What does it take to break into a market already dominated by large and established rivals? How can you cost effectively elevate your brand and win the confidence of wary customers? How do you change the game?
Those are the questions that BreakingPoint Systems faced as it began rolling out its new go-to-market strategy last year. Recognizing that network equipment manufacturers, server vendors and service providers are now introducing advanced network devices that raise the bar on performance and security, the Austin-based company has brought to market a new network testing platform to “ensure network resiliency, accelerate product development and reduce time-to-test.”
With recognized competitors such as Agilent, Ixia and Spirent in the network device testing sector, it was clear that BreakingPoint would have to take some aggressive steps to cut through the market noise and build its reputation. The company, however, appears to be succeeding. With an average deal size north of $500,000, BreakingPoint has added dozens of customers over the past year as it brazenly invited them to “trade up” and abandon the “legacy” testing tools of its rivals.
Indeed, the company’s leadership is pulling no punches. “We are radically altering a testing tools market that has stood dormant for years,” says BreakingPoint CEO Des Wilson. “Every day we see our competition scouring our website and downloading our data sheets so they can scramble to update their products and marketing to show they are no longer irrelevant in an industry we have shifted so dramatically.”
While such comments seem calculated to get attention (and certainly must get under the skin of rivals), the evidence suggests the approach is working. Interest in the company – as judged by everything from media coverage to website hits to lead generation – is rapidly climbing. Meanwhile, high praise from firms such as Juniper Networks and Enterasys suggests that BreakingPoint is hitting its target.
“It is no longer acceptable for testing tools providers to sit back while networks and network equipment become more sophisticated and then take years to play catch up,” says Wilson. “Companies need to build products and deliver network services that perform optimally even in the face of rapidly growing traffic and security threats. This means they need resiliency testing tools that can simulate real network conditions.”
While BreakingPoint’s far-reaching vision is clearly an attractive one, what about the company’s ability to execute in the front office? Consider its current efforts.
The marketing perspective
Pam O’Neal, vice president of marketing for BreakingPoint, has spent the last year trying to reframe the way companies think about network device testing. She has focused on developing bold statements or “strikes” and then following them up with defensible proof points. Initially, BreakingPoint focused on positioning itself as the only company to test application traffic at 10 gigabytes or faster, a benchmark that is now being further pushed. The company also introduced new language to the sector such as “network processing architecture” and “realistic network traffic simulation.”
Collaboration among the company’s co-founders and chief technology officer, Dennis Cox, was critical to the firm’s marketing initiatives. Drawing on their insights and industry experience, the marketing group further presented its offerings as an “all-inclusive” and services-rich solution. The objective was to address the “nickel and diming” that had frustrated BreakingPoint founders in the past when they were customers of other firms’ testing tools. Once the claims were made, it then became critical to demonstrate tangible results to establish credibility and underscore that the company wasn’t just based on marketing hype.
To carry these messages forward, generate leads and enable the sales force, the marketing team has adopted an array of new (often, experimental) tactics. Whereas direct marketing would have been a critical tactic in the past, O’Neal explains that she and her team now rely on social media, public relations and search engine optimization to drive awareness and demand generation. “I think what I do right now is 180 degrees different than what I’ve done in the past,” says O’Neal. “The whole landscape of marketing has changed so dramatically over the past couple of years.”
O’Neal says the company has had tremendous success leveraging such resources as LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube to reach the network engineers and other professionals that influence decisions on network testing tools. Marketing now generates hundreds of inbound responses per quarter and influences more than 40 percent of closed deals.
But social media marketing and other efforts would be far less effective if BreakingPoint didn’t have compelling perspectives and insights to offer its prospective customers. “We’ve become better at developing the right kind of content,” she adds, noting that the company’s CTO and research team works with marketing to produce a steady stream of blog posts, videos, webcasts, how-to guides and white papers on topical issues in the network performance and security arena. “We are focused on understanding our target audience – really figuring out what makes them tick. Then, as a company, we all have to work together to produce the type of content that these buyers want.”
The sales perspective
Jim Alnwick, vice president of North American sales, says his team is contributing value and driving growth by “listening to our current customer base and understanding their pain points, particularly within different industries. This allows us to recognize opportunities faster.” But the sales team also is achieving results by “building the communication channels between sales, marketing and our product development. This ability to collaborate has helped us get what we need to sell in the field, from both a marketing and product standpoint.”
Clearly, collaboration is a core strength in this firm’s front office. Rather than lamenting an absence of alignment (which is common in today’s down economy), Alnwick contends his sales group is meeting and exceeding its numbers by capitalizing on a “tight relationship with our product and marketing teams.”
