sell a Solution.

The Roadwarrior - stuck in airports with little to do?

Money, Money, Money! - A look at SE compensation with a PDF to take away!
SE Compensation: A Dozen Thoughts (straight to the money)

Optimizing screen resolution for web demos - Keep your prospects in mind when sizing your screen

Monday, August 17, 2009

The End of Office?

Is Google Apps going to replace MS Office as the de facto standard in standard office productivity tools? In many ways I can see the advantages - Price, Portability, Ease of Rollout, Collaboration etc - but is it as easy to use - and how important is that anyway.

What does the average business or home user need from office these days? My use is mainly of Outlook, Powerpoint, Excel and Word, in that order. However I could replace Outlook with Google Mail tomorrow - without any worry. I could probably use a different tool than Powerpoint easily enough - and I think that there are tools that are better for giving web presentations anyway. Excel and Word are the tricky ones. Excel has a massive library of functions that are vital for doing spreadsheet calculations. It is a fairly steep learning curve to work out which ones in Google Apps are equivalents. And as far as Word goes, I think it is a pretty difficult thing to replace, with its huge range of features and publishing options.

However I could just buy Word from Microsoft and run the rest of Google Apps, and just use Word when preparing an important document, or else maybe there are better programs for doing that too.

How inpenetrable is the MS Office suite then? I guess for users with less publishing needs, there is no reason not to do it - and with more organisations cutting their spending, it is only a matter of time to see more cases like this (Google Blog: A Google Apps Education success story) where a Indiana university migrated its 15,000 students and 150,000 alumni to Google Apps.  Even though they probably get a sizeable education discount, (quoting $1.5 million in savings) but that satisfaction has increased by 36%...
Thoughts?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Advice to an aspiring Sales Engineer

[This is a response to someone wanting to become an SE, coming from a technical background with little sales experience]

A technical background is a great way to get into Sales Engineering, but you are right in that the sales side is very important as well.  It isn't hard to start picking this up, and don't be afraid of your lack of experience. Many companies would highly encourage their technicians to learn better Sales skills, and there is in general a shortage of good Sales Engineers.

The biggest difference between the pre and post sales side is being able to appreciate the sales impact of what you say and what you do for prospects. Too many people start by trying to tell the customer how they should use the tool, and what problems it will solve. Customers want the product to solve their problem, so what you need to do, is listen to the customer, and think of how your company can solve their problem.  You need to concentrate your response based on what they need, and treat every customer as a new response.  Doing a product demo is not a "show-up-and-throw-up" solution where you give the same pitch to 100 companies and hope that it sticks to a good percentage.

My advice would be to work with your sales team, to try and sit in on webinars or sales meetings to see what happens - and not to open your mouth!  One of the best skills to learn is to not say something which might hurt the deal.  Sure if your product doesn't fit, you can walk away from the deal before you commit. But don't say something that will want the customer to walk away before you know if it is something you could win or not.  Also, you will see how your colleagues sell the tool, and learn a bit about the product pitch.  However as I said before this is not one size fits all.  Also take notes of what the customer's needs are. You can then practise your demonstration skills with some target in mind about how to communicate the value of the product.

Your company might also have some small leads that the sales team doesn't have time to spend on, and you can try putting up your hand to give them a quick presentation. Every chance to communicate the value of the product is a chance for you to learn about the sales process.  Also, don't be afraid to ask the sales person what the strategy is in a particular deal. You might be surprised at what value the customer sees in the product.  See if you can do an internal sales pitch - if your colleagues see your abilities internally, they will be less afraid of taking you to a prospect.

Hope this is useful information for you - I started in technical support and implementation, and found that experience with end-users, project managers and business owners very useful once I got into the sales team.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Don't kill your customer's baby

I found this tale of Opera expanding their server base hilarious. It highlights the one-size-fits-all approach many major vendors have, where they just ship stock along for a quick evaluation without checking how well it fits the customer's needs. In this case, they dismiss the customer's flagship product as a configuration error. Not to spoil the ending too much, but they missed out on millions in revenue...

I guess the big story here is, to sell something to a customer, you should ensure you understand their business enough to ensure your product offering is appealing to them, and not repellent! Regardless of who wrote the offending code, the sales team (and in particular SE if any involved) should be right on top of things like this.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Bill Gates on Google Chrome OS

Bill Gates is one of the sceptics on Google Chrome OS. For him, the vagueness of Google's announcement makes the OS look more interesting than it actually is.
Steve Ballmer goes a bit further, saying that a browser-centric OS is not the best path, as people spend most of their time on their computer not using their browser. 
However is this changing? For most of my daily work, I open a browser. To read my email, I open a browser.  To check the news, I open a browser. To give a product demo, I open a browser! (ok, sometimes I run a VM, and open a browser in the VM...). Even non-browser applications often will gather their data using web services (or browser APIs).
 Google Chrome OS is an open source, lightweight operating system that will initially be targeted at netbooks. Later this year we will open-source its code, and netbooks running Google Chrome OS will be available for consumers in the second half of 2010. Because we're already talking to partners about the project, and we'll soon be working with the open source community, we wanted to share our vision now so everyone understands what we are trying to achieve.
They also say, that it is separate from Android, multi-platform, and is there to support Google's web-based applications (which will continue to work cross-platform themselves). A major change is that the minimum system required will not need Microsoft any more. However we need to see what percentage of people are happy to depart from using MS Office applications. If that happens, I can see an exodus from the MS centric home computer as a real possibility.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Demo PC rebuild

It seems this happens to me periodically that I have to rebuild my demo laptop. Usually I play around with my laptop with different OS options, different attempts to optimise all of the dependant apps and ensure that I get my email and other apps working on it without interfering with my demo.

