August 29, 2013
By David Sebestyen
If your agency is like most, you have already ventured into selling cloud services to your clients and prospects. You may have started with hosted services or colocation or you might be going much farther already and getting up to speed on infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS). And why not? Most predictions show that the IaaS market will match the SaaS market in dollars spent by 2016. So if we are to take advantage of this opportunity to take our clients from the closet to the cloud moving their legacy IT environment to a flexible, virtual, pay-as-you-go infrastructure, it has to be done right the first time. Why? Because if it is not, you may never get the opportunity again, or you may jeopardize the other services you are providing to that client and perhaps lose the entire relationship. Get it right, and you will likely have a client for life.
But how do you make sure you get it right? As with anything technical, the devil is in the details. The initial assessment and needs analysis must be performed thoroughly and expertly with the proper engineering skills, hybrid technical solution development skills and in-the-trenches solution (as opposed to product) selling skills. In the process, expertly identifying inefficiencies and solving both technical and business problems encountered could make the difference between a signed contract and a proposal that goes nowhere fast.
An obvious challenge for channel partners is how to handle this initial process, since most agencies do not possess this expertise in-house. Many have turned to the cloud service providers (CSPs) themselves looking for that perfect partner who can properly evaluate clients’ needs and then magically have all of the right solutions under one roof. This can be a costly mistake, and field experience shows that in the vast majority of cases, it is a recipe for disaster.
As a channel partner, you have built an entire business model around objectivity and the ability to serve as the client’s advocate. You have done the assessments, the RFPs; you have consulted, priced and presented multiple options to prospects. That model has worked very well for you. So why would you now turn around and do the exact opposite in the cloud?
A cloud assessment, when done properly, examines the entire IT ecosystem. It reviews hardware, software, licensing, security, disaster recovery, continuity of operations, governance, growth planning, work flow, capacity and other fine points in order to determine if, why and how a company could move part or all of its technology assets to the cloud. It identifies potential business problems and technical issues that need to be addressed before, during and/or after a move to the cloud. This process requires a significant time investment from the prospect to be done properly many hours and sometimes days that involve a great deal of built-in consulting, hand holding and consensus building. You simply cannot ask the prospect to go through this process with multiple vendors. No one has the time or the attention span for such a grueling sales cycle. The assessment must be done only once and done right.
Most cloud service providers are simply not set up to go this deep when evaluating a client’s environment and requirements. By design, it is not part of their business model. Most are light on sales engineering staff. Their job is to help their clients define what they then need and then find the products to meet those needs.
Bringing multiple CSPs to the table to vet an opportunity will ultimately frustrate all parties involved, not to mention release a tremendous amount of mistrust into the environment. The right way to engineer a cloud solution is to conduct as assessment with an internal resource or a trusted third-party partner. Once the assessment is done and a total solution has been architected, you can align the clearly identified need with the CSP or CSPs that best serve(s) your client. This enables you to present a single all-encompassing solution to your client with all the right service providers involved and all predictable sales objections preemptively answered. Ultimately, you will be building stronger relationships with your CSP partners because they will know that if you bring them an opportunity, it has already been vetted to the utmost degree possible and matched to the strengths of their product and service portfolio and therefore it is much more likely to close.
Most agencies don’t possess highly technical and experienced IT resources ranging from engineering to sales in-house. In fact, it is nearly impossible to find any single individual or company that can possess all of the knowledge needed to perform an assessment correctly. Expertise in a bewildering array of technologies, deployment scenarios and other contexts is needed to develop a working cloud solution that makes a marked positive impact on the client’s business as a whole.
Seek out partnerships with savvy IT professionals who share your strategy of becoming a technology adviser to clients. Seek assistance from IT professionals with not only engineering but also management consulting backgrounds, and enlist their help in identifying the right CSPs to include in your portfolio. In all this, be focused on vetted solutions that correspond to real-life business problems, as opposed to carrying a line card of disparate products and services.
David Sebestyen is managing partner of Skyrope, a managed IT and cloud services provider, and a founding member and managing partner of Cloud Taskforce, a consortium of services providers such as Skyrope that have joined forces to acts as clients’ advocates in the cloud. Cloud Taskforce is a member of the Agent Alliance. Sebestyen has nearly 20 years of experience in technology services with a focus on business development, design, implementation management and account management.
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