Four Steps to the Cloud: Start By Firing Your Sales Team

So says Gartner Vice President and Distinguished Analyst Tiffani Bova , who opened UBM Tech's XChange Solution Provider 2013 in Orlando with a session on cloud computing and the channel. Bova explained how solution providers that are looking to remodel their businesses to leverage the cloud must make drastic changes to their companies.

For example, she said, solution providers that focus on hardware and on-premise services need to find news sales people that understand the cloud and can sell based on business outcomes rather than specific products and speeds and feeds. "You want to get into the cloud?" she asked the audience of solution providers. "Fire all of your sales force.

[Related: Gartner: Worldwide Public Cloud Services Market To Reach $131 Billion ]

Bova used a treadmill as an example, saying you wouldn't sell exercise equipment based on the product's technical specifications -- you would sell it by telling the customer it will make them healthier and help them lose weight.

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In addition to having the right sales force, Bova said VARs aspiring to be cloud players also need the right solutions that are focused on the business outcomes rather than the specifics of the technology. "Cloud is not technology," she said, adding that cloud is about changing the client's business model to make it a more agile organization.

Bova also said solution providers need the right technical skills to deliver the cloud. For example, she said, VARs moving into cloud services must start looking at cloud management platforms. While solution providers can leverage cloud management from third-party partners like distributors and telecom carriers, they are much better off familiarizing themselves with the technology now, she said. "If you want to start deploying clouds ... you have to start using this technology," Bova said.

Lastly, solution providers moving to the cloud need the right customers that want to evolve their businesses in the cloud, according to Bova. But this last item can be tricky because the IT spending landscape -- as well as IT priorities -- is changing rapidly as mobility, social media and business analytics join cloud computing in changing the industry.

For example, a Gartner survey of retail companies showed 41 percent of companies are making leveraging social media a key IT strategy for the next 18 month, which was higher than any other solution or IT strategy in the survey.

In addition, Bova said more than 40 percent of technology spending today takes place outside of the IT department. Other business departments, from sales and marketing to the chief financial officer, are seeing an increased share of technology spending in areas like social media, cloud services and others.

When it comes to clouds, Bova highlighted hybrid clouds as one of the biggest opportunities -- and challenges -- for solution providers. Gartner defines a hybrid cloud model as a private cloud on premise plus a third-party cloud hosted off site(regardless of whether that cloud offering is truly "public" or dedicated to one customer). Because hybrid clouds have both on-premise and off-premise elements, there can be a lot of headaches involved, Bova said.

Cloud services brokerages, or CSBs, are another area of enormous growth and potential, Bova said. According to Gartner, CSBs help companies locate, consume and maintain cloud services that span multiple providers. Bova said CSBs can into three areas: aggregator brokers, which fill a role similar to IT distributors; an integration broker, which are like traditional IT systems integrators; and customization brokers, which are similar to ISVs.

Whether solutions providers are looking to become CSBs or hybrid cloud specialists, Bova said, they need to start acting now to make the necessary and sometimes painful business transformations internally before they can start to think about transforming their clients' businesses.