– Henry J. Kaiser, industrialist
I saw this vividly during the late 1990s with Cerent’s Eric Clelland, the company’s first sales director, hired to secure orders for the privately-held startup. Customers loved him. A couple of examples included decision-makers at MEANS and ALLTEL.
Eric recalls the strong relationships he established, “My early customers, for the most part, have become friends for life. They took a chance on all of us, the team, and they were able to validate their purchasing decision. That was a big deal.”
He adds, “[This friendship] has come back to pay multiple times with a trusted relationship. Gary Kosin took a chance with me again at Cyan and gave me my first purchase order. Being at Cerent is a big part of it. Once you’re in, you are who you are. People took a chance, and they were the early adopters.”
Another customer, located in northern Ohio, Al Eshbaugh gave Eric and the Cerent 454 a chance in his company’s network too. ALLTEL deployed a six-node ring network to verify system performance. Eric notes, “The amount of respect and accolades he gives me is incredible. Al is very proud to have been an early customer of Cerent.”
How are such relationships solidified, ones that also help to move the company’s respective businesses forward? Eric, and his Cerent colleagues toiling in sales and marketing, never spoke ill of their competition. They didn’t have to, especially when they had a superior product to sell at a better price. On top of that, the sales team became a true partner with its service provider customers. They did not lie to their prospects or customers. Their experience and learning from the marketplace allowed them to educate their prospects honestly and candidly.
Cerent’s top sales people were technical, ethical, collaborative, and knowledgeable about both the optical transport market and their competitors. The sales team had a thirst for learning, which included the Cerent 454 as well as the competing platforms. Customers respect a sales team that helps them make informed decisions about the deployment of product that solves their problems.
Bill Peatman, Cerent’s marketing communications manager, observes, “Today marketing is about respect, respecting your customers by helping them not pitching them, [and] respecting your competitors by acknowledging that your product or company isn't right for everybody.”
From the customer perspective, more generally, competition is relished because it leads to lower prices, more choices, and greater freedom to implement a specific business plan. Added benefits include an improving level in the quality of goods and services from the chosen supplier .
Upstart Startups Can Easily Overcome Their Larger Competitors
Bert Soto, another Cerent salesman, recalls those days of selling to emerging service providers: “I tell the story to sales leaders at Cisco today. As an incumbent you have a big installed base for which you had to apologize on the issues you have in the network. Cerent had no history at all. The pitch was beautiful. You had the same goods as the other guys did, but at a fraction of the cost, a fraction of the power, and a fraction of the footprint. When you got out of those meetings and were being challenged a little bit, you had to be confident to say, ‘Guys, I know this is a good deal. I have ten more meetings today, so, if you don’t want any, that’s fine.”
Bert notes, “We had that swagger, that confidence.”
The early Cerent customers who took a risk knew it too. They relished the opportunity to deploy solutions made possible by the amazing Cerent 454; they were amazing customers.
 From an economic perspective, competition generally helps suppress inflationary pressures due to proliferation of lower prices, while raising living standards through improved productivity. Although competition heightens individual company insecurity, it deepens collective security within the business community. The functioning of a free market, without government interference, allows competitors to supply ever-increasing volumes of goods and higher levels of service. As Adam Smith articulates in his eighteenth century seminal work, The Wealth of Nations, the ebb and flow of supply and demand provides fair prices to companies, low prices to consumers, and a living wage to employees. The economy further benefits from increased competition, muting any wage-price spirals, and minimizing the occurrence of recessions. In this way, a government’s economic policy does not have to confront the concentrated power of business and labor as it develops anti-inflationary policies.