So Cisco Live 2013 has just wrapped up and I thought I’d build upon my previous Cisco Live post regarding what it’s like to be a presenter at Cisco Live, but this time from the perspective of an engineer in the Meet the Expert program. As a customer if you need advice you can enter the world of solutions and talk to someone in the main Cisco booth area, or head over to the red shirted engineers in the Design Clinics. However, what if you want to ask some questions in a more intimate setting, want to go deeper into the analysis of your problems or be able to talk about your network or infrastructure without having your competitor standing right next to you? Maybe you want to make sure the person you are working with has a background of exactly what you are looking for. Then you head over to the Meet the Expert area.
From a customer’s perspective they sign up for a session, pick an “Expert” to meet with based upon the Expert’s background and skills and submit a date/time to meet. Seems like a much better process than the booths or Design Clinics where the person you talk to skills are primarily based upon who’s shift it is.
First of all, this room/area is nice and quiet and secondly when we meet with the customer we get to go into a small private room with a table, chairs and dry erase board. A perfect environment for troubleshooting their MPLS network or solving the middle east conflict.
If you’ve read my previous Cisco Live post, you’ll know that I’m a big fan of the break-out sessions. However, there is a special place in my heart for these. I’m not sure if there’s another conference out there that you can have a technical 1:1 with a customer. Quite often when meeting with a customer you’ve got account teams with you, peers or the customer has their people around them. Here’s is just 1:1, mano-a-mano, you, the customer and a dry erase marker. Now you do have an idea of what they want to talk about, it’s in the invitation. So if you’re a UCS engineer you can avoid or get help before that Core Service Provider Routing problem ruins your day.
There’s probably statistics that CiscoLive has that will show how many Meet the Expert sessions were done and the growth rate of them, but I still believe that this is an underutilized program. Why? When I mention it to attendees they do seem surprised about it and always say that they’ll use it next year. From my seat, I think this is a chance to get a deep understanding of a customer, their problems and how Cisco can help them. It’s a bit like the end of a break-out session where a dozen or so audience members will come up to you to ask a few questions. It’s like that in that you aren’t answering questions in front of a room of 200 people, but you’re also not going hoarse after talking for 2 hours.
I had one session this past year that really stood out. The first was a meeting that was set up between a peer of mine and a customer. The problem was that my peer is truly an expert in Industrial Solutions. Sounds good. However, the customer had questions about DataCenter based storage solutions and Storage Area Networks. Something he knew about as much about as I know about Industrial and Manufacturing Solutions. We started off slowly with the customer talking about their datacenter, their growth, server counts, platforms, capacity planning and a rough topology drawn out before us. The three of us began to discuss options, requirements and hurdles that they’re currently facing going forward. I got to admit, one can accomplish quite a bit when it’s just a few engineers around a white board. Though having a sales guy around to get coffee about 30 minutes in would have been a bonus. The customer would ask tough questions about the design while adding more color to his perspective of it, and it would morph into one that was agreeable by all parties. There are some areas that we all agreed would need to be further investigated, for which Cisco Services would be needed.
Now, I realize that every Meet the Expert is different. At the same time I was having my meeting, there’s another Expert that is providing insight into troubleshooting an issue.
I think it’s this 1:1 meeting whether the customer is in a good mood or bad that really enhances the experience of this program. People talk about how much Customers can learn from Cisco at this event, however, I’ll take a different stand, it’s programs like Design Clinics, Meet the Expert and the “10 minutes after a break-out” where Cisco can stop talking and listen, and this my friends is the key.
Thanks for a wonderful Cisco Live in Orlando and I’ll see you next year in San Francisco.