If a network vendor representative starts off with any of these three phrases — software-defined networking (SDN),bring-your-own-device (BYOD), or lower total cost of ownership (TCO) — I would ask them to leave and come back when they have done their homework on your business. Why? Because clearly they don’t know what your business does and aren’t prepared to help you improve revenue, add new clients, or delight current customers in The Age Of The Customer. The company is treating your team and infrastructure as just a number.

These phrases are all vendor-led marketing initiatives, not customer pain points. Fundamentally, networks should be more than packets delivering PowerPoint slides, connecting users to SAP, or enabling a voice call. Networks touch every part of the business and have significant impact on changing the way business can be done. And the business is expecting to get some business value of out the platform. Therefore you shouldn’t be ok getting a generic networking pitch. You are the customer —make them work for your dollars by making them demonstrate how they can help your business. If you work for a:

  • Manufacturing company, your biggest problem isn’t assembly-line workers bringing their devices to work, nor is it lowering network costs. Manufacturing strives to produce products closer to their customers’ demands, and thus looks to solutions to re-tool the assembly line so it can optimize resources while minimizing inventory. Networking solutions should be able to survive in the industrial environment and allow manufacturing/process engineers to easily make changes to the network to accommodate the addition or removal of manufacturing equipment.
  • Healthcare provider, your biggest issue isn’t lowering the cost of switches in your data center. For the US, the healthcare industry’s core mantra for providers is "create patient-centric outcomes." Consequently, the network solution should lay out the ability to create an information infrastructure that brings together the micro-level of personalized health and the macro-level of epidemiologic mappings to institutional quality, and evidence-based practices will be a key differentiator for healthcare systems, as described in Forrester’s 2014 Technology Imperatives For US Healthcare Providers.
  • Retail organization, your biggest problem isn’t employees bringing their own devices or east-west application traffic. It’s transforming that brick and mortar location so it can win business back from click retailers. The vendor should be addressing how the network can create an intimate experience between the business and each customer, as outlined in Forrester’s Brick And Mortar Retail Fights Back.

For another reason on why you should be pushing the vendors to be more specific, my report A Tsunami Of Empowerment Will Hit Your Network With The Internet Of Things highlights that other professionals within you company will start to be intimately involved in networking decisions and will be pushing you for those answers.