One of the key challenges the team faces is the danger of information overload. “Just look at how much communication you can have with prospects and customers on LinkedIn and Twitter,” he says. “We have worked closely with our marketing team in order to manage all of this information and to be sure that we are listening intently to the market at all times. Ultimately the most successful sales person is going to use every tool at their disposal to gather knowledge on both their prospect and their competition.”
The sales team’s commitment to ambitious goals – and proven ability to deliver – may be a factor that should concern the company’s rivals. “We want to be the de facto choice when a company needs to test network equipment or application servers,” Alnwick says. “It is a big objective; but if you look at our growth so far, it is certainly in our reach. I think the biggest challenge will be managing our growth throughout this process and keeping an eye on innovation to stay even further ahead of the competition.”
The service perspective
Craig Cantrell, chief operating officer for BreakingPoint, is particularly proud of his service team’s ability to build out self-service options on the firm’s customer portal, enabling customers to quickly access the resources they need to enhance network performance. What’s more, the company is deploying weekly updates to its product “with new application protocols and security strikes” that enable customers to have “the most realistic simulation of network traffic during testing,” he says.
The service team also emphasizes the importance of bundling its offerings into a single, easily accessed package that is designed to meet customer needs. “It is not feasible to nickel and dime customers,” says Cantrell. “To simulate realistic network traffic, you need a current mix of applications and security attacks. We publish updates weekly, but we don’t charge customers for each and every new application or attack we ship. That simply goes against our message of realism. In the long run, you’ll gain loyalty and business by mapping your business practices to your value proposition and making your products easier to use.”
That seems to be a key theme among some of the high performing technology firms. They are focused on providing reliable guidance through an ongoing customer success cycle as opposed to just achieving wins in a conventional selling cycle or buying cycle. Service teams play an increasingly critical role in ensuring customers complete this success cycle and become full-throated advocates.
With this in mind, Cantrell offers one last bit of advice to other companies that hope to elevate the value of their service offerings in the eyes of their customers. “Let’s put an end to considering services and support as simply stepping stones to incremental revenue,” he says. “Services and support should be part of your purchase, an all-in-one agreement with the customer.”
While such perspectives may be controversial in an industry that increasingly relies on service (as opposed to just license) revenue to drive growth, it’s clearly working for BreakingPoint at this point, enabling the firm to further differentiate itself from the pack and earn the confidence of new customers.
What also seems to be working well is BreakingPoint’s collaborative culture – whether applied to the front office or relationships with its clients. “The customer provides important information on how the product should evolve, what they consider the most important aspects and what grabbed them from the beginning,” explains Wilson. “All of this information gets fed back to sales, marketing and service so that we continue to do our jobs in a smarter way and the relationship lifecycle continues. We have become much more sophisticated in how we collaborate amongst these teams, including the use of tools. But at the end of the day we remove the traditional silos surrounding each of these teams, ensuring that information flows freely amongst them all.”
The customer perspective: Juniper Networks stress tests its security products with BreakingPoint solutions
Juniper Networks, the $3.6 billion provider of network infrastructure, is relying on BreakingPoint Systems’ network equipment testing product to assess the performance of its network security and firewall products. “We’ve got several of their solutions built into our labs,” says Don Meyer, senior product marketing manager at Juniper Networks. “Throughout various phases of the product life cycle, before it’s even launched or introduced into the marketplace, we will continue to test, and test against our specs for that product and what we expect to get out of that product.”
BreakingPoint’s solutions, he adds, are “instrumental in helping us to develop the products and the technology needed to achieve the types of performance benchmarks we are setting now, and what we are trying to achieve in performance going forward.”
“It’s exceedingly valuable having this equipment available to us to continually test products throughout their product life cycle, to stress test them before they are even launched, before they are even finalized,” Meyer says. “We know, realistically, how these products are going to behave, how they are going to perform, how they are going to process information when we get them into a customer environment.”
Juniper has also partnered with BreakingPoint to promote its SRX product line, performing joint presentations at tradeshows and prospective customer locations. BreakingPoint can run realistic simulations with blended application traffic and security attacks to demonstrate how Juniper’s products perform in a global network environment under extreme load conditions.
“Something that is very, very valuable in the networking space is to be able to validate what we say the product is going to do from a third-party perspective,” explains Meyer. “When a customer is interested in deploying, they don’t just hear it from us. We work with BreakingPoint to deliver on the claims that we make for performance and flexibility using real-world scenarios that replicate a customer’s environment. This further strengthens our credibility.”