Aristotle once said “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, therefore, is not an act but a habit”. For our today’s guest, that habit would be leading the sales of Extreme Networks in one of the fastest growing markets in Europe. Let’s hear how it’s done from Henk Bretveld, Country Manager for Benelux!
Henk, what has your journey to Extreme been like? How did this all start for you?
I came to Extreme through the acquisition of Avaya’s networking division in 2017. As it often happens in the networking business, it wasn’t the first time I went through a company merger. Earlier I had worked at Bay Networks, which later became part of Nortel, which eventually got acquired by Avaya.
I started my journey with Extreme in the sales team as an Account Executive. Before I knew it, I got promoted to the Country Manager for the Benelux region in 2019. That doesn’t mean my sales days are gone – on the contrary! I kept two of my biggest accounts which whom I have great, long-lasting relationships: the Ministry of Interior and Kingdom Relations (Min BZK) and the Ministry of Defence (MinDef) in the Netherlands. My relations with the former started in 2003 and with the latter – back in 1994.
What’s the most courageous thing you’ve ever done?
It may come as a surprise (chuckles) but I started my career in IT as a technical guy. I was working with IBM mainframes and data entry stuff. Somewhere along the path I made the decision to switch from that role (which, by the way, I was pretty good at, if I do say so myself) to a more sales-oriented one. Of course, that changed everything. Needless to say, my formal education was purely technical, not commercial. So for me, that would be one of the bravest things I ever did. It’s been almost 30 years and I still haven’t come to regret it.
Much like Tor Kristjan Heiberg in the Nordics countries, you are one of the fathers of the Extreme Fabric Connect’s enormous success in Benelux. What’s the secret recipe for such an achievement?
I think there’s only one “secret sauce” that really matters and it’s maintaining good relationship with the client. Of course, having a great product helps a lot.
The story of the fabric dates all the way back to the Nortel days. We had some open discussions with the accounts about the potential added value of the solution and what size of cost savings it could generate for them on the operational side. The initial reaction was positive. But it wasn’t until after a year or two, when the solution became a little bit more mature, that they started to really opt for it in their new network designs. I guess innovation really is in our fabric.
It goes to show that a good control of your customer is crucial. You need to maintain a very open relationship in which you can honestly discuss options, possibilities, and what's in it for your customers.
Do you think that in order to be a successful sales professional in the networking industry, you need to have an actual engineer background?
I think so. If you understand the technology or functionality or what it can bring to the customer, in my opinion you can be a better salesperson than when you don't have any affinity with the product yourself.
How do you personally see the future of fabric networking? In which vertical or area do you see the biggest growth potential?
One of the industries that holds the biggest promise is definitely the government sector. And I’m not saying that just because of my Dutch accounts (smiles). Local governments are being pressed to reduce their operational costs. If you look for instance into the local governments, they are forced to cooperate more with both bigger and smaller cities in the vicinity to make one seamless IT domain. Our fabric solution will help here, for sure.
I also see a lot of opportunities in the healthcare sector to drive the fabrics further, mainly due to the level of security and flexibility that it brings. The equipment, like heart monitor or infusion pump, is moving on the edge of the network – you just plug it into the network and it is automatically deployed by the fabric itself, it just starts working. You don't have to program anything or make sure that you had configured that specific port before a nurse can move that equipment to the desired location. So yes, fabric is a huge advantage for the healthcare sector, especially combined with our Wi-Fi solution with Private User Groups. It's a unique proposition that nobody can beat.
How did the pandemic influence the role of fabric networking?
We need to remember about the video functions. The pandemic changed everything – practically overnight everybody started using MS Teams or Zoom. Video streaming is now a well-defined factor that enterprises need to consider in their operations. Point-to-point may not be a big deal, but if there are multiple people joining a call, we have a multicast protocol video on our hands. And for traditional networks, multicast has always been a nightmare to program because it's completely different way of setting up and configuring your network. In a fabric, it isn't. Just one tick in the box and you have a multicast network. Very useful.
Why do the customers value Extreme Fabric Connect? Check our stories!
Fabric seems to be a very fitting piece of puzzle for a number of customers in Europe. What about cloud-managed networks?
Cloud business certainly has some room for development, at least from an end-to-end networking perspective. With the acquisition of Aerohive, we definitely gained a very strong presence in the cloud-based Wi-Fi in the Benelux. But to convince customers to also have the switching area managed in the cloud and make it a seamless end-to-end experience – that's where we still have some work to do.
What makes it difficult?
Management systems for switching are different than the ones for access points or Wi-Fi systems. Customers who are willing to move to the cloud-based management platform for switches will only do that, if they are 100% sure they’ll keep the very same management options. Smaller organizations will migrate more easily because they usually don’t use all of the available features anyway, but the bigger customers always say: we can only move forward once we get a 1:1 solution.
But I’m happy to admit that here at Extreme, we are working hard on bridging this gap. There are still some steps to be taken, to have a cloud-based end-to-end management system that fits the bill of all the bigger enterprise customers. But the solution is on its way.
As the Country Manager for Benelux, you are leading many individuals coming from different backgrounds, speaking different languages, expressing strong personalities. What qualities do you see in yourself as a leader?
I guess I give my people the room to do their jobs. I'm not dictating them anything, really. Everybody knows what their target is and what their role is. Everybody knows their best options to fulfill the targets. Of course, I need to steer things a little bit here and there, but I'm not telling anyone “you need to do this in this or that way”. They should be mature enough to figure it out themselves. And they are.
And what qualities do you value the most in your team members?
Everybody has different qualities. Some members of my team are better at managing specific, complex accounts. These are usually larger enterprises, where you really need to dig in and build a relationship top-down with multiple people, so you can’t really find much more time for anything else. Others, however, are excellent at managing volumes – mid-market enterprises in which decisions are made mostly through the relationship that you have, but also pricing and the unique use of your solution. So yeah, my team is built up from different characters, but they’re all great professionals.
What has been your single favorite memory at Extreme?
Well, me becoming the country manager, of course! (chuckles) It came to me as a bit of surprise, but definitely a welcome one.
How would you describe Extreme in three words?
Focused. Future-oriented. Successful.
25 years young and still growing – join Henk and the rest of the Team!
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