How To Sell Cloud Computing, Even If It's Not Your Core Competency


Cloud computing has become an increasingly important item on CIOs’ agendas and presents major opportunities for the channel. But many of you may wonder how you can effectively sell cloud computing if it’s not your core competency? Here, the vice president of worldwide channel sales at Rackspace describes his "Don't Sell the Burger, Sell the Meal" strategy and offers tips on how to educate your customers on the cloud to help them benefit from the most appropriate cloud services—and drive additional revenue streams for yourself. — Jennifer Bosavage, editor

Before you can sell anything you have to understand it, so the first step to selling cloud computing is understanding what it is, and what it's not. There’s a lot of confusion in the market now, due in part to the numerous definitions of “cloud computing.” Compounding that is the availability of various cloud computing services, so it’s critical to understand what they all mean and how they work. It’s the first step in determining how cloud can work for your customers – and ultimately how you can help them leverage it.

Luckily, you don’t need to go it alone. Cloud computing providers with solid channel programs often offer education and training to help you get up to speed on the nuances of cloud computing, so you can learn them fast and start extending the benefits to your customers.

Mama Always Said, “Go to School” – Education is Key

Let’s take a crash course on the big categories of cloud computing services. While this is by no means a full 101 course, it should serve as a quick overview that can help you get started in understanding how your customers can use cloud.

* You may have heard the term cloud computing or "the cloud," but could you describe what it is? There are so many definitions flying around that you wouldn't be alone if you struggled to define it. Cloud computing is simply a set of pooled computing resources and services delivered over the web. When you diagram the relationships between all the elements it resembles a cloud.

* The cloud is a cost-effective approach to technology because businesses don't need to make usage predictions, upfront capital investments, or over-purchase hardware or software to meet the demands of peak periods. Cloud computing customers don't have to raise the capital to purchase, manage, maintain, and scale the physical infrastructure required to handle drastic traffic fluctuations. Instead of having to invest time and money to keep their sites afloat, cloud computing customers simply pay for the resources they use, as they use them. This particular characteristic of cloud computing—its elasticity—means that customers no longer need to predict traffic, but can promote their sites aggressively and spontaneously. Engineering for peak traffic becomes a thing of the past.

* Cloud computing delivers flexible applications, Web services, and IT infrastructure as a service, over the Internet, using a utility pricing model. Cloud computing allows businesses to instantly scale their technology requirements to meet new demands.

Complement, Not Compliment

After you’ve educated yourself on what the different cloud offerings are and the benefits they provide, it’s important to think about how they complement your own services and offerings.

Start by asking, “How can we wrap our own services around cloud computing services?” or, “How are cloud computing services complementary to what we’re providing?” Those questions serve as a basis for creating new revenue channels and expanding existing services and offerings.

Now, you can change your mindset and think about cloud computing as a way to be proactive with customers, rather than just reactive. In presenting a “new” offering, you’re given the opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your customers by acting as a trusted advisor – solving problems before your customers even know they have them. You can also re-engage with non-active customers and “sell” new offerings and solutions they may have been unaware of previously. Just remember this is a handy mantra: “enhance, expand and complement.” In doing so, you’ll emphasize the key-underlying message – you’re selling a solution to a problem, not a service, with the intent of giving customers alternatives.

Sales and Support: Your Right Hand

The third step to selling the cloud is to engage resources and make sure you have the support it’s going to take. One way to do this is to partner with another organization. They should care about your success and share in both your achievements and your challenges. The new partnership can provide you with that knowledge and understanding you were missing and the knowledgeable customer service you might need. Together, you can establish a more concrete method and communicate the total value proposition, or the composition of all the services provided and the value given.

Sometimes it can be challenging for companies to understand that cloud computing shouldn’t be evaluated the same way dedicated hosting should be. Often price is the first line on the checklist, and for cloud, a different mindset is required to make smart decisions. Cloud services partners can help you understand the value of the service and support and translate that to your customer. It’s important to help customers understand the importance of support, as well as to offer that knowledgeable support through your partner.

Take a business like eCommerce – downtime can mean a significant loss of business if they’re doing transactional business in the cloud, and having quality service and support is crucial. Good support is similar to having a good right hand and it’s vital that you, and your customers, are able to trust that provider. In services, unlike with channel hardware providers, your partner becomes an extension of your team and that creates a certain amount of necessary trust. You need to trust service partners to provide support, service and expertise as you would. So when you’re selling cloud computing you need to remember standards matter in service.

Would you Like Fries and a Drink with That?

Selling cloud computing is more than just selling the individual components – it’s selling the overall package and problem solver. This means that when you’re looking to sell a cloud computing solution you should always look to bundle in everything that will help the customer. Provide a bundle that includes, the compute capability, online storage, hosted mail and SharePoint. You wouldn’t just sell the burger without the fries and drink, but rather you would aspire to sell the complete “meal.” That strategy marries the education you’ve gained, with your understanding of what your customers are currently doing and how they can do it better with cloud services. It also provides you with the opportunity to act as a trusted business advisor by selling into the total value proposition.

The time has never been better to start including "the cloud" in the services you provide. The tightening economy means businesses have a greater need to get value for money and this is one of the primary benefits of cloud computing. It enables businesses to match costs directly to revenue to scale up and down very quickly. Complementing your current services with cloud will put you in the driver’s seat, enabling your customers to be in the best possible position to not only survive, but flourish as the economy improves.