How I Buy – John P Kennedy, VP Engineering, Amity
In each interview in the #HowIBuy series, the idea of finding one’s own information is a common thread. Obviously, a lot of that effort involves searching for information. However, just saying that someone “searches” for information leaves a lot of nuances hidden. Exactly what are buyers searching for, and how are they doing those searches when they might not know exactly what it is that they are looking for.
I was lucky enough to chat with John Kennedy, Co-founder and VP Engineering at Amity, and he brilliantly articulated exactly how he goes about the “search” aspect of his buying process. Here are John’s insights:
First, tell us a little bit about your role at Amity and what you spend money on throughout the year?
I’m a co-founder of the company, and my official title is VP Engineering, but as you might guess, that means I wear many hats. Obviously, there’s the engineering and product management side of things, as well as customer and sales support when needed, and I’ve been known to dabble a bit in content marketing.
As a co-founder of a fast-growing business like Amity, and an engineering leader with technology moving at the pace it is, there is a lot to learn. How do you learn?
I think that depends a little bit on the type of problem. Some are very specific, while some are a lot more general and ambiguous. How I learn really depends on the type of problem. For example, recently, as part of rolling out a new data center, I needed to find a logging vendor that would be GDPR compliant and I would not be required to store my data in the United States.
My learning started, as it often does, with Google searches. In this case, it was quite specific, as I knew the problem, so searches like “log management GDPR compliant”.
What were you really looking for in doing that?
Ideally, of course, there would be one that pops up that clearly states “we are GDPR compliant”, but obviously that’s not reality, so I think in doing those searches, I was really seeking a vendor list to begin doing more detailed research on. A more realistic hope would be finding one or more vendors whose online presence communicated that “we are working on it” and “we have a point of view”. Specifically, in this case, being able to choose where data resides was a key part of my criteria.
An interesting aspect of your question about learning was that I was bringing this concept from a search vendor I had recently worked with. When you spin up a new instance, the first thing it asks you is “where do you want to keep your data” and shows you a world map to pick from. I thought that was a very solid approach, and went looking for that type of capability in my log vendor search.
Tell me a bit about the next step of the search process, what did you find, and where did your learning and investigation go next?
One of the notable findings in my search was from a vendor called Sumo Logic. They had a number of blog posts specifically about GDPR. They shared lessons learned from their process to become compliant. I wasn’t specifically looking for that but I appreciated it. It made me feel like they were thinking about the problems and they “get” me.
The nice thing that I’ve noticed in recent years is that it seems like a fair bit of content marketing has evolved away from the spammy “listicles” and low-value content just for click-bait or SEO. Or possibly it’s just that I can sniff-test that kind of BS is seconds.
Let’s get back to the second category of problems, where you are not quite sure exactly what you’re looking for. Can you tell us how you approach that?
Sure, there are often categories where I don’t know the state of the art in a particular area, so I feel like I’m going looking for a rough shape of the problem rather than the particular solution. For example, in setting up a data center, I knew I wanted to automate as much as possible, but I did not know where that space had evolved to. I knew a few of the basic tools like Chef and Puppet, and I knew that doing everything manually would be bad form, but beyond that my path was unclear.
In those cases, I often start with a tactical problem. One weekend, for example, I wanted to automate the deployment of some servers to AWS. In Googling the general concept, I found a few blog posts or StackOverflow articles that made a reference to Ansible.
At this point though, with a lot of that kind of research, I don’t know whether what I’ve found is a school of thought, a design principle, a category, a framework or a product. So I will pull on the thread a little more and do more specific research around what I’ve just found.
I might go to the product’s website, but honestly, so many websites are just marketing gobbledygook, and it’s impossible to find out what the product actually does. The online docs, if they are available, are often too low level at this phase. Frequently, the best option is where someone, often an independent developer, has put together content or a YouTube video on a specific task – “how I used Ansible to create 3 servers”, “Ansible 101”, or something similar.
So now you’ve got a tactical potential solution, what next?
Now I can start “doing”. I’ll usually have a specific problem to work through, and this is where the free download, or trial, etc comes in handy. As I run into hiccups and issues, I’m usually back to Google and YouTube for specific problem resolution.
In the back of my mind, as I do this, I’m really thinking of two things. One, can it solve this specific problem? Two, can it broaden more strategically within my organization and solve a broader category of problems? When we find a tool to invest in, I don’t want it to be a one-off, I want it to be something we can rely on for a swath of problem types.
Even after I’ve solved the problem I’m looking at, I’ll generally stay on the mailing list and watch for interesting, tactical things that the product can do that I’m not already aware of.
Sounds like there’s very little room for salespeople in your process. Are there ways that sales can be of assistance?
Yes, definitely – while I’ll admit that in a lot of cases I avoid sales because I see them as not technical enough to help me or so persistent that they’re annoying, there are definitely cases where their value is really clear. I’ll give you an example from recently, I was trying to understand a product called Datadog, and in my mind, I had compared it with NewRelic as a product that understood the performance of a single server. I will admit I didn’t really get it.
I reached out to the sales team at Datadog, and when the salesperson gave me a demo, he showed me how Datadog uses their own product to monitor their large infrastructure – thousands of servers. From that interaction, I saw how the features of their product were used in a real live environment. From that demo, I realized how they were different from New Relic and understood how the features could be applied. I probably wouldn’t have gotten there on my own, playing around with the trial on only a few servers.
How have you seen your own buying process evolve lately?
I enjoy doing my own research but I don’t always the time. When tackling those “amorphous” problems, I can accelerate the discovery by using my network. Often the recommendation of a peer gives shape to the problem and can save hours of effort. I don’t think I followed that advice for a long time, but I’m starting to now to a much larger degree. I’ll still do a lot of my own research, but often that research is kicked off and guided by a conversation with someone who knows far more about that particular area than I do. It can be invaluable as a starting point.
Thanks for the great insights, John, they were very valuable!