Selling Cloud Services: 5 Things You Should Never, Ever Do

Being Cautious With Cloud

Intelisys this week held its annual Channel Connect event in San Francisco, inviting its partner base -- which represents a growing mix of both traditional IT solution providers and telecom agents -- to come together and discuss the latest in the cloud and carrier services market.

Kicking things off Wednesday was a panel discussion that hosted some of the industry's most powerful players in the cloud and IT services space, including VMware, Cisco Systems, Polycom and Citrix Systems. And, rather than share best practices for how partners should go to market with cloud services, representatives from each company instead highlighted five pitfalls partners should avoid when attempting to sell the almighty cloud.

Here, according to the panelists, are five things solution providers should never do when trying to cash in on today's cloud movement.

Selling Customers 'The Cloud'

Gary Testa, global vice president, cloud and service providers at Polycom, advised partners to avoid the word "cloud" altogether when making a cloud services sale.

"The one thing that I've seen over and over again when we are in front of end users -- your customers -- is that none of them wake up and say, 'I've got to buy cloud today.' None of them, if you think about it, actually care about the delivery mechanism. What do they care about? They care about the service, they care about the reliability, and the care about your ability to deliver," Testa said. "We as, technologists need to be careful… about [referencing] the white, puffy cloud."

Ken Oestreich, senior director of product marketing at Citrix, agreed: "I would go a step further and say don't even use that word. I think some of our customers are probably even scared of that word, and we can have just as rich a conversation without using that word."

Not Emphasizing Business Outcomes

Matt Light, a member of Cisco's global sales team for hosted collaboration solutions, said one major pitfall he's seen is when partners stress the technical, rather than business, outcomes of using the cloud.

"Customers are buying business outcomes and the value their applications bring forward. They don't care if it's cloud, or whatever name we put on it. Sometimes the amount of marketing and hype that's around cloud can set off a red flag for folks," Light said. "That's where we need to change how we sell and really start to focus on those business outcomes, so when you are talking to a sales leader, it's not about 'Here's this service I'm going to bring,' it's 'What if I can shorten your sales cycle by one week?"

Light added, "Then you are taking these fluffy benefits, that are hard when you are selling, and you start to define those into real dollars."

Waiting For Customers To Come To You

Steve Leclair, senior manager of vCloud Business Development at VMware, told partners to always tell customers what types of cloud services they need, rather than waiting for customers to decide for themselves. "You can't go to [customers] and say, 'What do you need?' You need to tell them what they need, and that's a very different dynamic than what we have had in our industry for a long time," Leclair said. "You have to bring that next vision to them, otherwise they aren't going to see it."

Polycom's Testa added, "I want you to take a lesson away from some of the best waiters in the world. When you walk into a really classy restaurant with really well-trained waiters, the first thing they do is they look you up and down and make a recommendation on what will suit you best. They don't show you 500 things on the menu and ask you what you want to have for dinner. This is really important in the cloud [market] because there are so many similar services [that are] slightly differentiated; they are relying on you to help navigate that."

Assuming Everyone Wants An Opex Model

VMware's Leclair also reminded partners not to force-fit an opex model on every customer they encounter.

"I think it's important that we, as technologists, [remember] the financial side. Don't just assume that opex is always what everybody wants. When you look at the way companies are structured, there are some that don't want to do opex. So don't lean in thinking that the whole transition from capex to opex -- which, everybody says that's the end goal, and sure, it is -- but that's not the way companies are always structured," Leclair said. "An understanding of how they structure their business is extremely important before you jump in."

Losing Sight Of The Future

Cisco's Light stressed that, regardless of how much hype there is around cloud today, there's much more to come.

"I think mobility is obviously key and then cloud-to-cloud connections. Right now a lot of services are independent to clouds, but I think as we move forward you'll see a lot of [cloud-to-cloud] connecting. An easy one to imagine is UC [unified communications] with," Light said. "So imagine it starting to be a bunch of different clouds and then almost ... a management kind of service [wrapped around them]."

Citrix's Oestreich agreed: " I think the value-add that we as a community provide will be the integration of services. Not technology integration, per se -- so how does Box A talk to Box A -- but how will Service A talk to Service B. That will be our value-add ... in five or so years out from now."