Voice over IP
Walk into Bank of America and you’ll see Cisco IP telephones. Lots of them. Want to know how they got there?
Let me tell you my best sales story.
The first time I saw voice and video work over a data network was at our Cisco sales lab in Raleigh. My boss Matt Mullady was standing beside me, watching a demo, shaking his head. “This is amazing.” he said. “This is going to change everything.”
When Cisco acquired Selsius Systems, I started working with IP telephones and Voice over IP (VoIP). Later I became one of the first Consulting Sales Engineers for Cisco Unified Communications (voice, video, & data over a single network).
While telephony was new for me, migrating to VoIP was similar to network systems integration I’d done at John Deere a decade earlier.
In Dallas tomorrow
In the MidAtlantic Sales Area, Bank of America was one of our best accounts. But when BofA decided to outsource their network systems we ran into a problem. EDS in Dallas was poised to win the contract … and our Cisco team there had dropped the ball.
It was Saturday afternoon. I was in Greensboro with my family and parents. My pager went off. When that happens on Saturday it’s not good. It was Matt.
“Hi Matt. What’s up?”
“Hi Doug. What are you doing?”
“Umm … I’m in Greensboro with my family, enjoying my day off.”
“What are you doing tomorrow?”
“Umm … not enjoying my day off?”
“Sorry, but yeah. I need you down in Dallas tomorrow morning. We’re going to loose the Bank of America voice network to Nortel.”
You’ve got 10 minutes
I left Raleigh on the first flight Sunday morning and walked into EDS in Plano, TX a little before 10am.
The BofA account team – Jim and Vann – had gotten there on Saturday and were already doing damage control.
“Are we glad to see you. You’ve got to get in there and turn the deal around. This guy (the new EDS program manager for BofA) is going to sink us.”
I had a five minute briefing, no slides, and barely time to sip my coffee.
I walked into the conference room, expecting Jim and Vann to follow behind me. The project manager got up … walked across the room … and closed the door. It was just me and him.
“I don’t know you. I don’t know Cisco. I’m not sure I like Cisco. In fact, I’m not sure I even like you. I know Nortel, I like Nortel. You’ve got 10 minutes. Change my mind.”
A (very) short story
I took a second and gathered my thoughts. Then, picking up a couple of markers, I wiped off the whiteboard and started to draw.
I drew BofA’s remote branch offices, corporate data network, server clusters … everything I could think of. While I drew, I talked through a scenario of how we could replace their voice network and call centers.
I talked about local calling, long distance calling, and how to interface a new unified communications network to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN). I also drew how calls would re-route if core parts of their data network failed.
I filled the whiteboard from one wall to the other.
Exactly ten minutes after I started, he said “OK. That’s it. You’re done.”
I thought to myself “Oh no, I just lost the account.”
Can we make money?
His next words startled me. “I like it. I’ll give you two hours. Tell me how you’re going to make money for us and save money for BofA.”
So I started to ask questions.
“How many times a year do they move staff?”
I tried again. “Any idea?”
Stoic faced, he finally replied. “No, not really.”
“Ok, let me make some assumptions and see how it goes.” The EDS guy left the conference room. Jim and Vann walked back in and stared at the whiteboard.
I grabbed a chair and said “He liked it. But he’s still being a jerk. We’ve got two hours to make EDS some money.”
About 1pm the program manager came back. We showed him how over 3-5 years we could make both EDS and Bank of America very happy. He looked up and with a slight nod said “You’ve got the business. We’ll go with Cisco.“
Tell your story, show proof
I can’t claim credit for closing a $60+ million deal.
A lot of Cisco folks spent years piloting and installing Bank of America’s new voice network … but that Sunday morning was a tipping point.
So what did I learn?
One – drawing pictures can be more convincing than any Powerpoint slide deck.
Matt was amazed when he saw a demo of Voice over IP, but he was blown away the first time he picked up a phone and made a call. So were our clients.
We built portable demo kits, demonstration centers, training rooms, and proof-of-concept labs to prove what we said was true. We gave our customers that WOW experience when they talked on a Cisco IP phone. In the end, I believe that’s how Cisco beat Nortel, Avaya, and other competitors.
Click the image below to see a few photos.
Cisco IP Telephony
In the early days of IP telephony most people had never heard the quality of a voice call made over a data network. Cisco’s competitors were the manufacturers of legacy telephony equipment – mainly Nortel and Avaya. When they talked to a customer about the “new” way voice calls could be made, they mostly used PowerPoint presentations. Understandable; they had a legacy installed base of equipment to protect.
Cisco on the other hand had nothing to lose and everything to gain by helping customers experience first-hand the amazing quality Voice over IP phone calls could deliver. Because of how the voice network (aka the Public Switched Telephone Network or PSTN) developed, the range (frequency) of sound passed in in a traditional telephone call was limited on purpose.
For decades voice quality was degraded on purpose so 24 simultaneous calls could be carried over a single digital (T1) circuit. Now, Voice over IP telephone calls had the entire bandwidth of a data network – huge compared to a T1 carrier – giving them plenty of room to carry the low and high voice frequencies that had been discarded on purpose.
I can’t think of any time when a customer picked up a Cisco IP phone and made a call – whether it was in a lab, demo area, mobile demo truck, or using our portable demo kit – that their eyes didn’t open wide and their facial expression say “WOW.”