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Three principles for successfully selling cloud services

Jason Bystrak, senior director for the Americas at Ingram Micro Cloud, explains three important principles for IT services companies that are looking to boost their cloud sales revenue.

I recently read a success story about Computer Services Inc. (CSI), a financial services company worth $213 million that acquired a managed services practice two years ago, and is now reporting record revenue growth. What I found most intriguing about CSI's story wasn't the immediate success it experienced from selling managed services. It was the initial struggle it had selling cloud services.

What makes CSI's experience particularly noteworthy is that the company had so many standout strengths: nearly 50 years in business, a staff of 1,100 employees and unmatched expertise in the financial services market. Many smaller IT service providers would assume that it's these traits -- which they don't possess -- that are the reasons why they're not experiencing success selling cloud services. What CSI did to break into the cloud market is proof that there's a more important prerequisite that must be met before one can experience cloud sales success.

One pixel Risks of consumer-grade cloud services
within a customer environment

CSI's customers regularly seek its advice on compliance-related matters, so the MSP began incorporating cloud-related topics in conversations. A few questions CSI asks its customers during these discussions include: "Are you looking at cloud services for your business, and if so, which areas are you exploring? What due diligence measures have you performed to ensure you're handling your data appropriately?"

After several repetitions, the MSP was able to hone in on three important cloud-related principles:

  • Not all clouds are equal. Although consumer cloud services have done a great job of making cloud computing a household term, a lot of people don't realize that there are three cloud models: public, private and hybrid. Once CSI recognized this lack of knowledge in its industry, it began educating customers and prospects about the differences between the three models, which opened new doors to talk about the business benefits of its private cloud offering.
The most intriguing thing about CSI's story wasn't the immediate success it experienced from selling managed services. It was the initial struggle it had selling cloud services.

One of the distinguishing features the MSP is able to talk about is the data encryption and security it provides -- which many public cloud providers can't -- and the important role security plays in complying with industry regulations. Business availability is another distinguishing feature. Although many public cloud providers can boast about a cheaper cost per gigabyte, when business customers can't recover their data in a timely manner, the high price of downtime adds up quickly. Selling a cloud service with a short recovery time guarantee, on the other hand, is a huge value and differentiator.

  • Where your data resides matters. Another key discovery CSI made was that some financial organizations that were using cloud had no idea where their data was being physically stored. In highly regulated industries such as banking and finance, using data centers based in another country is a no-no that CSI was able to point out and counter with its offering, which is physically located in the U.S.
  • Cloud server visibility can be a reality. No matter what benefits cloud promises, some prospects just can't get past the idea that they will no longer be able to see the blinking lights in their server rooms. After recognizing the control and visibility objection some of its customers still had with the cloud, CSI saw an opportunity to address this concern by creating a customer-facing portal that aggregated data points from multiple remote management tools. The portal presents customers with important metrics about their servers and other computing resources being hosted in its private cloud data center. CSI's clients can see, for example, the same alerts the MSP's technicians see if a server is approaching capacity or if a backup did not run properly. They also can see active tickets and actions being taken by CSI's helpdesk team and run a variety of reports, such as Active Directory changes; accounts created or deleted; permission changes; network device configuration changes for firewalls, routers, and switches; and correlated security incidents.

CSI's story offers a valuable lesson for other MSPs that are currently stuck in a cloud sales rut. Specifically, possessing industry expertise and a large workforce won't guarantee cloud sales success. Your customers and prospects may have deep-seated fears and objections that can only be addressed through a consultative discussion and education process. Also, keep in mind that if business executives and IT decision makers in the highly regulated banking and finance industry need to be educated about the cloud, it's a safe bet that decision makers in other verticals need to be educated just as much.

About the author:
Jason Bystrak is senior director for the Americas at Ingram Micro Cloud. He is responsible for leading and developing the sales and market development organizations and for driving growth and operational excellence for the division and its portfolio of cloud, managed, professional and training solutions. Bystrak has been with Ingram Micro since 1995.

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