This time I have gone through about 3 iterations, and ended up with 3 options.

  1. Windows 7
  2. Windows Vista
  3. Mac OS X( !?) - maybe not, my Macbook is ancient...

Right now I am leaning towards Windows 7, but I have a bit of work to make the actual demo work quicker on that platform. If I can't succeed, I will have to fall back to Vista or XP, as much as I like the look and feel of Windows 7.  The other advantage is of course the wow factor that Windows 7 has at the moment, but I also don't want this to detract from the actual presentation.

My standard platform for demo is running a VM as Windows Server. When I run the demo, I have a kill button that gets rid of everything unimportant to the demo to conserve resources. I fit the laptop with as much RAM, the fastest storage and go through all the possible OS hacks I can find to speed it up. I basically want to get to a demo that only has what I want the customer to see. I think of this as the Zen of Demo systems ;-)

I am sure some other options exist such as using UBUNTU and VMware, but I am not convinced that my customers would be distracted by less usual platforms, and it would probably raise more questions than I want. I want the demo system to not distract but to appeal to the general product audience.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Inbox Efficiency - Action your emails, don't just let them sit there

Its always good in sales to respond promptly to people and keep on top of a million different things at once.  It is worth noting that many of your daily tasks arrive through the Inbox of your computer, or on your Blackberry. So when I saw Lifehacker posting "Treat Your Inbox As a To-Do List" it hit close to my heart.  Basically if you don't empty your Inbox by actioning every item (actioning could be deletion or filing), you make it harder for yourself to get through all of the responses your customers are waiting for.

I don't actually mean that your Inbox should always be empty, or that you need to respond to emails immediately. That depends much on your activity level and whether you are expecting important messages or not. What you do need to do is make sure you get all the way through it every day or perhaps 2-3 times a day. Just sit there and one-by-one action every piece, respond to each message or schedule time to do it, if it is not something you can do right away. In fact the following book describes this methodology in greater detail, taking it further than merely the inbox.
The Personal Efficiency Program: How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed and Win Back Control of Your Work!

This is something broader than Sales, but the reason it is so important in Sales is that every question your customer asks, every meeting that needs to be scheduled, every demo request usually involves several people,  and leaving an email for days delays everyone involved. From the Sales side, you often should double action every email, as in responding by email, but also calling to check on the response's adequateness, and checking if there wasn't some hidden meaning in the question.  Often you will want to forward a question to a colleague to check their ideas on it. However as you do these processes you should move the email out of the inbox and into a folder for the next step of your process to reflect your individual workflow.

Some people tell me that they have a bunch of emails of low importance, but that they want to keep hold of. This is fine and perfectly ordinary. You may not have time at 9am to actually respond or even read all of these messages. Have a folder in your mailbox to put these messages into, and spend some time later in your day or week to read and process these. However the general rule is that if you handle each mail only once, you save a lot of the overall time.

A final point is that in today's world you don't necessarily have to be in front of your computer or desk to do this email actioning. I manage some days on the train to file or respond to many emails on the train to the office which gets me that much further ahead during the day.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Building a good relationship with your Salesperson

As an effective SE, you need to build a good rapport with your salesperson. Before you think that this is too obvious and click away, remember that they will often say things that you will (hopefully inwardly) cringe at.  In fact the Tech Demo Guy lists 3 things the Salesperson should never say while you demo.

At the end of the day though, going into a meeting, the more comfortable you are with the sales person the better you will sell together though. Build up an understanding of who will answer which kind of question, and have some simple subtle ways of cueing the right person to respond.  This applies both in person and on webinars actually.

To build up this kind of relationship, try to engage your sales person with questions about the prospect, to make sure you understand what they want as well as they do. Expect the salesperson to ask you back about the contacts you have at the customer, and suggest action items after the meeting on how you can engage the customer to help the salesperson become successful. Remember as a Sales Engineer your job is to make the sales person successful.  Its not enough to make the customer happy enough with the tool. The customer must believe your company can deliver it, so ensure there is no disconnect within the sales team.

Also, the sales person is the best positioned to see how well you do your job. Debrief after every meeting. Make sure they help you become a better SE - every customer meeting is a chance to become better.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Technical Barriers to Cloud Computing

This article looks into the top 3 Technical barriers to cloud computing. http://cms.sys-con.com/node/956212

Basically, much of the problem is the technical minds running enterprise IT find that Cloud computing itself has conflicts with the security policies in place, which in many cases take years of design and planning, and are reluctant to let these policies exempt the new technology kid in town.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Windows 7 Demo at Tech-ed

Check out this demo by Bill Veghte and friends on Windows 7, Windows Server 2008 R2, and Exchange 14.
This is Microsoft's future platform, which looks to me like it may have a much better uptake than the Vista platform has.
If your product will use these platforms - or your customers want to take you that way - I am sure this is compelling viewing, and you can also download it to watch later.

Never waste a lunch hour

This one applies not just for sales engineers, but for everyone in the sales team.

Often you will find that you are visiting distant cities just for a presentation, partner meeting or just passing through. If you happen to have a contact - whether it is a customer, lead, partner or industry mentor - you really should take any opportunity to just drop by and meet for lunch or even just a coffee. People tell you different things in real life from on the phone.  Also, just meeting up is an opportunity for you both - after all you both have to eat, why not take the chance to squeeze out some business value as well at the same time.

It's that perfect chance to sell a few services days to ensure the product is working well, address any quick issues, find a new lead or just make that bond with your contact that much closer.

