Guest Column | January 31, 2014

Keeping Customers In The Age Of The Cloud

By Andrew Harrover, President, Matrix Computer Consulting, ASCII Group Member Since 2012

Companies are being bombarded with cloud advertising every day. The millions of dollars being spent on advertising to support cloud offerings ensures that the message is being heard loud and clear. As technologists, we know that the cloud isn't a miraculous curative for everything.  Indeed, it can be a bear trap ... but our clients don't know any of that. What they do know is that they saw a presentation from a speaker at the last trade show they attended who sang the same siren song of better, cheaper and faster. They believed that all they needed was a couple of cheap computers and a fast internet connection and the "cloud" would take care of the rest.

The cloud is "disruptive" for it slices, it dices, and it blends! There has been enough ink spilled on the subject to fill a lake. Indeed, the cloud has fundamentally changed or eliminated services that were delivered by on-premise servers for the past 20 years. Those servers were managed by IT Consultants and were the cornerstone of client relationships all along.  As a practical matter, the client couldn't do anything without the involvement of a consultant.  The Cloud is very busy changing that.

Yet the news isn’t all that bad, so we can relax. The truth of the matter is that if you were in charge of your customer relationships to begin with, you will be fine. However, if your first indication includes that your client has started to test the waters on a cloud solution is a phone call asking for help in setting it up, you may be in trouble. Here is how to get ahead and not become "cloud-kill":

  1. Do The Legwork. If you weren’t doing semi-annual business meetings with clients, now is the time to start. Visibility is crucial in managing the migration to the cloud. You need to be in the front of your customers mind when that sales call for hosted services hits.
  2. Develop your own standardized stable of cloud offerings. Cloud providers are businesses too. Some will not make it, some have lousy support, and some are incredible.  Find the standouts that fit your requirements and use them. Train your people on them.
  3. Bring the Cloud to your customers! If you are on the offensive in this process you will fit much more naturally into it. If your client brings the cloud forward, you will be playing catch-up and they will know it. You can develop solutions that make more sense this way. For example, cloud-enabled backup is one of the easiest of the cloud solutions to deploy. There are many great partners to choose from, the technology is simple to master and the business proposition is undeniable.
  4. Do not ignore VOIP. Bringing VOIP into the picture can significantly reduce your clients’ telephony spending, and it might free up resources to address other projects. Hosted VOIP is perfect for the SMB space and, if your client still has copper land lines, a successful VOIP project can provide an easy win.

The end goal of any of these recommendations is to strengthen your relationship with your clients. If you do indeed have a strong relationship, your technology planning will still be driven by common-sense concerns and not by the breathless froth currently surrounding cloud computing.

It may be cliché to say, but the trusted advisor role is absolutely crucial to keeping a client.  People are not dumb — especially when it comes to their business.  If you are not meeting with clients and talking about cloud options — even if your client isn’t strictly interested — they’ll come to believe you don’t know anything about the cloud or are hiding from it. By following the steps above, they may help you to get ahead of the opportunity now.