• Top 10 Things Every Cloud Provider Should Consider

    The cloud market is experiencing exponential growth as companies in every sector move to hardware and software solutions that are hosted and delivered over the Internet. Forrester Research expects the market for global cloud computing to reach $241 billion in 2020, compared to $40.7 in 2010. IDC projects that public cloud services will see growth rates of 30% per year, around five times global IT spending in 2011.

    The cloud has not only caused a shift in how hardware and software are purchased, licensed, and used, but it has enabled a shift in work culture as well. Today’s workers expect to be able to do their work at any time, from nearly any place, with any device. In turn, their employers are working to accommodate them, because access to the cloud obviously drives up productivity, as it allows employees to securely access company applications and data.

    To accommodate the increasing need for and resulting growth in cloud services, there has been a proliferation of cloud vendors, called cloud service providers or CSPs. However, even as the cloud brings rapid change and innovation to the computing and storage sectors, the sale of cloud products and services is subject to the same pressures experienced by any sales process, in or out of the IT sector.  In an increasingly crowded space, CSPs need to differentiate themselves and their services; they need to move prospects through a critical decision-making path that includes getting them to commit to a change, offering viable solutions, justifying the buying decision with ROI-driven support, and helping to implement a sold solution.

    With cloud-based product and service offerings, there has also been a change in how IT services are purchased, and by whom.  In a remarkable shift that CSPs must recognize is here to stay, CSPs will find that business line managers are now an integral part of the process to choose cloud-based solutions. Accordingly, sales cannot focus just on the IT staff, as they have in the past. With this shift and the co-ownership of the buying decision between business line managers and IT staff, there needs to be a corresponding adjustment in the type of content and outreach methods used during the sales process.

    How can you make your cloud sales process more effective in this environment? Here is a list of “top-ten” areas of market development that CSPs can focus on to sharpen up their sales operations. When developing market outreach or preparing to position cloud solutions, CSPs should be mindful of these specific areas:

    1. Solve business problems. A new cloud solution is often replacing existing, traditional IT solutions, and the CSP must be keenly aware of the solution-value proposition, because it has changed with the delivery of a cloud IT infrastructure. In a traditional IT solution sale (increasingly a thing of the past), the vendor was often focused on defining and solving IT problems. For cloud solutions, however, a CSP needs to focus how the cloud solution can more effectively solve business problems.
    2. A purely technical sale? No longer. When selling to business line managers, note that they may be more interested in case studies and testimonials instead of product briefs and technical whitepapers. Marketing outreach should be integrated, and include multiple outreach modes, including email, direct personal phone calls, and thought-leading marketing communications aimed directly at business managers’ concerns.
    3. Offer market readiness. CSPs may want to look like the top-of-the-game provider by offering a “Cadillac” product, yet be mystified when the prospect is unwilling to purchase it. The reasons for the prospect’s wariness can vary, ranging from the obstacles presented by compliance requirements to an unwillingness to convert its IT platform to the cloud. CSPs need to predict the objections they are likely to encounter, and prepare specific messaging and presentation strategies to overcome them.
    4. Is it secure? With all of the media coverage on security breaches involving cloud solutions, even non-technical buyers need to know that a potential vendor has a strong security story. Immediately speak to this by addressing potential security concerns of your solution such as explaining where data is housed in the cloud and who controls it.
    5. “Play well with others?” CSPs need to have a strong message around how their solution can easily integrate with other solutions that a prospect already has in place. Candidly speaking, the cloud is relatively new, and cloud standards are still emerging. Thus, the prospect needs to feel secure that the cloud solution they choose will interoperate with their current solutions, and that they can avoid “vendor lock in” if they ever want to change solutions. In a focused effort that CSPs should engage in before the sales process begins, CSPs need to document what specific hardware and software technologies their cloud solution integrates with, especially in terms of API and data interchange.
    6. Who is in control? CSPs need to address the buyers’ fear of loss of control. Who owns the data? How can they retrieve the data? How easy/hard is it to move to a new vendor? Without crisp answers to these common questions CSPs risk losing a sale for concerns that can be directly addressed if the CSP is prepared.
    7. Be focused on demonstrations. Be prepared to offer demonstrations and proof-of-concept presentations. A key component of these demonstrations should underscore how safe and stable cloud solutions are.  Many small- and medium-sized businesses do not want to be on the “bleeding edge” of technology. So, demonstrations and proof-of-concept presentations can build trust and reduce the feeling of risk for the buyer.
    8. Offer extraordinary service and support. The CSP should clearly delineate the range of services and support that they offer and view these from the customers’ point of view. Examine whether they are adequate to ease their concerns. A service and support delineation may include answers to such basic questions as, “How do I begin to transition my business to the cloud?” or “Is my business ready for cloud?” Other common questions that must be addressed include, “How are Service Level Agreements structured?” “How are outages managed?” and “Whom do I call when there is a problem?”
    9. Have a data strategy. There are many types of businesses that are buying cloud services, and the distinctions between them can be quite subtle. Is the customer a small- or medium-sized business? An enterprise business? A business focused on a specific vertical? Each specific business type will need an equally specific data strategy. Before engaging in a sales process, CSPs need to determine who exactly the target audience is and what their specific needs are. Otherwise, the CSP risks wasting good marketing efforts on the wrong audience.
    10. Again, sell to managers. CSPs need to re-target their marketing messaging and shift its contents because the buying audience has changed. Marketing efforts shouldn’t be directed solely at IT, but at business line managers, who are increasingly becoming co-equals with IT managers in terms of who has the authority to approve a purchase.

    When crafting your cloud sales strategy, keep in mind that for every opportunity the cloud creates, there will be an equal number of adjustments.  One of the great benefits of the cloud is that it can deliver services without the need for traditional IT infrastructure. Accordingly, you may see diminishing maintenance and support revenue that requires you to make a change to your business model. Many progressive CSPs are partnering with other partners, allowing for expansion into new targeted verticals, where they can offer more comprehensive solutions in order to make up for that loss in revenue.

    The cloud clearly represents expansive opportunities for innovative CSPs who are willing to carefully craft their marketing and shift product and service offerings to new classes of buyers.  With cloud sales potentially soaring in the billions of dollars over the next five years and beyond, there is clearly room for CSPs who are focused on excellence and innovation to truly prosper.

    Channie Gilbert is assistant vice president of strategic projects at eCoast.  eCoast is an outsourced sales and channel marketing agency focused on executing highly customized programs that result in increased revenue for the high-technology industry. With proven methods of increasing pipeline revenue, shortening sales cycles, and building long-term relationships with diverse clients, eCoast has developed a solid reputation for success, and is the primary marketing firm for technology manufacturers, service providers, and value added resellers.  Learn more at www.ecoastsales.com.

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