Selling storage management services to SMBs: Overcome storage outsourcing fears

Storage management service providers must put their expertise to task when selling to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) hesitant to outsource storage. Here are five steps to help you win the sale.

Getting a small or medium-sized business (SMB) to feel comfortable outsourcing storage management can be tricky even for long-time VARs and systems integrators. It's crucial that they use their sales experience and storage expertise to dispel storage outsourcing fears and ultimately benefit both parties in the contract.

According to Paul Myerson, senior channel analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group, in order for an SMB to be successful it needs to provide a service to customers who are willing to pay for it. Law firms or retail shops are in the business of winning cases and selling products -- not storing information. Storage VARs, on the other hand, make it their business to manage storage.

Five steps to selling storage management services
1. Offer a storage management service with proven success.

2. Discuss the positive business impacts of implementing your service with potential customers.

3. Bring attention to your experience through reference accounts.

4. Make storage management decisions based on business needs, not emotion.

5. Involve your customer's storage team in your storage management efforts.

"SMBs are always struggling for efficiency in the business. Typically a small shop won't have a full time IT manager, let alone an IT division -- it's not their business. But it is the business of a VAR to handle storage management everyday," said Myerson.

Using a professional services angle is likely the best way to set up a meeting and at least explain to a potential customer the advantages that are offered by outsourcing storage.

"The goal is to make a potential customer feel comfortable. VARs should point to what they have done for other clients and explain why they can do it better. Most customers will realize that having a company that handles storage everyday is a better business plan than struggling with it themselves," said Myerson.

It becomes crucial that VARs are able to demonstrate their expertise to assuage the fears of SMBs and also provide the opportunity for both partners to grow.

"Products, experience, reference accounts and staff are the most important elements to getting a customer to at least consider outsourcing," said Fred Bedard, president and COO of Wallingford, Connect-based Regan Technologies.

Selling storage management services to SMBs

Once upper management agrees to consider outsourcing their storage to a VAR, there is still a lot of work to be done.

"The conversation with the SMB's management team should stay high level -- uptime, growth capacity, storage provisioning. Is there a merger acquisition that could happen in the future," said Bedard. "I want to start giving answers before the customer starts asking questions. It shows experience and initiative."

Demonstrating expertise in this manner is likely to get the SMB to begin to feel comfortable about making the move from in-house storage to outsourcing.

"VARs need to change the decision-making process from an emotional one to about making a positive impact on the business," said Myerson.

By being vocal about working together for mutual gain and enumerating the possibility for substantial business gain, VARs will no longer be seen as an outside entity, but as a member of the team.

Handling data for SMBs

Once a VAR's business proposal wins over an SMB's management team, there are still questions about how to handle the data.

"Data is owned by various pieces of the organization. A customer never says, 'I want to save money and get rid of staff -- let's get rid of backup.' The tech staff, if there is one, will be involved because they constantly work with storage. The CIO will talk to the legal department about the ramifications, and human resources will definitely be concerned at some point," said Bedard.

VARs will be under the microscope of many departments when potentially taking over the data storage infrastructure.

"It's different than offering something like a server solution," said Bedard. "In a case like that, I might not even speak to the CIO. But changing infrastructure is a big deal."

At this point, the customer will begin to take a much closer look at the VAR and examine the solutions that are being offered and the experience of the staff who will be handling the solution. Answering customer questions and concerns is a crucial part of landing the contract. VARs need to be up to the challenge.

"That's when you rely on your experience and expertise," said Bedard.

Working with an SMB's storage team

Once the contract has been won, there is still an important group of people who need to be on board with the VAR: the old storage team. Chances are good that someone from the SMB will be put in charge of managing the VAR and keeping an eye on storage even though the nuts and bolts have been outsourced.

"Winning over the old storage manager is an important part of taking over storage management," said Bedard. "You need him to know that you have the knowledge and expertise to handle the situation."

Swooping into the situation, snatching away and changing the old infrastructure and pushing him to the side isn't the best policy.

"VARs need to make sure the customer's storage manager knows that you understand his pain and have a solution that will help alleviate it. He will ultimately be responsible to his company so you have to assure him that what I'm doing as the VAR is best in class," said Bedard.

Incorporating the storage manager into the plans may be the best way to ensure that both the VAR and manager will work well together and design the best possible management infrastructure -- and avoid friction in the workplace.

"You've got to get buy-in from the manager. But at the same time you have to open yourself up to what the storage manager thinks. If the old manager is still involved and managing you as the service provider, he's got to be onboard with the design as well," said Bedard.

"Always assume the cement is still drying -- not as if it is set in stone. Remember, VARs should approach situation not as if they are taking the work from the old team, but as a resource to make it better. Help the storage manager shine and most things will fall into place," said Bedard.

Read part two Managed storage services: Maximizing your data storage sales.

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