A childhood computer programming hobby gradually became the backbone of a business for Jeff Kronlage.
Kronlage worked for a decade to grow his computer repair company before selling it. All the while he was working toward earning his Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert recognition — a certification considered by many as the most prestigious networking certification in the industry.
It was over dinner one evening that he and his father, Bryan, decided building another technology business was the right move.
They established Crossconnect Engineering in 2012, providing Cisco services and products — network infrastructure, wireless services and network security — to businesses with anywhere from 30 to more than 1,000 employees.
Crossconnect has remote staffing capabilities to serve businesses both locally and nationwide, and five of its 12 staff members are CCIE-certified, a relatively high level of expertise for a smaller company, Kronlage said.
“We try to find the more difficult, bigger-scope [projects] — something your in-house staff is not going to be familiar with, and show … that it would make more sense working with us,” he said.
However, because so many Crossconnect employees work remotely, building customer relationships can be a challenge.
“There is an awful lot of, ‘Well if I go to the competition, they’ve got a guy who is right down the street.’ That is a bit of a hard one to work on,” Kronlage said. “Sometimes they don’t conceptually grasp that, ‘Hey I can have the same relationship with this guy over video chat that I can with the guy down the street.’”
Crossconnect applicants undergo a challenging skills test, created and administered by Kronlage, who said nine out of 10 hopefuls fail. That is why he chooses to recruit employees from all over the country to obtain top-notch engineers.
“We tell our customers that even though the guy they’re getting may not be here physically, he is the best and the one you want for the job,” he said.
Kronlage is currently working to obtain a Cisco Gold level partnership — a step beyond the company’s current affiliation as a Cisco Premier Partner. To reach the Gold level, Kronlage and his team at Crossconnect have to meet certain requirements, including at least four staff members earning CCIE recognition, which has already been achieved.
Kronlage is hopeful that the more prestigious partnership will improve his company’s marketability, because growing sales has been a challenge for Crossconnect.
“Building out a strong sales organization — that has definitely been the biggest challenge. We’ve been building a strategy around our sales staff,” Kronlage said, adding the company has begun hiring employees who can carry out that plan.
Building a strong sales team is part of Kronlage’s strategy to further growth. He plans to hire at least three sales staffers and a couple of intermediate engineers within the next 12 months.
“Engineering here is fantastic. We do a bang-up job, but we don’t have the market exposure because we don’t have a team to take the word around,” Kronlage said.
In addition to developing a strong sales team for Crossconnect, Kronlage’s strategy for standing out is simple: Engage clients in conversation.
“We have a differentiator that is easy to quantify. A lot of our competitors are really worried about moving hardware and boxes. We don’t have a big conversation around hardware. The conversation we go out with is, ‘Tell us about your problems,’” Kronlage said. “It’s completely different from how most of our competitors do business.
“We’ve been able to penetrate some of our competitors’ accounts because they’re not having that conversation. We’re engineering-focused, not hardware-focused.”