By Derrick Wlodarz, FireLogic Inc.
I'm convinced of one thing when it comes to selling cloud servers: Very few in the channel are very good at it. I’ve experienced both channel partners who ask for help honing cloud proposals and new clients who ask for help dissecting wild quotes from other vendors and both groups have little basis in reality. While some of these issues stem from inadvertent FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) the channel falls victim to, a bigger problem I've noticed is a reliance on sales practices which are now-outdated, particularly when it comes to cloud.
As someone whose company was founded with a cloud-first approach back in 2010, I've never been saddled with legacy revenue quotas or sales methodologies that seem fairly common for more established channel vendors. I’m not saying you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but if you're having trouble convincing clients to use cloud servers, it's likely you're not approaching it with the right perspective. Moreover, you're probably not selling the benefits of the cloud in ways a client can easily understand in light of what they take for granted from their current IT stack.
Struggling with helping clients transition from legacy on-prem environments to cloud-hosted IaaS servers? Here are some tips which have helped my managed IT services company, FireLogic, keep a cloud-first strategy that isn't seeing any slowdown in sight.
One of the biggest mistakes I see channel partners make time and time again is a reliance on last-generation techniques of making the case for cloud servers — whether SaaS or IaaS. We need to be cognizant of the fact customers entrenched in decades of on-prem hardware and servers have a level of comfort and understanding with their legacy IT stacks.
They know how this gear looks and they know what closets the gear sits in. They know exactly what specs they came with and what price tag was associated with their arrival. This hardware has a constant presence in their offices and, as such, is considered a known quantity which they equate with full ownership over this equipment. I'll be the first to admit this is one of the largest mental roadblocks for a transition to cloud-hosted servers.
Partners aren’t doing themselves any favors when they let their clients lead cloud discussions in an apples-to-oranges manner. One recent cloud-server proposal discussion I was a part of entailed the client ask, “So, you're asking me to pay every two years the sum of what I could spend on one physical server just once?” After re-routing the discussion to ensure the client knew everything the datacenter would provide — things we couldn't replicate in-house — it was almost as if they asked, “Why didn't you just tell me those items up front?” The client was instantly on-board once they realized security and uptime guarantees were far higher in a hosted setup.
Another mistake I see channel partners making is allowing cloud server discussions to fall into the realm of comparison to things that aren't necessarily in the same vicinity. The most common is the unfortunate comparison of cloud servers to car leases. Yes, they are both leases. Beyond their namesake, though, the comparisons stop there. Cars don't need managed security, bandwidth guarantees, 24x7 maintenance hands, or disaster recovery plans. Partners who let clients believe in such maligned comparisons are bound to lose the sale every time.
If we expect clients to see eye to eye with us on the benefits of cloud servers, we can't sell them the same way we sold the on-prem servers of the 1990s. The dynamic of cloud servers are completely different, and clients can easily overlook the fact they are paying for far more than just a server in a fancy hosted rack. If you can delineate the lines of parallel between the two approaches, you can win the conversation.
On numerous occasions I've been brought in to resurrect cloud proposal discussions between vendors and clients where it’s the equivalent of one party speaking Chinese and the other Spanish. They both have the same goal in sight — making a move to the cloud — but discussions have broken down due to a variety of reasons. Sometimes the vendor is expecting the client to know all the myriad of cloud acronyms (IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS) which are typically very confusing. Other times the channel partner is allowing the client to lead the way with one business need (usually cost) driving the discussion entirely, and other technical or functional requirements left off the table — many times inadvertently.
A key to my success with accurately scoping cloud servers has been a growing hand-in-hand relationship with my master agent, TBI. I bring them to the table for nearly every cloud deal I'm a part of and they're keen on steering me towards vendors and solutions which have proved to work well for other clients in similar positions. If I'm in need of technical pre-sales engineers from one or more vendors, they consistently get me face time with the right parties.
Don't be afraid to stay out in front of the technical swamp, even if this means the planned direction needs to change. Clients will always forgive missed deadlines if the result gives them what they need at a reasonable cost. Ditch the complex acronyms in favor of explanations that are down to the client's level, using everyday comparisons and analogies that can be easily understood.
The better your client can fully translate what role a cloud server will play in their environment, the more likely they will sign off on the solution and sleep well about it.
