Monday, February 8, 2010

Best Practices for Network Connections for Face-to-Face Demos

I’ve watched a number of vendors struggle with trying to connect to their network/software applications when at customer sites. Typically, they are trying to run through both the customer’s network/firewall as well as their own.

I’ve seen specific cases (many!) where the first 20 minutes of an on-site demo meeting was consumed by the vendor technical person (e.g., SC) working with the customer’s IT staff to figure out how to connect – and fail to connect!

Often, running with virtual machines adds to the challenge. “OK, just reboot now and try it again…” – and it takes 20 minutes to reboot, only to find that you still can’t connect…

Here are current best practices for on-site demos where you need access to your own network:

- Best: Broadband (modem) connection (fastest, most modern version you can find…). This keeps things under your control, with the exception of the possibility of poor phone coverage. This most likely will be the best solution about 95% of the time. You can always ask to move conference rooms, if possible/necessary.

- Next best: Connecting through their network. This is the best choice with respect to performance, typically, but is “fraught with hazard” (who says “fraught” anymore?) Likely this gets harder and harder as IT people seek to make their networks more secure – you’ve got two network security systems to worry about (theirs and yours). It also typically requires IT help to get things set up. I’d suggest this is you are doing a long demo meeting on site (2 hours or more), where the investment in IT time is worthwhile.

- Next next best: Deliver a Remote Demo with one of your people present (e.g., you go to the site and have a separate technical person present the demo over WebEx/GoToMeeting/Live Meeting, while you serve as the “active conduit” to manage the meeting. Again, there may be some network issues, but typically much less than running “live” through their network.

Backup: PowerPoint slides and/or recordings are the final line of defense.

Other ideas?


Steven B. Levy said...

Best backup bet is a tethered cellphone connection; request a conference room with windows to be most likely to get a signal.

Better, if you can, get your tech person connected to the customer's tech person half an hour before the actual meeting begins. It doesn't have to be in the conference room; it can be in the tech person's cube. Once you're connected, you'll be able to connect from other locations. Then be ready to go with your backups.

BTW, using a visible modem is a very nice way of proving that your system doesn't dump big loads of data over the 'Net, that it caches properly on the client.

Adrian Foote said...

If its an important demo, request a rehearsal on site with your sponsor. This allows you test your technology and your messaging before the main demo.
As an added backup, record the rehearsal and you can always talk over the playback for the main demo.

BTW I once had a modem fail (no signal) in the conference room of the broadband provider - the one place you would not expect it to fail

Alexander Verharen said...

Since on-demand deployment of software applications is becoming an expected model, showing that you can connect from the customers' network may be a must.

The requirements for the field are:

Principle Accessibility-
Your applications should be accessible, without using VPN or opening up other ports than HTTP and HTTPS. IT organizations can still "packet shape" certain protocols, like RDP and ICA, but if you ensure all traffic is SSL compliant, you will get a 99% success rate. I can't remember the last time I got a principal connection failure report.

Connectivity Test-
You should have a URL that completely tests all your connectivity requirements, with the option to submit a form for help. We call this our connectivity test. Send that link to your contact on-site prior to the meeting, so you get feedback upfront. Include line quality test tools also (,
Ask for a hard wired connection to be used (and available for your demo). If your audience (or the colleagues you brought along) saturate the wireless router in the room with their day trading activities, you are likely less impacted.

Since our company (QAD - a leading ERP vendor) provides on-demand access to training/hands-on environments, it makes sense to get connectivity confirmed upfront - you provided a lasting value already, by resolving any connection issues upfront.

The 3G/4G Modems-
Latency is hard to control, you are likely immediately downgraded to the "minimum requirements" most applications have. Also, we see much higher variance than on most corporate internet connections.

If connectivity is still not optimal-
It is nice if you can provide a visual trace ( to show where the delays are happening. WOW - mr. customer, your ISP is having some trouble, the issue is in your building, why are you sending intenet traffic to Italy first? etc.
By providing good information, you help the prospect understand their connectivity challenges better.