Recently I had a meeting like this which was just a last minute, "I-was-in-the-neighbourhood" kind of meeting, where we uncovered a quick opportunity that wouldn't have been thought of by the customer as a reason for them to contact us.  The meeting led to a call to the right contact person, which led to a demo (and another chance to drop by for lunch) and a sale in rapid succession.  

Some of this might seem like the basics, but doing some free product promotion or customer management instead of sitting alone at lunch is a very productive use of your time.

And even though you will usually shake out something that helps someone else in your team, it will still  build your personal network and make you a more valuable resource for any company.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Early Product Partnerships

One thing about Partner selling is that it is great when it is well established. Product seems to go out the door almost on its own, and you find that your job turns into a bunch of supporting product demos and then you hear later in the quarter that the partner has sold, implemented and moved on. However to get a mature partner model up and running, you need to put in training, site visits, customer visits, and marketing.

The key to a successful partner model is that you act as partners! That is, you both contribute more than 50% to the relationship, ensuring that you put in the effort at the things you are strong in, and that the partner does the same. A successful product partner operates in an environment where they are more effective at dealing with the customer directly than the product vendor is themselves.  This could be that they are geographically closer, operate in the customer's industry, already act in a consulting role to the customer or any similar circumstances.  The partner however realised that they cannot make their own product, or even if they could, that yours fits their needs better and is a better overall solution.
Once a good potential partnership is founded, the next step is to design the overall solution. This could be as simple as fitting the products together for an early opportunity, and removing any points of overlap, by deciding on the roles and responsibilities.  It could be that the solution contains technology from one side, and implementation know-how from the other.  Early presentations to customers need to communicate that this solution is holistic and consistent, and see that the strengths of both sides are being used.

It is vital that both sides of the partnership understand the same key benefits to the customer, and are able to describe parts that the other side is providing accurately and truthfully.  A larger amount of prep time for any meeting or demo is called for - and if technical integration is going to be shown, ensure that enough time is spent to put it together. This could mean visiting the other partner before demonstrating the product to a customer so that all things run smoothly. A dry run is highly recommended with all meeting participants.  If any problems exist in the demo system, everyone needs to know how to avoid showing them!

Follow up from these early meetings is also important. Keep in touch with the partner, even if it is just a courtesy call every week or more often to check for feedback from the prospects, and check further opportunities and business. This should be done on each level of the business, so your Partner manager to their partner manager, your sales rep to theirs, and between SEs or technical equivalents.  You will be amazed at how often different kinds of information filter through differently on the levels.
Once the early deals come in, the partnership should then grow and be nurtured to the nirvana of partnership, where each side of the relationship can bring in business on their own.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Customer Unready to Evaluate

Often you get a prospect who is eager to get the product, test it, and evaluate it, but they don't seem to get their act together. It might be that they can't get the right kind of hardware, test environment or meeting rooms, for you to come on site and show how great your product really is.  
This rings alarm bells for me. 

If they can't manage the infrastructure for a test or evaluation, does the prospect have the right executive buy-in to actually purchase and use your product?

Going in too early to prove that your product works in the customer's environment (also known as Proof of Concept or PoC) sometimes takes you further away from winning the deal. The problem is, you are probably appeasing the wrong audience by running an early PoC.  The correct audience is the buyer or final decision maker. Unless they are sponsoring the final evaluation, you set yourself up for a later, more comprehensive exercise, potentially with very different success criteria from the first one.

Use the Proof of Concept as bait to find the right people in the organisation, and don't let them have the proof until you know the buying process from there on.  If there is a higher authority, see if you can get them involved in the PoC process or at least let them know that this is going on. If they want something to do with the purchase of the product, then you will want to know what they need to see to become a buyer.

Have a checklist or PoC Sign-Off document ready for your customer showing ideally how they would prepare for a proof of concept, the kind of success criteria you expect to fulfill (and use their requirements as you are aware of them - in their own terminology).  Get the buyer to sign the document to get the understanding on both sides that if the product does what they want, then they will buy it.  If they are unwilling to sign this, chances are that you haven't found the actual buyer yet!!!

If the customer wants to Pilot or do some further Evaluation with less of your help, ensure that you set some kind of boundaries on the use, and measurable success criteria that you can help the customer evaluate.  Remember the product is yours. Until they buy it, they don't actually get any rights to use it.  Imagine that you are handing over the keys to that Bentley (like the one you hope to buy with the commission) for them to take it for a spin.  Don't you want any assurances that it won't be mis-used.

Even though PoCs are normally free of charge, don't undervalue their use - they can be a powerful part of your toolset - but question if it is the right time to do one. Usually you only get one crack at it - so make sure it is your best shot and at the right time.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Running a Sales Demonstration Solo

While I always plan taking in a "friendly" face into a demo, there is always the case that you end up in the room demonstrating the product on your own with the customer.  Maybe your sales rep called in sick that day, or you get separated at the customer and you are in a different meeting. Also you may be in the situation where your "friend" in the meeting cannot help you. They might be acting impartial, or not have the information or experience to carry your side.

