Nearly a decade ago here at Everything Channel, we began discussing managed services and the need for channel models on the vendor and solution provider sides to morph to fit a structure where customers paid monthly for services rather than writing a big check for an install.
It was a significant step toward cloud computing enablement. If you listen to all the marketing hype today, you would think the cloud is readily available and any customer problem can be solved with a cloud solution. The cloud is still being formed and, while more problems can be solved today than yesterday, it is still years from being dominant.
The change is real, however, and for solution providers there are some things you need to know if you are going to be able to run a successful company for the long term.
First is you must build a strong sales team capable of selling benefits to line-of-business managers. The days of selling strictly to the IT department have been waning for years. That trend will accelerate as management realizes cloud solution purchases are a business--and not a technology--decision. Selling to non-IT management is a critical and different skill you must master.
Second, you need to realize that marketing must become a core competency and no longer an afterthought. When you are selling solutions where there is very little in the way of physical equipment delivered and installed at the customer site, it's the positioning of your service capability that matters. Brands always matter, but the question is, whose brand will be most critical in the cloud? My argument is that your brand needs to stand for something other than access to technology. If you can't answer the question of what you're better at than your competition, you have a problem.
The third challenge is that it's your job to drive demand, not the manufacturers'. This is not to say that manufacturers shouldn't lend a hand by providing guidance and tools, but in the end the value you bring to your supplier is revenue generation. This is just one of the reasons we have built so many demand-generation services and, quite frankly, it's why so many top-tier vendors spend a great deal of time and money thinking about how they can help solution providers in this area.
The fourth trend you need to deal with is figuring out how to cut through all the hype and select the right suppliers for the future regardless of who you have had in the past. In future columns here and online, I'll get into what you need to look for but I can assure you of something: The suppliers that got you to this point are not necessarily the ones that will drive profit for you in the next wave.
You also need to be cautious about working only with what appears to be the hot company of the day. Just because a supplier runs a pep rally disguised as a partner conference and talks about how it is the leadership-enabling company in "cloud solutions" doesn't mean you should bet your family's future on it. It will takes some examination of programs and company DNA.
The fifth consideration is a truthful examination of your resources and customer set. It's going to be important to know what you do well. Regardless of all the talk around cloud, there is still a lot of money to be made selling infrastructure, and many customers will continue to want to own and manage it. If you understand your customer set's needs and desire it will bring clarity to your own business model.