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In some instances, a customer mentioning free online storage is a red flag for solution providers.
"If a client says it is looking at a free service, I'd just walk out the door," Bernard said.
Customers who look at free online storage are not really potential customers for Computer Technical Specialists, said Joel Trice, president of Computer Technical Specialists, a Prunedale, Calif.-based solution provider.
"My customers want to know in detail what we do for them and their data," he said.
However, the allure of free storage is changing as customers heavily into mobility and social media better understand the value of their data, Bernard said.
"I've had such customers ask for a trail of where their data is," he said. "They're asking what would happen if I went out of business. Ten years ago, customers wouldn't ask that question."
Scott Lee, director of marketing for MozyPro, the paid service of cloud storage provider Mozy, said that his company's original free, consumer-focused service eventually morphed MozyHome, which offers 2 GBs of storage free of charge.
"MozyHome is a trial, really, for consumer or business users," Lee said. "If customers need more space, they can upgrade their service, or if they are a business with multiple servers or require administration of their service, they can upgrade to MozyPro."
Computer Technical Specialists' Trice said that he has not had to deal that often with customers interested in free storage services.
"Most of my customers are buying me, not the product," he said. "Whether I use Symform or eFolder doesn't matter, as long as they know I am backing them and their business up the right way."
Despite the large numbers of online storage providers and the buzz generated about storage clouds, educating potential customers about the benefits of paid-for services over for-free services is still a primary part of what solution providers do for clients.
For Trice, the education focuses more on the benefits of using cloud storage as a disaster recovery tool than on the need for online backups. "Customers don't want to spend money on storing data on the cloud as much as they want a safe way to do disaster recovery," he said. "So the focus of our conversations is on DR."
Educating smaller customers about the benefits of paying for their online backup and storage needs is easier for solution providers or MSPs who have built a reputation based on trust than it is for those just getting into the business, Alvarez said.
"When we come in and explain the difference between free and paid services, customers get it," he said.