The main thing to realise in this case is that you can't just put your head down, show the demo and go home. You have to be the whole sales team in that meeting.
  • At all times, you need to remember the goal - how this meeting is moving the customer forward, 
  • You need to note down any action items,
  • You need to present the corporate and commercial side for your organisation
  • and you need to do your normal side of the presentation as well!
All of these tasks are equally important. 
How to drive the customer forward:
Every meeting should be there to bring you closer to a deal. It is about moving your way closer to the decision maker, and then moving them towards the decision. Don't stray from this focus - distractions can waste a lot of your time, and can also move you further from the goal. If you can't progress in the meeting because the right people aren't there, don't give away the means to come back and see them. If a technical demo at this stage would take away any urgency to see the customer again, don't do it!
Action items:
The most important piece of kit you take to a meeting is your notepad (and pens!). Mine is just a spiral bound pad of A4 paper. I use it to take down notes, draw diagrams, and ensure that I know what I have promised to do for the prospect. I also note down what they promise to give me. Don't be timid in taking actions away from a meeting, because each one is an ironclad reason to come back and continue your dialog with the prospect.
Corporate and Commercial:
Because you are acting solo, it is even more important for the customer to know who they are dealing with as a company. You need to explain how your organisation is able to support them. 90% of all sales is fulfilling the need of the customer, and they need to know that your company will be around to help them. If your aren't very commercially inclined, this is the minimum you should fulfil. 
Secondly keeping in mind the aim of the meeting, you need to discover how to move the customer closer to buying the product. Simply by seeing a demo doesn't achieve anything. You need to know what business needs are being solved and map out how your product provides those needs.  Taking this further, help the customer make their decisions on showing how elements of the solution provide that value.
Find out who in their organisation is responsible for the buying decision.
Your normal demo:
It is important to ensure that the technical side of the meeting is also fulfilled, but because you are taking on the extra responsibility, keep it briefer than normal, and watch your audience closer than normal.  You need to know when they have seen what they need to, explain how this meets their requirements, take away any action items (Does this work on our platform XYZ? I will find out for you!). Make it briefer and slower to learn who is your champion in their organisation.
It is very important to debrief after the meeting. Chances are that your sales rep will be the one to follow up (Hello - I just wanted to check how your meeting with our techie went the other day...) so fuel them up with all the relevant information.  If you show them that you have moved the sale forward despite their absence they will see the value added and your working partnership will improve immensely.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Running Oracle on VMware

There is an interesting fight coming from VMware and their EMC owners  to get Oracle to approve their software as a supported deployment and License option.



Oracle's official position is that its software is not supported on
ESX or any other 3rd Party hypervisor software.

Their recent purchase of SUN will of course ensure that their
capability extends from the Hardware to Software. However for VMware
solution providers this is a large obstacle for getting their product
into the door, and it is an obstacle provider by a large rival Vendor.

The current calls from EMC sound a bit far fetched to me. A customer
isn't going to risk their install of a pricey product like Oracle on
an unsupported platform. They need to get these customers to approach
Oracle pre-implementation and press the point. If Oracle doesn't budge
on this, than my guess is that their platform costs will slowly go up,
due to the difficulty of competing with them.

From an SE perspective, this kind of obstacle is very hard to
overcome. Selling products that work on the Oracle stack need to be
checked against Oracle's supportability, and it is important to not
design solutions that put customers into an unsupported position from
a 3rd party vendor.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Sales Engineer Guy Top Stories Overview

I've seen a fair amount of interest on Sales Engineer articles lately, so I thought I'd summarize my top articles and questions I get asked a lot lately.

Compensation is a key thing driving all sales engineers.  Recently I reviewed the Labor Statistics in Compensation of Sales engineers. This is a good article to check where you sit against all Sales Engineers. Previously I looked at How is a good Sales Engineer Compensated? If you are looking at why a company needs sales engineers look at The Value added by Sales Engineers.
This is a really hot theme, and I would love to go deeper into it but really need some good stats or information from SE Managers to get any further. In particular, I'd like to know whether the percentage of total earnings from commission or variable bonus goes up or down due to seniority in the team or role.

I also had a short focus on running Webinars. Due to their lower cost, Financial controllers often dictate that Sales tries to use these tools more. I visit these topics with Webinar use to minimise travel and another article more specifically looking at the Gotomeeting tool.

Finally I have had a lot of interest in cloud computing and SaaS as ongoing themes, looking at SaaS adoption in Europe, costs of Cloud Computing vs Virtualisation among others.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Is there a need for Office 2010?

As new screenshots emerge of Office 2010
(neowin: Office 2010 screenshots emerge)

I wonder how well this will be taken on by the market. This the
current name for the upcoming Office 14, which will have such dramatic
features as Outlook storing your voicemail, just like an email.
Additionally there seems to be some nice improvements on the Outlook
web access from the browser
(Cnet: Office 2010) which is
apparently more supportive on non-MS browsers than before. One of
these will be conversation threading as seen in products like Gmail.

Why Office 14? Office 13 was skipped - as 13 is not considered a lucky
number. I wonder how many other products have had a number 13?

In the fall we should be able to see a technical preview version which
will show more of the features on all of the products. Will this, like
Windows Vista, be one of those releases that the market shows general
indifference to? Is Microsoft hitting a wall that customers are happy
enough with the products, that they don't need to see continual change
and improvement on. Since so much of Microsoft's technology is the
basis of working environments, corporations would rather not change
them, unless it shows a marked improvement or decrease in cost.


Otherwise, many customers would happily keep plodding along on the
same old technology as before.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Using GoToMeeting to deliver a Sales Demonstration



Going on from yesterday's post on Webinar tool use to minimise travel, I'd like to look at best practice when using GoToMeeting to deliver your sales demo to a new prospect.

Firstly, you and your Sales rep should have already contacted most of the people on the call to find out exactly what is driving the opportunity. This is your customer's pain points, and every presentation you give them should be aligned to this particular customer's pain points.

Just like in a face to face presentation, welcome everyone to the call, check that the meeting's parameters are all understood. Do the standard round table thing so you know who is on the call, this might flush out some additional attendees for you. Remember, while GoToMeeting gives you a list of who is logged in - and their email details - you still could have additional lurkers sitting with those attendees, or even people dialed in without using the web client.  Make sure people see your starting slide or screen. This should be up and ready 5-10 minutes early so that people don't get a blank screen or worse - see your last minute scrambling for time getting things ready.

