The Worst Sales Inquiry Call Ever?

Most technicians can attest that at some point they had to call one of their vendors for expansion or support reasons…    and the call was an almighty disaster.

Up to now, the worst instance in my life that I ever had with this was when I had to call because a website I supported as part of a previous job was not only confirmed as down from several different locations from around the world, but the vendor’s management portal was also down in similar fashion. That call began with me providing the customer’s account number and information about the issue, to only be told word-for-word by the rep on the phone:

“I’m sorry, the issue must be something on your end. We don’t have outages like that here.”

Needless to say, the “bad call” list for me personally was sadly topped earlier this week. By whom, you ask?


The Call Transcript – In Slightly Abridged Format

To offer some backstory, myself and the video engineer who works for me as part of the Otaku Central project wanted to schedule a tour of IBM’s datacenter in Tokyo, Japan. We were trying to explore options for rackspace and collocation on a continent other than North America for the sake of trying to provide some datacenter redundancy for our cluster down the road, and Tokyo was a prime location for us because there’s a decent chance that I’ll spend time there on a regular basis in the future.

​So, after contacting IBM’s datacenter sales team, I arranged a quick conversation with an individual that we’ll call ‘Adam’ for the sake of confidentiality (not his real name, mind you).

​That call went something like this.

Adam (IBM): Hello, Caleb. What can I help you with, or what questions can I answer for you today?

Me: Good afternoon; I’d like to see who I could talk to about scheduling a tour of IBM’s datacenter in Tokyo, as I’m exploring options for hosting on a continent apart from my own for the sake of service distribution.

Adam (IBM): Oh, well, we don’t offer tours of any of our datacenters.

Me: I guess that could be understandable from a security standpoint. Do you have a technical whitepaper or spreadsheet of the datacenter’s total capabilities, particularly the providers you have available in-house?

Adam (IBM): Are you currently a customer of ours?

Me: Not at present; that’s what this call is for. I’d like to explore my options with IBM for what I need.

Adam (IBM): Oh, well, we don’t make that information available to those that aren’t current customers.

Me: That seems a bit odd, if I’m being honest. In any case, can you at least tell me if you have Cogent in-house? They’re who I’m using for all my bandwidth and transport at present, so if you can’t get me Cogent this is going to be a lot more difficult for me to swing.

Adam (IBM): Give me a minute; let me make some calls.

(sales rep puts me on hold for a few minutes, then returns to our call)

Adam (IBM): After talking to one of our engineers, we unfortunately don’t have Cogent available at this particular data center. That being said, we do have other vendors available that we can arrange competitive pricing on.

Me: Well, that’s good. What are the other vendors? I’ll need to check and see if they’re also at my current datacenter’s point-of-presence to confirm that transport is possible.

Adam (IBM): Oh, well, I didn’t get the full list. Let’s do this – get me a list of who you have available at your current hosting provider and I’ll cross-check it against ours.

Me: I’m going to voice an honest opinion here, and please don’t misunderstand it as a ‘diss’ against you. It seems like this process is really complicated for a question that in my experience most engineers would ask in their first three questions to a potential provider.

Adam (IBM): I understand; please also know that we are compliant with a very strict security standard with our datacenters as we are one of the world’s leading datacenter service providers.

Me: I can do some additional digging on who all is available at my current point-of-presence and get back to you later. Moving along, just so I can at least get an idea of what I’m potentially getting into, are there any pictures or walkthroughs of the datacenter available so I can at least see a small part of the facility?

Adam (IBM): Yes, we do have a video on our Datacenter Web Page that walks through one of our datacenters. Note that our datacenters are nearly identical around the world in terms of what they offer and the basic layout.

Me: Alright, give me a couple minutes to watch this video.

(I watch the video, and would encourage you do the same to understand where I’m coming from with the rest of the conversation)

Me: So, I have a couple of questions regarding this video.

Adam (IBM): Alright, fire away.

Me: I guess, for starters, is this even a video of your datacenter? There isn’t a single IBM server in this video – everything is a SuperMicro server that’s had the SuperMicro logo removed. Not a single server rack in the entire thing is labelled with IBM’s logo – or any other logo for that matter. The only thing in the video that’s actually IBM’s is the SoftLayer interface. This looks like a generic datacenter marketing video, if I’m being honest.

Adam (IBM): This is definitely a video of one of our datacenters.

Me: Wow. If that’s the case, color me more than a little surprised that you don’t use any of your own hardware for your SoftLayer services.

Adam (IBM): I can’t speak to that at all, but this is definitely a small view into one of our facilities.

