How to sell email archiving services

Understanding your customers' email archiving needs will help you close the deal. And if a recent report is right, your potential sales could triple by 2011.

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Value-added resellers (VARs) are typically the ones answering the questions: "How can your product help my business?" "How much does it cost?" But when it comes to email archiving services and systems, experts say VARs better start asking clients what they want -- especially if, as one firm predicts, revenues in that market triple over the next four years.

Then again, VARs must also be able to get ahead of the curve and address their clients' email archiving needs before serious help is needed.

Unlike antispam, antivirus and most other services that have specific purposes, email archiving has a wide variety of potential functions, said Michael Osterman, founder and analyst for Osterman Research in Black Diamond, Wash. Many businesses want an in-house system to comply with federal recordkeeping laws, while others are just looking to shore up their data management through remote storage.

Email archiving sales options

Clients in the email-archiving market have three main choices: software that turns existing servers into email archives, standalone storage units that connect to existing infrastructure and remote hosting.

Although many small businesses still choose off-site storage -- the least expensive option -- the general trend among customers of all sizes is to host their archives themselves, said Barry Murphy, principal analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.

"They're starting to feel they want more ownership," he said.

And that's good news for VARs, not only because sales of archiving software and hardware are more lucrative. VARs can eventually use email archiving as a starting point to sell entire content management systems to clients, Murphy said.

"It's part of a broader initiative," he said.

A Forrester report from several years ago predicted that most businesses would have embraced full content management systems by now. That hasn't happened yet, because other areas of content management are more complicated and technical, but the recent surge in email archiving will open those doors, Murphy said.

"Email is a little easier place to start," he said.

Finding out those plans will help VARs make the right sales to their customers: "One of the things you need to do with archiving is really understand how it's going to be used," Osterman said.

The Radicati Group, a Palo Alto, Calif.-based market research firm, has released a report saying revenues in the email archiving market will increase from an estimated $1.2 billion this year to almost $5.5 billion in 2011.

AmeriVault, a data-protection firm in Waltham, Mass., saw a 60% jump in the number of customers seeking price quotes for email archiving services from the fourth quarter of 2006 to the first quarter of 2007. Scott Bush, director of marketing, attributes that to the revised Federal Rules on Civil Procedures, which went into effect Dec. 1. Under the new rules, a judge or jury can assume a company is hiding information if it can't provide emails relevant to a lawsuit.

"Companies are starting to take [email archiving] more seriously," Bush said. Although many companies have felt that keeping a lengthy log of emails can only come back to bite them in court, VARs should now try to convince them otherwise, Osterman said.

"Organizations have to be educated on why it's a good idea to keep information around for a long time," he said.

There are other reasons businesses are looking at email archiving: better general recordkeeping, to free up space so their own email servers will run more efficiently, and even to set up systems so traveling employees can access archives remotely.

"Archiving is probably one of the most versatile technologies there is," Osterman said.

When selling to customers in "highly litigious industries," VARs should also stress the financial benefits, said Barry Murphy, principal analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. Even though top systems can cost more than $250,000 for large companies, recovering emails from just one backup tape can cost $3,500 -- and some searches have to go through thousands of tapes.

"An archiving system is usually dramatically cheaper than one e-discovery phase if you have to go through backup tapes," Osterman said.

Businesses that don't face the regular threat of lawsuits, however, may find it difficult to justify the costs of a high-end system, Murphy said.

Email archiving resources
Selling email archiving services
Email archiving client concerns

In those cases, "the bigger [sales] opportunity is on the hosting side," he said. "What the hosting companies can do is help a company that's not ready to manage it internally." Remote hosting is often the least expensive option, typically available for between $3 and $7 per user per month, Osterman said. AmeriVault's customers do not find the price tag for email archiving as much of a concern as they do with other services, Bush said.

"They realize that this is a business decision more so than a technology decision," he said. "You're not always looking for the cheapest solution. You're looking for what's going to meet the need."

Leading products by Symantec and EMC are proprietary, which can make it difficult for some companies to recover information stored on their systems, but compatibility is generally not a concern because most systems run on SQL Server or Oracle, said Jerome Wendt, founder and lead analyst for The Datacenter Infrastructure Group in Omaha, Neb. The bigger issue, especially for customers of offsite hosts like AmeriVault, is access to the stored emails.

"The things they want to know a lot about are: What are they going to be able to see? Are they going to be able to keep control?" Bush said. "There's this perception out there that they're going to be losing control, and that's not the case."

Let us know what you think about this story; email: Colin Steele, Features Writer.

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