I like to use dual displays for doing a presentation on GoToMeeting, and I'll tell you why: I find GoToMeeting lacks some of the features more expense software like Webex have, such as Slideshow or Whiteboard modes, so I use powerpoint in full view on the secondary monitor, which gives me those features. On my other screen, I see the GoToMeeting console, and I have my application running, so that I am ready to share it. 10 minutes early, I open the slideshow and start sharing that screen. I make sure (if I haven't already) that my application demo is ready to go.  As people join, I greet them, ensure that they are on both the webinar and the telco, and see if any extra people are joining too.

Running through the demo, 
  • Make smooth simple actions to move through your demo
  • Explain the business value, linking features to  business needs
  • DON'T use the mouse wildly
  • DON'T open or close windows unnecessarily or resize windows
  • Make sure you bring attention to this customer's own pain points
  • Skip sections of your "standard" demo that this customer doesn't want or need
  • If selling as a team, make sure both of you add value and ensure people know both of you by name; reintroduce yourself as necessary
Often you might start with the Salesperson giving a quick slide presentation to uncover the business needs. As an SE, write down these needs as you go, and if you can possibly refer back to them during your demo, do so and tick them off as you do so. If your sales rep doesn't do this, take the initiative to outline this yourself. I have had customers so excited after the early discussion and pain point finding, that they see the value in the demo themselves, and you often get away with a very quick view of the actual product.

Ensure that you get the same value out of a webinar as a live meeting. It should either qualitfy the deal further, or directly move towards closing it. Have your business goals written out in front of you during the meeting, and note down the solutions as you go.

A lot of this is part of your standard demo, but very importantly, you need to adapt your standard demo to work online. You must practice, you must be familiar with the toolset you use, and also, you must ensure that you get the strengths of your solution across - tailored to the customer perspective.  Remember whiteboarding, slides, and even the product demo all look different when presented online. What is powerful live may not be online and vice versa.

After the webinar, call your customer contacts and check that the reaction you wanted was achieved. Follow up on your action items promptly and check that the prospect has as well. Plan towards the next step in the process and drive the customer.  Some steps of the sales process may need to be in person - that always gives you a better feel for the personalities involved.
 
Once you have a good rapport with the customer, gotomeeting can be a great tool to support, show additional benefits of the solution and above all, keep in touch with the customer without incurring a large cost to go and visit them. This makes it a great tool, as it helps move deals forward without wasting a lot of time or money.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Webinar tool use to minimise travel

Last week I just sat in the office. As an SE who normally or often travels 50-80% of the time, you might think that my career (or position) was at risk. However it was quite a productive week, where I had no less than 8 customer meetings/ not to mention many more phone calls, emails and other contact points.

This was made possible through some extensive use of web based meeting tools. I have used many of these in the past including Microsoft LiveMeeting, Webex and the current tool we are using is GoToMeeting by Citrix.  For this article I will focus on how to deliver a good demo via a web delivery tool, rather than examine the differences in the tool. I will address that topic in a future post.

How to deliver a good web-based demo
First of all, the aim of a web based demo is just like a face-to-face in that you want to move the customer through the steps of the buying cycle from learning about solutions, through to evaluation and purchase. Rather than waiting for a convenient time for you to travel to meet them, you can make better use of your time, by scheduling a web meeting. The difficult part of this, is that you need to engage your prospects attention much more on the web, as you aren't sitting watching their reactions.

In addition, you can't be sure you have all the people you need present at the meeting, so you need probably double the standard preparation by phoning all your contacts ahead of time, to ensure that you have the decision makers there.  Treat it like any face-to-face meeting, it still uses up your valuable time, and also the valuable first impression is yet harder to recover.

Write down every question you are asked. Mark them off as you answer them, and if you can't answer them straight away, either come back during the call, or answer them later offline.  Each question you get asked is another chance you can contact the customer and gauge how they like your product.

Use powerpoint slides sparingly. It is most important that they have a good active session than that they see every page of your presentation, see every screen of your product or otherwise die of boredom.

The most crucial thing on a web demo is ensure that there is some other helper on your call, whether they come from your organisation or a partner. They see the presentation as you give it, and know what they should be seeing. Also, just like in a face to face meeting, they can 'see' and 'feel' reactions that you might be blind to.  You might also be able to chat with them with a messenger to communicate how to present or answer questions.

The top 5 things to remember giving a web based Demo are:
  • Speak clearly and don't rush
  • Write down people's questions and answer as you can
  • Show the most important and best parts of the product first - Read Great Demo!
  • Ensure that you know they are watching the presentation - but don't bore them with slides
  • Have a helper on the call
What you lose doing a web-based demo:

Seeing people's faces as you go through the presentation - 90% of communication is non-verbal. The ability to turn up, shake hands, and look people in the eye is a big part of business. Make sure you do this when you need to or you won't win the deal.

Also, people tend to buy into a meeting more if they have a visitor to their office. They have to meet you at reception, take you for a quick coffee, and tour the facility. On a web presentation all you have to do is log in, and dial in. You might not even look at any of the slides - so that is a danger. Keep directing people's attention to what you show. Don't just read out every word you have on the slides.

At the end of the meeting, just like in a real-life meeting, ensure that you have follow up activity. Check what they are getting you - confirmation on time lines, budget and so on, and deliver what you promise them. Because a web presentation is more casual than meeting in real life, make sure you enforce everything promised in the call, and back it up on email and a followup call.

