The Broken Data Center Playbook

Today we’re going to dive into the broken data center playbook (and how to fix it).

Dramatic Changes in How People Make Colocation Purchase Decisions

Over the last decade, there's been a huge shift in how people research and make purchase decisions for anything and everything related to data center services, including colocation.

This started many years ago -- perhaps as early as back in 2007, when Apple released the original iPhone.

But these changes also picked up a lot of steam as streaming media services like SiriusXM, Netflix, and Hulu have grown -- alongside iTunes, Spotify, and TiVo -- and all kind of scratched the same itch -- along with Gmail’s Priority Inbox.

People are tired of getting interrupted. They’re tired of having to take a whole bunch of crap to get the small nugget of what they want, when they want. And they fought back. And technology is making it possible for people to demand and get exactly what they want, 100% on their own terms.

And if you don't think that this is a problem for your sales team, think about the last time you’ve answered a phone call from somebody without looking at caller ID.

If you think this isn't a problem for your sales team, think about how many of your clients and future clients have something like Gmail Priority Inbox that's blocking a lot of unsolicited emails from, rightly so, getting through.

The Shift in Power from Colocation Sellers to Colocation Buyers

There has been a massive shift in power in the last couple of years from sellers of colocation to buyers of colocation.

The question is: has your company adapted to these changes? Or is it just plain living in the past?

Most C-level executives at colocation providers and wholesale data center providers are not new to the IT industry. They're not new to data centers or the mission critical space.

But even if they're relatively new, perhaps they’ve only been in the data center colocation space for five years or so, most came from a company that was one degree of separation away -- maybe an ISP (Internet Service Provider), a telecommunications provider, an ASP (Application Service Provider), a SaaS  company (software as a service), a cloud company, an enterprise hardware company, or an enterprise software company.

Reality Check: It’s Not 1997 Anymore

Some of the veterans in the colocation space that have 30 to 40 years of experience come from enterprise hardware -- where decades ago, companies like Digital Equipment, IBM, and Sun Microsystems reigned supreme.

But the problem is: it's really easy to get blindsided by the fact that your buyers and potential buyers are looking for completely different things than they were as recently as five or ten years ago:

  • Hyperscale
  • Cooling
  • Disaster zones
  • Redundancy
  • Density

That's on the technology side.

But in terms of their preferences for how they want to engage with your company and how they are going to make their decisions, a lot of these old marketing and sales playbook have stood for decades.

And there has been very little change since the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s.

Again, when we look at C-level executives who are running colocation data centers that are in their 60s or 70s, that came up in a very different era where business development, marketing, and sales leaned very heavily on renting lists, cold calls, and later on cold emails to those lists -- nobody called it spamming at that time, but it is. Then, of course, exhibiting at trade shows. Early on, in the digital era, there may have been pop up ads, banner ads, email blasts through sponsored publishers.

The 2007 Inflection Point and Zero Moment of Truth Game-Changer

Then along came 2007 and the first iPhone. And shortly after that, a big phenomenon and paradigm shift called ZMOT (Google’s Zero Moment of Truth).

What is Google’s Zero Moment of Truth? The Zero Moment of Truth has to do with a very major change in how people research and make purchase decisions for among other things, colocation data center services.

When somebody looks up your company online, it's no longer about what you say your company is. ZMOT dictates that it’s the collective wisdom of search engines and social media return as the results for somebody looking for information on your company.

Is Your Colocation Company Not Even in the Consideration Set Anymore?

However, most people typically are not going to look up information on your company and its colocation data center services until they’re very far along in the buyer's journey. And what we now know is that people have become so empowered and enamored with the power of their mobile devices, search engines, and social media that they're just doing tons of research on their problems, questions, challenges, and struggles before they even get to the point that they are aware that there is a product or service category. Or that your colocation company even exists.

So what this means is, in many cases, 60% to 70% or more of their decision making may be over before you're even looped into a conversation. 60% or 70% of that decision is already over before you can even get a word in edgewise.

How can you intercept them early on? Make sure that your marketing and sales playbook is completely aligned and compatible with Google’s Zero Moment of Truth.

Make sure that when the influencers and decision makers, that are important colocation company, are asking questions and trying to solve problems that you have vendor-agnostic, product agnostic, and colocation-facility agnostic -- make sure that you have credible, authoritative answers in your digital content.

However, you don’t get to decide relevance. It’s the reader along with Google, Bing, Siri, Cortana, and Alexa that decide whether your content is one of the three best or ten best search results -- so your advice surfaces.

Because what we essentially need to do, to play well in this space, and make sure that we get rid of the broken data center playbook that's holding us back:

Competing to Be One of the 10 Best Resources

We need to make sure that when an enterprise IT decision maker, a managed services provider, or whoever it is that's really important for you to attract -- you need to make sure that when they ask a question, that's an early stage general question, that will ultimately lead someone along the journey to your colocation facility, you need to make sure that you have one of the 10 best, or in some cases, one of three best answers to that question.

Seduction or Repulsion: The Zero Moment of Truth

Because we want to make sure that when we’ve worked so hard and we've gotten these people to land on our digital presence, to land on our website, that they look at our advice, the answer to their question and they say, “Wow! This is amazing. I've been looking for something that answers this question for hours. I can't believe I finally found it. This is awesome. Who are these folks? What else do they have to say?”

And when you get that deep, visceral reaction of, “Who are these folks? What else do they have to say?” That's what prevents them from hitting the back button on their web browser. Because if they hit the back button within a few seconds, that's not a good place for you to be for two reasons:

  1. Visitors Won’t Return -- Hitting the back button within a few seconds pretty much means they're not coming back, ever.

  2. Google Infers That Your Content Sucks -- The tens of millions of people that are logged into Google-owned servers, every single day, send a strong, implicit signal to Google that your contents sucks. That it’s irrelevant and not answering their question. And Google should no longer be sending valuable visitors to your website.

So we really need to get that deep, emotional, visceral reaction of, “This stuff is really good. It's really helpful. It's amazingly helpful. I'm so glad I found it. What else do they have to say?”

And when you get that, “What else do they have to say?” that's when the visitor is receptive to seeing, “Oh, there's an ebook that goes into this in more detail.” Or, “there's an upcoming breakfast seminar, or lunch and learn seminar, or webinar on this that goes into this in more detail.” Or a recording from one of those events that goes into this in more detail.

“Yeah, I'll give you my business card for what's on the other side of that page” Why? