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85. Why are licensing, security, and infrastructure so critical for Microsoft? -Christian O'Brien

September 6, 2023

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Listen in today with Christian O’Brien from Atlas IP. Christian dives into his unique back story and how he’s gotten to his current role. We also dissect something that’s a common denominator with most businesses, and that’s licensing and Office 365. Christian talks about how he’s successfully navigated these waters and just might share some pro tips about how to get current customers and prospects interested in your pitch!

Welcome to the podcast that’s designed to fuel your success in selling technology solutions. I’m your host, Josh Lupresto SVP of Sales Engineering at Telarus, and this is Next Level BizTech.

Hey, everybody. Welcome back. On this week, we’re talking about cloud. We’re talking about specifically why licensing and security and infrastructure are also critical for Microsoft. Today, we’ve got the wonderful Christian O’Brien from Atlas IP. Christian, welcome on, my man. Hey, Josh. How’s it going today? Better now that you’re here.

Let’s kick this thing off, man. I think everybody wants to hear about your background. Tell us just a little bit about you. We’re going to get to Atlas in a second, but tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get into tech? How did you get into sales? Any crazy winding path, or have you just always set out and fill us in? Yeah, sure. I can go way back. I actually am a big sports fan, so when I was in college, I actually wanted to be a sports broadcaster.

Major was mass communications.

Realized that’s not the road I wanted to go.

I did a business minor, realized that sales was for me a little bit loose. Started as a BDR at a small cybersecurity firm in Boston.

Then I jumped to Fuse, which was Unified Communications Platform.

Ended up in the channel where I met Atlas IP, a bunch of different other partners. Then when the 8×8 purchase of Fuse happened, Atlas IP reached out to me and said, “Hey, Christian, what do you think about becoming a partner?”

I worked with these guys forever, know the industry, and thought about it, and then realized, “Hey, these guys bring a lot of value to their customers.” Obviously, the commission is you can make as much as you want. There’s a lot of freedom in it. You know what? I’m going to take a jump towards it. Here I am a year and a half in, and definitely a good decision. I love it. Now, I got to ask, I heard the accent there.

Boston, and you got the sports background. You have a lot of sports options in Boston.

What was your favorite?

Oh, football for me. Football through high school. Didn’t get the opportunity to play in college, but massive Pats fan.

If you don’t, I probably will say wicked at least twice during this podcast.

Just for people who aren’t used to it, it’s going to happen. It’s going to happen. I love it. All right. Now, tell us a little bit about then your role at Atlas, and really who Atlas IP is. Sure. I’m a technology advisor for Atlas IP.

There’s about 10 of us at the company run by Nick Prosser and Brian Robertson. They’re the presidents. They started the company about 10, 12 years ago, I believe.

Really focused in at the beginning on moving PBXs to the cloud.

Since I’ve been on here a little bit before I even joined, they’ve decided to really dive into different technologies.

Once you have a client selling UCaaS or CCaaS or something like that, there’s a bunch of different opportunities that you can really provide them.

For Microsoft, for example, who provides your Microsoft licensing for security? That’s a whole other branch of revenue for us and just opportunities to talk to the customer. We’ve been really trying to be more open with the technologies that we’re pitching to our clients and just basically listening for those trigger words into different technologies other than UCaaS but that’s still pretty core competency over here.

Awesome. I love it.

Let’s talk about that. You mentioned licensing. Let’s jump in here a little bit. When we think about cloud and infrastructure, migrations, all that good stuff, what’s a misconception that you see when you’re out there talking to customers?


A misconception is, and let me break this down a little bit.

When I’m prospecting into accounts, a lot of the times we are trying to get a small win. We’re trying to start the conversation. We’re trying to put buzzwords in front of the customers. A lot of the times what we’re doing is through CSPs that we work with through Telerus, we’re saying, “Hey, we could probably save you 5% to 10% on your Microsoft licensing.”

Some of the misconceptions I get from the client is, how can you do that for like-to-like services?

How is the support going to be?

How is that transition from going from Microsoft Direct to a CSP?

Also, just to touch on the licensing, some of the misconceptions might be around security.

When you go into the E3, E5 licenses, a lot of it has to do with email security. But essentially, you can really get a lower cost option for maybe a better solution from a bunch of different email security partners. Those are some of the misconceptions. But yeah. That’s good. Now, let’s talk about, once you’re in that conversation, let’s say we go beyond licensing.

You mentioned, I think, a really good point that I love when I hear partners, “Hey, we’re going to get in for this.” We realize that if we do a good job with that, which we know we will, it’s going to give us the opportunity to do other things for this customer. So we’ve got to figure out how to address those, which is why you’re here.

If we look beyond licensing, where else are you finding they need help? Are we talking migration? Are we talking cloud, off-prem? What are you seeing?


It depends on the customer. Every customer thinks or has a different way of thinking.

I work with customers that are moving their on-premise to the cloud. I have customers that are in a hybrid cloud, but they want to be more scalable and go towards an AWS or something like that.

But mostly, I think it’s more in the urgency is a little bit more from an on-premise system to moving towards the cloud is usually what I see.

Really getting into those conversations from just that Microsoft licensing is just, “What else are you guys using with Microsoft? Is it Azure? Is it AWS? Are you guys on-premise?”

Then that’s when you start getting more information towards to drive to that conversation. Really, just be listening in that.

I think some of the strategies that we see are, as you uncover, as you’re listening for those pain points or you’re listening for just points, do you drill down in that and go, “How’s that working? How’s that going?” I’d imagine there’s somewhat of a checklist in that for you, right? Sure. Yeah. But there is also a thing to where if you’re in a conversation about, say, Microsoft licensing,you want to make sure, and they’re interested in that conversation, you want to make sure you drill down into that first.

But when you’re having those conversations, Microsoft can basically do a lot of it, like almost everything. They can do a lot of different things. When you drive and dive into, “Do you have E5 licenses?” If they do, great. Are you guys using Microsoft for your voice or for your PBX?

There’s so many different ways and branches from that Microsoft conversation to where you can dive into each one of their technologies.

I think once you dive in and find out, “Okay, this guy’s interested for,” or “Girl’s interested for Microsoft licensing,” let’s expand that conversation to exactly what is a Microsoft licensing doing for them today. Yeah. Good point. Let’s talk about maybe pitfalls, gotchas, some of the rabbit holes in here. Is there anything, if I’m a partner and I’m listening to this and you’re starting to convince me, “All right, I can do this. I can tackle this. I haven’t done this. Maybe I’ve focused in a different technology area.” What’s a pitfall in this? What’s a roadblock that’s going to come up potentially that I need to be ready for? I wouldn’t necessarily say roadblock. I think it really just depends on the companies that you’re prospecting into. For Microsoft licensing, just as a partner perspective, if I’m looking to make money, am I going to go to a sub 100 customer trying to sell the Microsoft licensing?

I can. If I’m in that conversation already, will we make a lot of money on that? No. Is there better conversations to have in that account? Probably. But if you’re looking into trying to save people on their Microsoft licensing, have that more of an in-depth conversation, you can get to hire employee count companies and have a little bit of a deeper conversation because that’s when they have E3, E5, E1 licenses.

They have the business standard licenses. It’s a little bit more complex.

That conversation means, the licensing conversation means a little bit different. It’s a little bit different to customers that are a little bit higher in the employee count range, if you will. Makes sense. More likelihood for sprawl. Yeah. Makes sense. Then they just go, “Oh my gosh, I can’t keep up with this. I need your help.” If you know Microsoft licensing, yes, let’s have a conversation.

Let’s walk through an example here. Talk to me about a deal that you got involved in. Where did it start? What was the problem?

How is that gone?

Sure. I’m really piggybacking off this wedge in terms of getting discount Microsoft licensing.

What I was saying on the last question is, you want to target bigger enterprise organizations because they have the bigger enterprise Microsoft bill.

This morning, I was reaching out to save 5%, 10% on your Microsoft licensing. I actually got a response from a Fortune 500 company, from the CIO being that, put his whole team on an email chain with me and said, “Hey, I would love to save 10% to 5%, 5% to 10% on my Microsoft licensing. Why don’t you guys set up a call with Christian, see what he has, and get back to me?”

I think just based off that, if you can get into an account in a conversation just with Microsoft licensing, you don’t need to have all the technical aspects of what each license does. It helps, but if you can get in there as a wedge, find out exactly what they’re using their Microsoft licensing for, then you can really pinpoint, “Okay, so what are you doing with your phone system? What are you doing? Are you guys in the cloud?”

There’s so much meat on that bone just from a simple entry strategy to prospecting. Yeah.

It’s funny, I was chatting with another partner on this, and it’s funny what we think is difficult in our world sometimes is totally different of what a customer thinks is difficult in their world. You’re looking at this going, “I get licensing. I understand it. I know what to do with it.” You’ve got a CIO here that’s in charge of a million things. He looks like licensing is incredibly complicated. If anybody can come in and help me with this really hard thing, then absolutely. You get in, you crack the wedge with the CIO on licensing, you save them a few bucks, you’re a hero, and then all of a sudden, the things that he thinks are maybe even easier, you’re going, “Oh my gosh, those are simple.”

Of course, if he can figure these out, he can get that. You’re just such a natural one to take the rest of that business. I love that strategy. Yeah. One thing I’ve learned about being in the agent partner world is all it really takes is just getting somebody on the phone because we can sell so many different things. There’s a million different things we can sell. When you’re focusing in on a singular aspect like Microsoft licensing, there are so much different conversations that come out of that conversation based on security, phone system, or even the cloud, like I said.

It just really opens up the conversation to really more. That’s why I would urge someone like me joining is really keep your eyes open to learning new technologies, asking the right questions, and really just finding any way that you can just have a single conversation in a net new account.

Yeah. I think the funny thing in this too is that there is a preconceived notion outside looking in, if we’ve never sold these things before in the channel, that that’s got to be really hard. It’s got to be a lot of moving parts to it. The funny feedback from partners that have grown up selling one or two specific things is when they go and do these and after they execute on a few, they go, “In the end, it was much easier. I don’t have outages. I don’t have turnips. It’s different than I thought it was. I make more and I help companies in a different way.” So it’s cool to hear that. Yeah, for sure. They know that you can sell all these different technologies. When they have a project saying cybersecurity, they’re going to reach out to you.

If they have a project in, they’re looking for a new circuit, we can sell it to them.

Really flexing some knowledge on the customer and the different things that you can sell is only going to benefit you. Might take a little long to figure all this stuff out because again, there is a million things that you can sell.

But that’s why it helps to have the essays at Telarus helping you. If you ever have any fear of going into a conversation and not knowing what you’re talking about, those are the perfect resources to bring on a call.

I wouldn’t let lack of knowledge in an aspect or a subject hesitate you from asking about it. Love it. Awesome points. Bring us in. We love getting into some crazy stuff.

As we think about, I’m another partner listening to this and I’m thinking about going into it, but I’m not sure. Maybe I’m not fully comfortable yet. What are some questions that you might give those partners if they’ve got existing relationships? Maybe they’ve sold other things. Maybe going back to some of your early points or any, I’m a big questions fan, so I’d love to make sure we always drop questions on this. What are some of those questions that you would ask or give them to ask? Sure.

To just start off, I think it is very important to obviously keep that relationship going.

Especially if you have a really good relationship with that client, you can set up monthly, quarterly business reviews of really how is the technology I just sold you doing. Is there any problems with that? Other questions is just around, I think the biggest one is cost optimization is a huge.

driver for my customers right now. Really, what I would say is just asking them, “Hey, is there any IT cost optimization initiatives happening at your organization?”

Yes, great. Tell me a little bit more about that. Once you start understanding what customers have in terms of their vendors, what they’re spending on them, then you can really take a look at it and say, “Okay, well, I know that they are spending say $30,000 a month on their AWS bill. Could we go look at a private cloud vendor to alleviate some of that?”

Oh, you’re spending, you have 300 different E5 licenses. Those are pretty expensive. A lot of people buy Microsoft E5 licenses for the email security. Well, there’s great email security vendors that might be a little bit of a cheaper option for you that probably will have more robust requirements or not requirements, but one of my features, there we go, Josh, thank you.

I think it’s just really asking about and really understanding what do these clients have internally, what vendors are they using? What are they spending on them? That opens up the can of worms into, “Yeah, I think I’m paying way too much for my Microsoft licensing. I think I’m paying way too much for my phone system.”

Then that’s where you can really spread your roots into the account.

Love it. All right. Final question here.

This is fast-moving tech. There’s a lot of things going on. Microsoft is dumping a bunch of money into this. We’ve got all kinds of cool technologies coming out. What’s your envisionment? It’s probably hard to say much past 12 months, but any change in strategy that you would advise anybody on if we’re looking at the next 12 months or be aware of anything else, just your perspective of what you think comes next? Sure.

Little story for you. I came in, obviously, into the agent world as aUCaaS vendor or aUCaaS specialist, if you will. All I would do when I first got here was try to sellUCaaS.

What were people emailing me back about? Security. Every single time. It’s the funniest thing. I’m talking to my boss and I’m like, “Hey, I’m in only a couple of theseUCaaS conversations, but every single time I’m sending aUCaaS email, I’m getting, “Hey, do you guys,” and we get on the phone with them. Really, their concern is about security. I think that is a huge market that not a lot of people are really tapping into or really asking the questions around.

That’s really the sweet spot right now, I would say, is cybersecurity. Really understanding.

There’s a bunch of different ways to do it. There’s a bunch of different theories on which technologies that you need. I would dive into cybersecurity for sure because that’s really what my customers are coming back to me for. I love it.

I think the timing on it is good too because we’ve obviously got all these great AI things coming out and when new things and cool things tend to come out, people want to put security on the SaaS provider and forget that they still have to design security into it. It’s their data when just because you put things out in public doesn’t mean the public is secure or the vendor is secure. You have to consider all those. Great point. I think that puts a bow on it.

Licensing security. We realized why it’s critical. Licensing is at the center of what everybody does these days. 90, however many, percentage of businesses out there have Microsoft licensing. I think you’ve helped really drive down why this is all critical because it’s at the epicenter of what every business does. Yes, very well put. Awesome. All right, my man, Christian, that brings us up to the end. Really appreciate you coming on, man. Awesome. Thanks, Josh. Everybody that wraps us up, Christian O’Brien, Atlas IP. I’m your host, Josh Lupresto SVP of Sales Engineering, cloud licensing, security, and infrastructure. Until next time.