For further reading:

Friday, April 24, 2009

Debrief after each Sales Call

As an Sales engineer, you often get caught up in the action of demonstrating the product, that you don't notice how everyone in the room reacts to what you say - or if you are on a webex how it looks on everybody else's screen.  One thing you should not be afraid of is getting criticism on your presentation skills. After all it is the only way to get better is to eradicate mistakes or things that confuse people, and explaining other things better for everyone.

At Mastering Technical Sales: Sales Call Debriefs I read this great tip on how to seek this information in a constructive way. It is called the T3-B3-N3 system. All you do is ask somebody from the meeting (typically someone on your side of the meeting) to tell you:

  • 3 things you did well - what did they think worked well
  • 3 things you did poorly - where can you improve
  • 3 things that you didn't do that they'd like to see
The eyes of a non-technical Sales person or overlay expert can be very good at seeing what you may have left out, how certain people in the audience react or even what looks really cool about the product. As an SE, you might be excited about features or components that aren't as important to the customer.

Part of building a great demo presentation is engaging people well, showing them what they want to see and also not showing things that don't help you sell the product. A Demo is less about teaching how the product works or how to use it, but more about showing the solution to the business problem and giving confidence that you are offering the best solution.  Any advice on how to do this is gold dust. 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Cloud computing or Datacenter Virtualization?

Just to show I am not biased on Cloud computing, here is something for the other side of the fence.

The Register article: McKinsey Cloud report discusses a recent report by McKinsey (Clearing the Air on Cloud Computing) which looks at the benefits of running your own datacenter versus outsourcing it into the cloud. According to the report the cost of using the cloud is more than double that of your own datacenter. 

The crux of the matter is, that the labour savings, cost of running the hardware, managing the devices, owning software licenses, is balanced up against the cost of managing an additional supplier relationship, re-designing solutions  to the cloud environment, migrating data between cloud providers for inevitable changes. At the end of the day, based on Amazon's Web Services prices McKinsey sees that physical hardware systems in your own datacenter are cheaper at $150 a month against $366 per unit. And that gap will widen with the gains available for datacenter virtualization.

So Cloud solutions need to get a lot cheaper before they are the most cost-effective solution. Of course there are many other reasons to go for the cloud - but it wouldn't be the cheapest option for in-house systems that are running happily today.

See ZDNET: Is adopting the Cloud a money losing mistake for another look at the McKinsey report

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

SaaS adoption in Europe

I found this article that I was sent interested, showing a growth in SaaS adoption. Phil Wainewright(ZDNET): SaaS adoption swells in Europe writes that out of the biggest 3 economies within the EU, France has the highest level of use of SaaS at 71% of enterprises having some enterprise applications running on SaaS.

One major thing of interest to those selling SaaS solutions is:
... US research firm Saugatuck Technology’s Bill McNee noted a finding that Europeans have a marked preference for buying SaaS solutions from an IT consultant rather than direct from the vendor — almost a mirror image of US behavior.
Which is quite close to my experience as well. As a vendor using SaaS as a delivery platform (among others), it shows that the important thing is to embrace IT Consultants to help find customers, that direct selling of SaaS solutions is not the most effective way to go.

Several reasons exist why this is the case. The consultant may have more experience using the tool, rather than a vendor developing it. The customer is more likely to believe that a consultant will recommend the best tool to use and is able to show it's use, than the vendor directly could.  A strong SaaS platform should also enable the consultants in the field to manage multiple customers through one tool without necessarily visiting the customer - therefore creating economies of scale when working across multiple accounts.

For the Sales Engineer, this means engaging a more technical IT Consultant as a user - to communicate both the end customer benefits and also enablement of a IT Consultant to ensure the tool gets a good following. A good consultant will have great customer reach, many contacts in the correct industry, and also communicate well with the Vendor through the SE and the Sales team in general, and get better access to the Product management team.

Successful SEs, might see this as a future career opportunity, branching out into the consultancy field to deliver the tool directly to end customers.

Other posts that are relevant include:

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Acquisition: Oracle Buys Sun

A major move in the Enterprise software sector as hardware vendor and owner of IP such as MySQL, Solaris and of course JAVA gets bought by Oracle. Surely this will put MySQL onto end of life planning now? Of course this will upset execs at IBM, as it is for only 10c more a share than they were putting up. Just shows that some can close a deal more effectively than others.

Personally I can many benefits from both sides. Solaris is often the platform of choice for large scale Oracle DB and Apps rollouts. It means that Oracle will have full control.

Here are a few links to the news:





Friday, April 17, 2009

Why it is harder to find top staff during a downturn

While we are talking about hiring top quality Sales Engineers, paradoxically it might be harder to find those top A-list employees during a downturn. Why? This article at Summation discusses why the employment market is so much noisier now: http://blog.summation.net/2009/03/why-hiring-is-paradoxically-harder-in-a-downturn.html
The main reasons are:
  • While top people might be out of work due to large scale economic reasons (business goes bust, niche product sales drop) but they are the people organisations want to keep the most
  • Because it is harder for less skilled employees to find jobs, they have to apply for more and go to more interviews
  • Screening Interviews have more applicants and therefore need to let a lower percentage through

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Compensation of Sales Engineers

One thing I am often asked is how much compensation a Sales Engineer should get. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition in the US the middle 50% of Sales Engineers earned between $59,490 and $100,280 a year. This description of SE is across all industries, wholesale and manufacturers. The median earnings of SEs in the computer systems design and related services industry was $90,950. Also, overall the top 10% of SEs earned more than $127,680 a year. Of course the earnings of SEs is highly variable and dependant on performance. Those doubling quota might find that more than half of their overall income comes from this performance based aspect.
While this is just the raw data from a major survey (over 76,000 people), it does help you work out where you sit. With such large ranges of course, it is important to know where you sit both in your organisation and across other businesses and industries.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Value added by a Sales Engineer

In the Sales process it can be hard to quantify how much value the Sales Engineer (SE) adds. It is a challenge to a Sales Director to decide on how many SEs to have against the number of Salespeople and part of this is the way we measure how much value each adds.

