Those relationships get more valuable to the MSP over time, as customers satisfied with the solution to one problem come back for more.
"We find that 100% of customers start by identifying something that is broken, that they can't manage their infrastructure or that they need help to find space available by reallocating resources," said Incentra's Wight. "Then, they come back to us and tell us that their backup isn't running right or is too expensive and ask us to show them the ROI on out-tasking. Then we are at the right level to have that conversation."
No matter how tight the relationship, though, that conversation is a lot more complicated than just taking an order when the customer runs out of space.
"Customers want to know that the solution provider understands the business case as well or better than they do," Fried said. "They want to know that there is unique value that the reseller can provide over the in-house team."
Initially, solution providers may have to educate customers about the benefits and technologies involved in offsite storage offerings, said Granger. "It quickly turns into a conversation about the value of data," she added. "It's a big circle: The educational thing turns into a conversation about what the business worth is, which comes back to education again."
In selling a hosted service, solution providers are not pitted so much against other providers, but in-house IT staff. "To take over something that is part of business practice you have to show that it is better than what they can do themselves," Wight said.
Let the customer help make the deal
That's not a one-sided conversation, however, Fried said. Customers have to be involved in the design and justification for the service and the metrics that will determine how well the VAR is delivering on its promises.
"It is a mistake for a reseller to try to come up with plan on their own," said Fried. "When you are doing something as important as architectural change and offsite services, there should be a joint plan and, frankly, an iterative plan. You would be hard pressed to get everything perfect without it. I really advocate with use of collaborative approach to build a managed environment from a business-case perspective."
Next, solution providers should walk the customer through an audit of their current storage that includes a look at recovery time objectives, current backup success rates, auditing and recovery methods.
"It is important that the customer is aware of the risks that they are taking today and that they are comfortable with it," according to Suzanne Becker-Gallagher, vice president of marketing at Incentra Solutions, a Boulder, Colo.-based provider of storage management and data protection solutions.
As part of its contract process, for example, MTI Technology does a "soup-to-nuts survey" and creates recommendations that are tied to specific results, Maxwell said. "That leads us into selling them solutions and lets us become a growing part of their business," he added. "We are having companies say you do a good job of putting in the infrastructure and now we want you to maintain it and provide people onsite to run it."
The solution provider should start by taking a close look at what specific business improvements the customer wants to address. "In general, the first thing to look at what are the pain points today," said Becker-Gallagher. "If you are sitting at the table, there is something going on."
Especially with a hosted solution, customers are often convinced by a real-world experience of the service. "We find that evaluations are really compelling way to give someone a real understanding and daily use of the service," said Reagan. "The benefits of the service model are lot easier to demonstrate that way and it's much easier to turn on an evaluation than in a classic product sale. That evaluation process helps accelerate the time to sale and gives the solution provider another opportunity to demonstrate their expertise, the service and the complimentary things around the service."
The biggest mistake solution providers make is in failing to discuss the expectations and capabilities of their storage service in detail with the customer. "They need to have a clear mindset of their business, and do a detailed review of the roles and responsibility of both, the contract and governance of that contract, and create a long-term strategy for the client."
The friends of your customer are your partners
Finally, once the sale is made, solution providers need to be able to deliver high-quality services to the customer -- and should be open to working with a range of service and product providers to achieve their objectives.
"It is difficult to find single person or organization that knows everything," said Fried. "I would really encourage resellers to open up partnerships with other partners. Some partners will have a really deep skill in a few areas, and others broad skills in more areas. Especially for the very small VAR, they might not have the staff to do the overall job and might need to partner with someone like IBM that has access to a lot of skills."
Hosted storage solutions offer a solid opportunity for solution providers willing to take the time to build trust with potential customers and work to create a solution that addresses their most worrisome business needs.