Five traps to avoid when selling cloud communications services

If IT departments are moving so much to the cloud, why has it been so challenging for cloud communications providers to win enterprise customers?

If it's true that so much IT infrastructure is moving to the cloud, why has it been so challenging for cloud communications

providers to get traction with large enterprises?

The cloud communications market -- which encompasses everything from cloud-based unified communications to conventional hosted and managed Voice over IP (VoIP) -- is gaining traction. A recent report from Infonetics Research found that "due to continued demand for enterprise cloud-based services, hosted VoIP and UC services revenue grew 17% in 2012 from 2011, the most of any segment."

Cloud communications sales teams must go further than other kinds of cloud providers and explain precisely what makes their services so special.

The research shows that businesses are interested in cloud communications, but ask any cloud communications provider and they will tell you that these same businesses are also very cautious. After all, if their current voice and data services are working, why upgrade to a new, radically different model?

This presents cloud communications providers with a quandary. They know they're playing in a hot market. They realize they have technology that can legitimately improve communications for many companies in various ways, including reduced capital expenses, improved employee efficiency and enhanced communications tools. And yet, providers seem to be running into roadblocks everywhere they turn.

What's going on here?

The great adventurer and detective Sherlock Holmes once said (or would have, had he been real), "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth." With that in mind, we can eliminate lack of interest as a potential culprit thwarting the advancement of cloud communications -- after all, we've already established that these services are well in-demand. That leaves us to examine the way cloud communications providers are selling their services to enterprises.

A solid sales approach is the foundation for any business, and there are some traps hidden in that foundation that cloud communications providers routinely fall prey to. But knowing these pitfalls -- and how to avoid them -- can help significantly improve their chances of getting enterprises to make the jump from legacy telecommunications systems to the cloud. The following five mistakes are among the most common ways cloud communications providers get in their own way.

Talking tech. Cloud communications providers often fall too much in love with their own technology. They're very good at rattling off key features as if they're the chef's daily specials meant to satisfy a ravenous hunger for new technology. Most of the time, however, enterprises do not want to be in a position to have to buy anything new -- let alone revamp a system they may have had in place for years. This is especially true during times of economic constraint.

Don't fall into the technology trap. Instead, empathize with the customer. Explore what they want -- not necessarily everything that can be sold to them -- and look at their individual concerns. Become an adviser, not a seller. It's the simplest thing in the sales book, but one that cloud communications providers sometimes overlook.

Relying on cloud hype. Simply mentioning a cloud-based telecommunications system is not enough to get prospective customers excited. Yes, it's true that businesses are embracing cloud services, but most of that enthusiasm still applies to cloud storage. Cloud communications, however, is still somewhat of an exotic creature that many enterprises are trying to understand. Therefore, cloud communications sales teams must go further than providers of other cloud-based technologies, and explain precisely what makes their services so special. They need to highlight the fact that they're highly flexible and cost-effective, with the power to minimize IT expenditures while vastly improving communications.

Avoiding customer concerns. Companies still have many concerns when it comes to cloud communications. Some do not understand it; others do not want to pay monthly hosting fees, or they feel that it may not be right for their organization. Providers should not try to gloss over these concerns by focusing on the technology. Instead, they need to address these concerns directly and provide very specific answers to alleviate them.

Failing to highlight the benefits of cloud hosting. This should be one of the easiest traps to avoid. Cloud communications providers will often try to avoid addressing the rent-vs.-own model by talking about all the other benefits their services offer. They go out of their way to avoid discussion of a fee structure until later on, when it's really one of the first things they should address. But it's relatively easy to show a positive cost/benefit analysis for cloud communications services, which are more cost-effective in the long run and allow businesses to pay for exactly what they need.

Not emphasizing the benefits of an operating-expense-centric model. Again, many cloud communications providers are hesitant to discuss financial implications first, which is a mistake because finances are always one of the most important factors for a business. Cloud communications enables customers to replace hefty, up-front capital costs with operating expenses, which means that the cost of the solution can be spread out over time in smaller payments. Emphasizing this can help make the adoption of cloud services much more palatable for enterprises.

Although there are more potential traps, these are five primary examples. The good news is that you don't have to be Indiana Jones to avoid them, but instead just have a sales strategy built to address a prospective customer's requirements and concerns. This will help cloud communications providers jump right over potential pitfalls and land at the customer's door.

About the author:
Joseph Marion is the president of Cloud Communications Alliance (CCA), the only industry peer association dedicated to fostering the growth of cloud communications. To learn more about recommended cloud communications sales strategies, download the CCA's report, Starting the Conversation: Effectively Selling Cloud Communications to Enterprises. To learn more about the CCA, visit its website.

This was first published in September 2013

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