A salesperson is responsible directly for a quota of sales. If they get that quota they get a big reward, and if they don't meet it they get less.

An SE does the parts of the sale that the salesperson is not able to. They articulate the technical fit, and summarize the business value of the solution. The show that it works in a PoC, and create a personal relationship with technical decision makers that is often unobtainable to the salesperson directly.

How can we quantify this?  One way would be to check what percentage of deals can be closed without a specialised technical overlay, that is without a proof, demo, workshop or whatever the process calls for. For well established products this might be a higher number than unknown or new solutions. However for these it is a must have. Secondly, the SE might help sell additional services, find a need for additional product, or eliminate the opposition more effectively by laying "landmines" for competitive products.

A response by Phil Janus (www.salesengineering.com ) to Dave Stein's article What is a sales engineer worth? claims that:
Real customer data is showing 3 to 7 times more incremental revenue per year. SEs pay for themselves 2 to 5 times over annually. Annual program returns have ranged from 130x to 385x per dollar. One customer generated 678% more incremental revenue in 6 months. Stated another way, failing to implement a pre-sales initiative costs $300,000-$500,000 per SE per year in lost revenue.
Certainly this shows that SEs are a great resource to include in the sales team. The next question is how many are needed and where best to put them. That of course will be in another post.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Eating your own Dogfood - Vendors using their own technology

I read this article on www.virtualization.info on how Microsoft and VMware use their own technologies internally. I find this an interesting idea, because it shows customers that you have confidence with your own toolset and can use it in a business-critical way. What is just as strong, if not stronger, is if partners and systems integrators (SIs) also are happy to use the tool internally. For SIs to do this shows then that they have the capability of rolling this out in a customer organisation themselves.

In enterprise sales, making the customer believe that the tool does what it says can be half the battle. Getting a good reference from a third party is always a valuable step, but developing a new product line and getting that first sale can be tricky without references. Becoming your own reference and showing belief in the product is one way of gaining that respect.

Secondly, to advise customers on important metrics and expectations based on your own experience at implementing the tool is a great way of spreading this message and gaining that belief. Microsoft's technet article advises on these experiences, showing that Microsoft gets 10.4 virtual systems on their 16 to 24 processor cores, and up to 64 gigabytes (GB) of random access memory (RAM) host machines.
Those interested can read in great detail about their configuration of these and other mission critical systems.

VMware published at their VMworld Europe 2009 conference their findings about using the ESX platform and that can be read about on  http://www.virtualization.info/2009/04/how-microsoft-and-vmware-use.html. They also make use of their VDI desktop virtualisation as well.

Friday, April 3, 2009

The Structure of an SE organisation

Creating a new SE organisation, or working out how to structure it so that SEs can work well as a team, and also with Sales Reps, Branch managers and other staff is a challenge for any organisation.

Part of the issue is that SEs tend to be sparsely spread across all geographies, with varying skills across the product set. Also it tends to be that there is a difference between being a good SE, and being a good Manager.

For a small organisation, having up to 5 SEs, all members of the team have to be actual SEs, able to fulfill the role themselves. Most organisations would structure it so that one behaves as the team leader, or in footballing terminology a player-manager.  Being a team, the manager's role here is not the full A-Z manager who checks expenses, knows everything each member is doing all the time or general babysitting. A Player-Manager is also just as concerned at fulfilling their own role, and the extra part is spent ensuring the rest of the team are connected to technical resources they need, are working well with their local organisation, ask for help when they need it and so on.

Realistically the player manager is an enabler to make sure that the SEs do behave as a team, that their skills are effective and interchangeable and that the sales organisation has what it needs to succeed. Another important role for the Player-Manager is hiring new SEs and ensuring that their team is ready for the scale of the sales efforts ahead.

As the company develops and the team expands towards 10-20 members, there will be an organisation shift. There will effectively be too many "players" for a "player-manager" to handle. It could also be that the Player-Manager is a better player than a manager or vice-versa. So the organisation would shift to having a full time manager (although some managers may remain player-managers), and as it grows further it will need more managers and even an SE Director. 

To balance this out, these Managers don't necessarily have the same skills as the SEs, and depending on the organisation, there may be SEs who are extremely important to the company as SEs. These may become Lead or Senior SEs and may not head into a manager role unless they really desire that and reskill. 

Depending on the product set, SEs may need to specialise so that the organisation is able to call upon experts on particular products, and with this many SEs there is often the luxury of having more than one at a particular office location.

In this size team training becomes an important thing (see Training for sales engineers), and a team trainer is needed to develop training programmes and material. The other part of this training is that the team needs to consider the evolution of its members and their succession within the organisation. Good team players who have potential to manage or lead others should be nurtured and kept within the organisation.

Finally, a massive organisation will have hundreds of SEs. This calls obviously for more specialisation, and also division within the organisation into units. Now there will be more Directors, leading teams of up to 30 SEs and managers. There will be managers in each region below them, and they would all report up to a Head of SEs, or VP of Sales Engineering (SEVP). Again training will be important. There would be dedicated inside roles for working on RFPs and Bids. Each product may have a Lead SE who works exclusively on that product and develops demonstration materials on that. Even Industry verticals or partner specialists would be good ways of dividing the team.

