Cisco Partners: Cloud Marketing Means Selling The Experience

International Cisco solution providers come at the idea of cloud marketing with distinctly different approaches, but they can agree on one thing: as partners, you have to market an experience, not just a creatively-worded technology underpinning.

Denis d'Ambroise, president of Infra-Solutions, a Montreal-based managed VPN service provider focused on the retail space, said that because he doesn't have the budget of his major telco competitors, he can't blanket the field with marketing campaigns or sharpen his attack by trial-and-error.

What's worked, he said, is an aggressive, spiff-based rewards program to motivate POS software developers and other partners.

"We really decided to be incredibly transparent, and provide access to all of these tools," said d'Ambrose, addressing fellow solution providers and MSPs at Cisco's Partner Velocity conference in Barcelona Wednesday.

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Bob Olwig, vice president of corporate business development at World Wide Technology, a St. Louis-based solution provider, argued that cloud marketing is about articulating a vision: guiding prospective customers through the changes -- gradual and not -- happening to their data centers.

"We need to kind of hold their hand and drag them along," Olwig said, emphasizing that WWT's cloud marketing strategy involves acquiring net new customers, nurturing and growing existing customers to keep them buying, and constantly re-measuring the effectiveness of its campaigns.

"If you ask 10 people you could get 11 different answers, but at the end of the day I think it's about true data center transformation," he said. "They need to have a process and roadmap to get to this dynamic data center."

WWT, which is a Cisco Gold partner and for whom Cisco business accounts for about $1.6 billion of its $3 billion in revenue, markets its cloud-centric solutions using events like Geek Day -- an industry forum that draws about 600 customer attendees to demo cloud computing scenarios -- private cloud webcasts, blog posts, and Cisco Unified Computing System roadshow sessions.

The results from those efforts have been more than 1,200 attendees and $100 million in pipeline business in the past year and a half, Olwig said, $25 million of it already won.

"You've got to measure, measure, measure, and report results of your marketing activities," said Olwig. "It's a process, not just an event."

The cloud concept itself is confusing, he added, which creates a golden opportunity for the well-spoken solution provider.

"If we can be the first to educate our customers, we'll win the sale," he said.

Chris Gabriel, director of marketing and solutions at Logicalis, the Slough, UK-based integrator and MSP giant, agreed that cloud is something around which savvy solution providers can differentiate their message, but the danger is confusing that message.

"It can't be smoke and mirrors, because that's how the world of cloud looks to most people today," Gabriel said. "Educate, educate, educate."

Logicalis makes ample use of video as an educational tool, Gabriel said, and markets cloud as part of its overall proposition as a systems integrator, managed service provider and managed hosting provider.

"It's a journey, but a story of a journey as well," he said. "Paint the picture -- tell the story -- rather than send out a brochure. We want cloud to be something that makes sense. It's not a homogeneous service that shows up on the credit card, it's a strategic part of the IT infrastructure."

NEXT: Cloud Computing Will Drive Some VARs Out

One of the biggest challenges in marketing cloud computing, Gabriel argued, is that solution providers are selling to IT professionals who have been dealing with more traditional infrastructure for decades -- professionals who aren't ready to let a provider manage all of their IT just because of some trendy buzzwords.

"I think part of that [change] is the transition in their minds they make from having to do it themselves and having someone do it for them. They've done it forever," he said. "Cloud isn't a switch. It's a dimmer switch. Gradual."

Peter D'Almeida, managing director and chief executive at Sri Lanka-based provider N-able, insisted that customers aren't swayed by creative marketing slogans but can quickly relate to what disruptive technologies like virtualization can do for their business. They respond, he noted, to the experience of cloud computing.

He ribbed Cisco a bit for using terms like "Data Center 3.0" and "Unified Computing System," which as descriptors don't really mean anything, but whose underlying technology, said D'Almeida, is fantastic. He questioned why many Cisco sales reps and Cisco partners focus on the creative terminology and not the story -- sell the sizzle, not the steak, in other words.

"The cloud isn't the product, nor is the access." D'Almeida said. "All we can sell is the service and the experience."

One byproduct of the cloud revolution, D'Almeida argued, is that major telco service providers will eventually get hip to selling the total solution -- technology and bandwidth -- which will drive a lot of IT-based VARs and managed services experts out of the business.

"They'll take away business because they own the pipes," he said.

D'Ambroise and Gabriel challenged that argument, however, insisting that the role of more traditional solution providers will still be to provide value-added services on top of those pipes.

The cloud infrastructure changeover for businesses, Gabriel said, will be "reasonably slow and gradual."

"Don't go tearing [your] business up," added D'Ambroise.