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How to Successfully Sell Linux

Jun 13, 1999, 00:08 (32 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Tom Adelstein)

Tom Adelstein summarizes his ideas of how to be a successful Linux consultant. (2,000 words)

[ The opinions expressed by authors on Linux Today are their own. They speak only for themselves and not for Linux Today. ] -lt ed

Contributed by Linux Today reader Tom Adelstein, CFO/CIO Bynari Systems.

Linux Consultants Needed Immediately. Apply Where?

A recent article in "Linux World", Making money in the next (free) economy, Milking the open source cash cow, finally convinced me. A chasm exists among Linux professionals and the commercial domain. That's a nice way to say people don't know what they're doing or saying. To which cash cow was the author referring?

Linux professionals want to experience success in their careers, now, with the tools we have. We can't afford to use rationalizations to stop us. An excuse like " when such and such gets to a stable version" keeps us from making a living while we do what we enjoy most. The only thing that happens when you wait for something is you get older.

First, can we clear up some flawed thinking about which I hear alot? Today, people have a misconception about free software. Large Information Technology firms have had free software and source code available to them since the 1960's. Having lived high in that food chain for longer than I want to admit, I promise you that's a fact. We got our software for free, our training for free and we told the world we maintained independence from any alliance. We said we chose only what worked for the client. We said that we had no allegiance to any single software firm.

The financial model of a consulting firm centers on leveraging the labor of others. As a partner, I made money when I charged $75 an hour for a consultant and paid him or her $25. So, everyone had to be billable, we couldn't make money unless everyone worked. And we didn't make investments in software. Hopefully, we didn't have to send anyone off to training because we couldn't bill for that time.

When choosing software for client solutions, we used benchmarks. For example, if the Software Company licensed 5000 users at $100 a seat per year we needed to achieve a ratio of 8 times the annual revenue of the Software Company to justify recruiting, hiring and training and deploying a team. Those numbers mean $500,000 to the Software Company and $4 million to the consulting firm.

Now, you see why large firms have SAP, Oracle, JD Edwards and Peoplesoft practices. Those products required lots of services for installation, rolling out, updating and maintenance. Ecommerce? I can't get the kind of dollars I need to keep up the overhead on this global consulting practice with Ecommerce. That's why you hear a lot of lip service to the coming Ecommerce boom but you don't see much.

Recently, IBM bucked the traditional model of the typical IT Consulting firm. They then zoomed past the world's largest service provider (EDS) in less than eighteen months. IBM Global Services from a cold start, became the number one "service provider" in the IT world so fast, no one at The Harvard Business School has had time to rewrite their textbooks.

You might notice, IBM has thrown its support at Linux. As a strategist in the consulting business, I recognize their intent. Forget the nattering non-sense that IBM wants to land Microsoft a knockout punch. IBM's management looks like a group of top professional athletes. They found a winning combination and they'll continue doing what makes them money. They won't alter their drive, their short game or their putting stroke on a whim or for some stupid idea of revenge.

Linux solutions solve many problems IT managers confront daily. Become very good at solving one of those problems and look for people who need you.

If you want to prosper with Linux as your platform, you need to warm up to a few practices that work. Open Source Software means more money for consultants not less. Here's some workable tactics.

1. Sell against a company's initiatives.

Every year, public companies publish an annual report. In the message from the chairman, you will see what they want to accomplish in the coming year. When you read one of these documents, ask yourself, "how can I help them get there?" Then, make an appointment with the chairman and discuss the initiative. I've noticed that once I ask the question, for example -"how are you doing with your web strategy?" I can't shut them up. They tell me everything. At some point in that meeting, that executive will open a space for me to tell him how I can help. Once I get the floor, I just share from my deepest convictions what I know works. At that point, I've won the business.

This also works with non-public companies. Call up the owner's assistant and ask them what they're up to. They tell you. It's not a secret; it's the company's objective. Then, get the assistant to put you on the calendar. Suck it up, put on a suit and go get the business.