Given that large organisations tend to have larger barriers between divisions, it is necessary to
ensure that the SE organisation has access to the latest product, development engineers, marketing, the sales organisation and upper management, and this needs to be through dedicated resources to keep the business running smoothly.

For further reading on how to structure or organise the SE team, I highly recommend the book Mastering Technical Sales: The Sales Engineer's Handbook (Artech House Technology Management Library) by John Care, Aron Bohlig.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

How to Increase the capacity of your Sales team

Do you find that you are often so busy running from prospect to prospect that you have little time in between to sit down and think about how you approach customers in general?

We treat our sales strategy like a tree. We operate as the trunk - the core part of the system which makes the product, and handle only the biggest deals, and the biggest partners as the main distribution network. If your sales team is tackling most end customers directly, then the activity that will fill your time most is the full end to end sales story. Getting leads, going to early initial meetings, establishing credibility, proving product capability, proving the business case and then trying to close the deal. In this case your sales team is like the whole tree, and to handle more customers you need to have more sales teams (Reps and SEs).

However in building up an effective channel strategy, it means that more and more of your time is about enabling others to go and get those customers. So instead of chasing that big lead directly, sending it along to a partner who is already trusted by that prospect and has a proven track record there. That way you greatly increase your reach, and lower the amount of time you need to spend on each deal. You can also then go to all the other customers of that partner and resell to them.
As an SE, if what you are selling is a product, you basically become the demo show pony and just turn up to give that killer demo, and answer all the big questions that the partner can't. We find that we have to give less Proof of Concepts away, have much more consumer confidence already going into the meeting, and our partners gain some additional revenue from customers they have already put the hard effort into as well.

However I don't think that this diminishes the role of SEs or Sales Reps from the Publisher, as training partners, supporting their activities and ensuring that your leads are going to the channel best suited to winning it are key roles that secure the revenue stream. Although I read an interesting article on Outsourcing Sales Engineers, I believe that new products and new companies will always need their own internal resources to take products to market.  More mature products may well lower their cost of sale comparatively to the size of the revenue stream, but effective SEs are always in high demand and even the largest companies in the world with the most established products need SEs to keep spreading the good news. However all of these companies have a channel sales focus as well.

The SE role in the Channel sales approach is to keep partner education levels up with new product capabilities, act with the partner in their dealings with customers, fight off competitors from using the same Sales Channel, and even go into end customer meetings wearing the badge of the partner as well to show how well they know your products.

Monday, March 30, 2009

VDI - The future Enterprise Desktop?

A lot of system integrators these days are pushing the thin client and VDI  - Virtual Desktop Infrastructure  - route for desktop management. While I can see the technical attractions of having a simpler deployment at the end user, there are a lot of business questions I think it raises.

First of all, how do we get all the current software onto the virtual machines? Deploying a new image - virtual or otherwise - needs to be managed as an integral part of the business. Each application getting packaged for this new deployment needs to be analyzed to be sure it works on the new platform. The important part here is to realise that this is a big change from more traditional fat clients, all implemented at once, so that a good deal of work goes into the building of that new platform, so that it can replace the current operating model.

To that end, technologies like Thinstall (ThinApp) or XenApp are there to help repackage applications virtually so that they can be deployed to work on the newer operating systems and ensure applications don't corrupt each other.

This does mean that two big changes need to be implemented at the same time of course.

Secondly, traditional software licensing models don't necessarily work on the new platform. VDI basically means that most users now only have a thin client which connects to a remotely running desktop OS running on a server. Does the license need to apply to the local small box, or the big server in the back end. Often with Terminal Server or Citrix environments, it means that every device or user capable of  running the software needs a license, and not just where it happens to be used or deployed. Care needs to be taken at how expensive applications are delivered to ensure that the license conditions are used in the best possible way.

Finally the user experience must be number one. Can users keep working the way they currently do? Will they be able to access their desktop when offline or out of the office? Must computers be switched off overnight, even if they have programs running? Can the local hardware be accessed by a remote virtual machine?

If we can answer these problems, then there are plenty of benefits to take on board. Gartner certainly sees this as a growth industry .
In particular, reducing the desktop refresh cycle from 3 years to 6-7 halves the cost to the environment and to the business of supporting users. Also it helps organisations switch to a hot-desk, quick switching flexible business where users can visit any office and yet use their own desktop with their own settings and data.

So the benefits are there. Are enterprise vendors assisting this technology enough to make it possible to switch?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Windows 7 RC in April

So Windows 7 is getting ever closer, and Microsoft has just announced a shopping list of changes that will make the platform much more enticing for its users. On Techtree - Windows 7 RC Gets 36 Changes I read about some of these and wondered how this will make Windows 7 more acceptable to enterprises. 
In fact there is not much to see from my point of view. The main issue with Vista was that it required too much change for an enterprise in terms of supported applications, and features that would create loads of support issues - like User Access Control. On top of this, it required a large step up in terms of hardware requirements.
Network World doesn't see much more than the ability to run without a VPN - using Direct Access as an advantage. The difference now is that companies have probably updated hardware since Vista came out, but Windows 7 has been build better for low-spec machines.
However the PowerShell advances will allow better management capabilities of remote machines. AppLocker allows lockdown of users to stop downloading unauthorised software. Search will enable stronger enterprise search capabilities.
At the end of the day though, the main benefits will just be that Microsoft is making an easier upgrade path for its users than Vista. Windows 7 is really just a refinement; a platform which takes advantage of the hardware advances. UAC still needs to be configured to be less bothersome. 
Then again, people are so much more into gadgets these days, and the multimedia improvements and device management within Windows 7 could entice enough users over to make the change.