Many clients who are uncertain about the cloud and fond of on-prem servers are simply stuck in the adage, “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” That is, they are more comfortable with the known quantity and capabilities of their on-prem hardware, compared to what the cloud merely promises. This legacy mindset is also perpetuated by channel partners who refuse to set the record straight and educate their customers on the long-term advantages the cloud brings to the table.
FireLogic has had much success in the last three years selling cloud-hosted servers from our preferred vendor, SingleHop, for a bevy of reasons. Compared to on-prem servers, we can scale up or down in the cloud in a manner that would be cost prohibitive for local hardware. Also, if a client wishes to move up to RTO or RPO levels of DR traditionally too complex to meet on-prem, the cloud approach gives us solutions that SingleHop is already using for other clients that are merely checkboxes to ramp up into.
Meeting increasingly tough compliance frameworks such as HIPAA and PCI become simpler in cloud datacenters, where enterprise grade SIEM (security information and event management) solutions can be layered onto IaaS servers with ease. And better yet, economies of scale bring pricing to the table that would otherwise be unheard of.
For clients entrenched in on-prem mentality, their goalposts are only three to five years out. When I bring SingleHop to the table for an alternative cloud-facing approach to servers, we're suddenly talking a six to 10year timeframe or beyond. This forward-looking strategy has worked time after time and shows clients we're concerned about being long-term partners in their IT landscapes. And of course, both parties win when this is the mutual focus.
Many longtime channel partners are of the mistaken belief moving a client’s IT into the cloud equals them being squeezed out of the picture. This couldn't be further from the truth. Whatever budget the client is shifting away from spending on legacy hardware and maintenance can usually be translated into funds now available for other areas of focus which are probably time better spent for a channel partner.
I can't count how many times, after moving critical servers into IaaS or SaaS environments, I was able to sit down with my client and turn the focus to other areas which were previously under-represented in IT spend. Perhaps then they were willing to finally dive into migrating legacy email over to Office 365, giving me (as the partner) some newfound project and recurring commissions revenues. Or maybe they shift their focus back to their aging camera system which can now finally be converted into an IP-based security solution, sending us previously-untouchable network and camera work. Sometimes this translates into the client wanting to open discussions on initiatives you didn't even see coming — all because they aren't dumping so much into a traditional on-prem maintenance contract.
It's a tough reality for some partners, but servers and their related maintenance is now considered a commodity in the industry. Firms like mine are already shifting focus into new areas of importance such as security, compliance, and DRaaS, and the longer you stay unnecessarily bogged down in the on-prem hardware game, the harder it will be to shift into strategic areas of importance which everyone else has already waded into.
When it comes to cloud servers, one closed door usually equates to two new ones being opened. Use this opportunity to keep yourself relevant in the clients’ eyes and find new avenues of income you would never have found out about if you kept pursuing the legacy on-prem server mindset.
Cloud Server Strategy Is Equal Partner And Client Education
Clearly this cloud sales problem isn't just a client education issue. Partners should admit outdated sales mentalities need to be overcome when it comes to properly pitching and transitioning clients into cloud-first infrastructure. The benefits for both clients and partners in this transition are plentiful, but usually relatively hidden due to a lack of understanding on both sides.
Channel partners should be keenly aware the current landscape is seeing previously wary clients finally asking if this is the time for them to wade into the cloud. The early adopters have had over half a decade to work out the kinks and share their experiences, and the second wave of entrants are finally ready to make the move. Get caught on the sidelines of this second-generation transition and you risk becoming irrelevant in your customer’s eyes.
The pessimism and anxiety of clients’ views on cloud from the early 2010s are all but gone. If you're not committed to being the trusted partner by your clients’ side during this new on-prem exodus, trust me — someone else gladly will.
About The Author
Derrick Wlodarz is a seasoned IT Specialist who owns Des Plaines, IL-based Managed IT Service firm FireLogic. He has more than 12 years of IT industry experience across the private and public sectors, with numerous technical credentials from Microsoft, Google, and CompTIA. He specializes in providing SMB clients with managed IT support, consulting, and training. Derrick is a long-serving member of CompTIA's Subject Matter Expert Technical Advisory Council that shapes the future of CompTIA exams across the world.