2. Scale your solutions to your market.

If you're just starting out, look for business that you can do comfortably. Two years ago, I got a referral from DEC to help Royal Dutch Shell roll out an Intranet application for 100,000+ users. I knew we couldn't deploy a global team to handle that business. I still went on the sales call with the DEC representative. I discovered that the customer really wanted a navigation tool, not a deployment team. Could I put an applet on their site to help users mine their knowledge base? Yes that I could do. Yes, I got the contract and we delivered.

Scaling doesn't mean go out and find a small, penny-pinching business because you think you can't get in with the larger firms. The penny-pinching customer will eat your time and won't want to pay a fair price for your services. Be willing to say no. Have some pride and go after good business pro-actively.

3. Specialize in a niche and be the best.

Linux solutions solve many problems IT managers confront daily. Become very good at solving one of those problems and look for people who need you. For example, do I want to deploy a Microsoft NT print server and pay fees for every user who accesses it? Or can I use Linux and Samba and cut out the license fees?

We already know the answer to that question. We can do it now. That IT manager can use the dollars you saved him for something else. You became a hero, by the way.

4. Give up the reasons, excuses, justifications and rationalizations.

So the software doesn't cost anything. BMS (Before Microsoft), companies gave software away on a regular basis and this licensing model wasn't a factor. In today's distributed network world, software companies make it by getting a licensing fee for every seat. Then they threaten the company with litigation. That's just an IRS-style scare tactic. You know what I mean, the IRS audits a couple of people in the neighborhood, one of them dies of a heart attack and everyone that hears about it stops cheating on their tax returns.

If you fail to forward your actions based on thoughts; you will never see a successful moment in your life. Unless, you win the lottery. I'm risk adverse, so I'm going to work hard and I won't listen to the scary thoughts that start off with "what if they say Linux isn't ready". So what if they say that.

We enact our symbolic world. If our minds contain negative, self-defeating excuses, that's what we will enact. Go for it. So what if you get turned down. Don't consider it personal.

In sales, a certain number of "no's" exist for every "yes". If someone says no, that only puts you closer to the yes. You have the best solution to this guy's problem. If he doesn't want it, find someone who does. You'll find your work enjoyable if you take this approach.

5. Learn how to "close" a sale.

Closing is the natural result of making an offer and getting an acceptance. You sell yourself everyday and you close everyday. Most of what you sell, unfortunately, consists of excuses why you can't do this or that. But when you ask someone to go to the movies you're selling.

If you start a conversation about a company's initiatives, you've started the sales process. If you listened carefully and know the requirements, you'll say something like " this is how you can solve that problem by using yada, yada, yada." The next moment is the beginning of the closing process.

Now, the customer only has three choices when it comes to answering: Yes, no or I don't know. If he or she says yes, you need to make arrangements to start delivering - whatever that takes. If they say no, you can ask them what they are saying no to: The product, the price or you. You'll be surprised to find out it isn't you.

If you hear no, the customer may be saying I don't know. Some people would rather say no, then look foolish. In this case, find out what they need to know to make a decision. Then, get them what they need to help them make that decision. Is it an article, a reference or a working demonstration? Whatever it is, get it!

Finally, the biggest mistake people make during closing is to continue to talk. If someone says yes, then stop talking and schedule a time to start. When a person says yes, they've made a decision to go. Let them have the pleasure of feeling good about their choice. Don't engage their mind in another mental process that makes them lose focus.

The five tactics above provide a little refresher on selling. We already know literature on the art of selling fills many shelves of many libraries. This article wasn't intended to teach you to sell. Frankly, this article provides a response to much nattering going on in the press.

Recently, my company did a survey on the competitive landscape for Linux services. We found very few success stories about Linux implementations. We found an abundance of articles of who was going to do what and how they plan to do it. The most difficult part of our survey involved discovering actual events taking place. We eventually found enough cases to support our suspicions, but finding them presented us with no easy task.

I believe a chasm does exist among Linux advocates and the commercial world. I also believe we want to experience success in our careers, now, with the tools we have. I feel we can take pride in what occurs in the Open Source Software community. I also feel that the chasm of which I write lies only in the imagination and recesses of our minds. The people who will make money, have fun and enjoy their career will do so because they say so. You can sell Linux. After all, you already made one sale. To whom? To yourself. Way to go!