Is Technology Sales Now A Blood Sport?


Mont Phelps, CEO of NWN, one of the fastest-growing solution providers in the world, likes to remind his team that it's "all about the customer."

It may seem obvious. But it's a point that is often lost in the rough-and-tumble world of technology sales, especially as more and more IT vendors look at sales as a blood sport rather than a business aimed at giving customers a competitive advantage.

Oracle, for example, recently decided to stop development of its crown jewel database software for Intel's Itanium processor, which HP uses for its most powerful servers. The Oracle throwdown is just one example of the high-stakes political power plays taking place as the largest vendors in this business broaden their product portfolios with multiple acquisitions in a bid to become one-stop IT shops.

Oracle, whose database is the central nervous system of some of the most powerful businesses in the world, is hoping it can move customers to its own Sun hardware product set after paying some $7.4 billion for the company.

Oracle is not alone. Cisco severed its systems integrator contract with HP last year, formally dissolving a relationship that had existed for roughly two decades. This in the wake of the networking leader's decision to become a full-fledged data center system provider with its powerful Unified Compute System. Cisco, of course, wants customers to buy its own full networking data center solution.

Same goes for HP, which has been beefing up its portfolio with everything from world-class storage thin provisioning from 3Par and LeftHand to robust 3Com networking products. But even HP can't do it all. It has put the VCX IP voice product line, which competes against a Cisco product set, into "maintenance mode." That has left 3Com partners who promised their customers a long-term strategic voice platform out in the cold. The product set amounts to a rounding error in terms of HP’s top-line revenue. But it is a critical piece of an end-to-end network product set.

Putting together the best product portfolio is every vendor's job, as is aggressively marketing and selling that platform. But playing politics with technology products or services to move customers to a platform that benefits the vendor and not the customer is not a wise move. Customers are smart. They rely on solution providers to be their trusted advisers, evaluating multiple offerings to make sure they are not stuck with a solution that, let's say, does not meet their needs or is abandoned by a vendor. They know that solution providers will make good on supporting the solution even if the vendor does not.

The political power plays, by the way, are not just taking place in the corporate boardrooms but in the sales trenches where the sales point/counterpoint game is becoming increasingly hostile given the high stakes around cloud computing decisions.

In the end, the vendors that take the high road and partner with solution providers to build a mutually beneficial relationship will be the big winners. Those that don't will find themselves on the outside looking in.