Rackspace Channel CTO: Overcome ‘Human Nature’ to Effectively Sell Cloud

Rackspace's Paul Croteau talks about how partners are leaving money on the table in cloud sales.

Kelly Teal, Contributing Editor

August 5, 2020

6 Min Read
Cloud Sales

**Editor’s Note: This session preview originally posted ahead of the scheduled Channel Partners Conference & Expo in March. After the world’s largest channel event was postponed due to COVID-19, we repurposed this session for Channel Partners Virtual, Sept. 8-10. Rackspace’s Paul Croteau will present this program, Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 12:40 p.m. ET.**

Perfecting the art of selling cloud services and platforms remains a hot topic within the channel. Paul Croteau, channel CTO at Rackspace, will address that burning issue on Wednesday, Sept. 9, at Channel Partners Virtual.

Partners must get a firm grasp on understanding their customers’ business goals and strategies to effectively discuss and offer the next generation of networking technology. In this edited Q&A from January, Croteau shares some insights ahead of his session, “You’re Leaving Lots of Money on the Table: Uncovering Cloud Revenue from the C-Suite.

Channel Futures: This topic of changing the conversation from tech-only to business outcomes goes back many years. Why does shifting the discussion remain such a challenge for the channel?


Rackspace’s Paul Croteau

Paul Croteau: I think it’s just a matter of human nature; people tend to avoid asking questions or talking about subjects they are not familiar with. Much of my experience the past few years has been with channel sellers who have mainly focused on the networking side of the technology stack. Taking the conversation outside of the telco room into the boardroom might be considered a big leap for many sellers; those audiences have different backgrounds and ask different questions. I always tell my channel sellers that I don’t want them becoming experts in my company’s portfolio, or experts in the cloud in general. I want them to become better at talking about business scenarios. It’s OK to step out of the telco closet!

CF: What additional insight can you share that might help partners understand why it’s so critical to adopt this different approach to client conversations?

PC: When you speak with business leaders about their business, instead of talking about one specific piece of hardware or software and its features, that leads to topics like staffing and other current challenges.

CF: Building on the above question and answer, why is this all particularly important when discussing cloud products and services?

PC: This gets back to my human-nature comment. Cloud is still very new to many business leaders; it’s not something you implement on your own. It’s important to engage subject-matter experts who have experience and know how to guide these business and technical conversations. Many customers simply don’t know what they don’t know; the same applies to salespeople. At Rackspace we have a phrase: “The cloud is for everyone but not everything.” We help customers understand how to best leverage this new business paradigm. This is why it’s vital to engage cloud subject matter experts as early in the sales process as possible.

Rackspace’s Paul Croteau is one of dozens of industry speakers who will “take the stage” at Channel Partners Virtual. Our online trade show is Sept. 8-10. Don’t miss out on this one-of-a-kind event. Register now!

CF: What’s one key, direction-changing question partners can pose to someone in the C-suite to shift the conversation to business outcomes?

PC: “What would the business impact be if your main application went down for three hours today? Are you able to carry on or will it shut you down?” This shifts the focus away from speeds and feeds, and opens the door to actual business-impact discussions.

CF: What are some of the most common business outcomes C-suite execs are looking for from cloud, in your experience?

PC: This has changed over the past couple of years. In 2018, leaders were looking to improve the speed of their service delivery, to become more agile, to make their IT infrastructure more redundant and resilient. There was a lot of “cloud peer pressure” — some leaders felt compelled to move to the cloud even though …

… they didn’t really understand why. Today it’s no longer about whether to use the cloud, but how best to leverage it. Leaders now have to worry about managing their cloud spend, securing the cloud —and they are struggling with governance.

CF: How might focusing on this different type of conversation help partners generate recurring revenue and therefore grow their businesses?

PC: For starters, you’re talking about much more infrastructure than core networks and telco-related services. If you think about an actual enterprise data center, there’s usually a cage where the core network hardware resides: routers, switches, firewalls, VoIP and UCaaS, etc. But outside the cage there are usually rows and rows of servers. Think of that as a physical representation of the monthly recurring revenue that’s possible if you step outside the telco room and start talking about application infrastructure. The network stack is incredibly important; it connects the business to its customers. But network services are just the tip of the iceberg as far as monthly revenue is concerned.

CF: What’s one big cloud trend in 2020 that partners risk missing out on if they don’t heed advice about changing their client conversations, and why?

PC: One trend, that’s tough; there are lots of things going on out there. Top of mind for me is the internet of things, the impact of 5G networking on customer applications, Kubernetes and containers, multicloud solutions, security. Also, this may not be a trend, but I’m a strong believer that businesses need to evaluate all of the technology they depend on today and work with a partner to figure out what they should be doing. I use the term “data center defrag” when meeting with partners. The cloud has made it incredibly easy to lose control of your IT infrastructure and costs. Not long ago you had to order physical servers. Application sprawl was a very visible thing. Today it just takes a web browser and the company credit card. I think it’s vital for businesses to purge their IT, or at the very least take an honest look at what they’ve got so they can optimize and future-proof.

CF: Other thoughts you’d like to add?

PC: I just want to reiterate that talking to customers about business situations instead of specific technology solutions can open the door to excellent monthly recurring revenue opportunities. I don’t want my partners becoming experts in the cloud or our portfolio. I want them listening for things that would justify introducing us to their accounts. They have worked hard to establish and maintain their business relationships. We want to give sellers more things to talk to their accounts about and improve the value-add they offer.

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About the Author(s)

Kelly Teal

Contributing Editor, Channel Futures

Kelly Teal has more than 20 years’ experience as a journalist, editor and analyst, with longtime expertise in the indirect channel. She worked on the Channel Partners magazine staff for 11 years. Kelly now is principal of Kreativ Energy LLC.

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