(by now, I’ve finished checking on my current datacenter vendor’s page, and retrieved the list of their providers available – because, you know, every other datacenter provider will publish this information because it’s so vital for scouting and sales)

Me: That aside, going back to our bandwidth providers conversation from before, I can confirm that I also have Hurricane Electric and Level 3 available for transport. Can you confirm if either of those are available at the Tokyo facility?

Adam (IBM): Give me a moment.

(he places me on hold briefly, then comes back on)

​Adam (IBM): We do have Hurricane Electric available at this facility, but not Level 3 or any of their sister companies.

Me: Very good, that works.

Adam (IBM): That being said, you would need to arrange transport through us for this service.

Me: I can’t just purchase either one or ten Gigabits of bandwidth through Hurricane myself and pay you for a cross-connect in the facility?

Adam (IBM): Please understand that we are a highly-secure facility provider and a measure of that is demonstrated through our provider security.

Me: I’m a little confused. If I’m paying you for a cross-connect, I’m not even going to be the one touching your equipment or Hurricane’s handoff – that will all be you. How is that a security concern, if you don’t mind me asking? If anything, it’s a security concern for me and not you.

Adam (IBM): Understand that this is due to the nature of our service as a whole, and security is simply a small piece of that equation.

Me: Well, I have some things to think about, then.

Adam (IBM): I see; are there any other questions I might be able to answer for you today?

Me: I’m not sure, Adam. You can’t give me a tour of the facility, you can’t give me a straight list of what providers you have available, you’re going to force me to work through you for bandwidth and I’ve heard rumors that you meter all your traffic, and the video you’ve shown me that’s supposedly of your facility – well, I’m not remotely close to convinced that it’s actually IBM.

Adam (IBM): I understand your concerns; please note that we are a Tier 1 IT provider in the industry today and that our facilities are all state-of-the-art and world-class in what they bring to the table, and part of that is summed up in our model for how they are operated and sold to customers.

Me: (in a facetious tone of voice) That’s fantastic, I think that’s great – tell me more.

Adam (IBM): I don’t like the way that you’re coming across to me right now, Caleb.

Me: Honestly, don’t worry about it. I’ve heard enough. Thanks for your time, Adam – and have a nice day.


Too Harsh, Or Am I Asking The Wrong Questions?

This is the only time in my life I’ve ever outright hung up on a sales inquiry call.

In the entirety of my career, I’ve never once spoken to a datacenter vendor that I was trying to become a customer for (or even one that I wanted to explore for the sake of potential job networking) that wouldn’t let me see at least part of the facility. That strikes me as incredibly off.

​Most providers will also plainly post on their website the list of ISPs or transport companies they have in-house, simply because most engineers will look to this first for pricing and availability options for what they want to do.

The video on their website provokes several questions for me as well. Firstly, does IBM genuinely not use any of their own hardware? Is their hardware just THAT bad, or are other vendors’ offerings cheaper to source at market-level pricing than their own equipment and it performs the same, if not better? Secondly, as voiced prior in this article, is this video even really them? Why aren’t there any logos on any of the servers, switches, racks, etc.? Nobody with an IBM shirt or anything else with branding is present anywhere in the datacenter, and the aerial sweep of their “datacenter” building itself has no logos, names, or signs on the premise or building anywhere. Color me incredibly surprised.

I did a bit of digging on my own, since ‘Adam’ stated that all of their datacenters are nearly identical in terms of layout and services (Which also begs the question of if they outgrow one – does that mean they have to upgrade all 60 because they didn’t plan for scalability? But, I digress.) Their physical location white paper, which offers next to no usable information as far as what they bring to the table goes, mentioned that they have over 2.5 Tbs of collective bandwidth between all their facilities. Dividing 2,500 Gbs by 60, we get roughly 41.5 Gbs.

41.5Gbs is incredibly low for a “Tier 1 IT provider”. I actually haven’t spoken to a self-described “Tier 2” provider up to this point who had less than 60 Gbs on tap, with another 60 Gbs already terminated and ready to use, if needed, in the time it would take to make a quick phone call.

Bandwidth is dirt cheap in today’s world moreso than it’s even been before in history; it’s pretty eyebrow-raising in my mind to treat it as if it’s not.


I’m a little puzzled as to how IBM is able to sell this product, to be honest.

Apparently they’re generating revenue off of it, but I for the life of me can’t imagine what engineer would have made the judgment call to go with IBM instead of a another service provider in light of what I was told yesterday on my call.

Perhaps it’s something a prospective customer’s management staff made a decision on without consulting their IT engineers first, and then forced them to “deal with it” after-the-fact?

But, I jest – surely in the real world that would never really happen, right?


Caleb Huggenberger is a 31 year-old systems engineer, old-school guitar and amplifier builder, and Eastern culture enthusiast. Outside of long work days, he enjoys electronics engineering, cast iron campfire cooking, and homesteading on his acreage in the Indiana countryside.

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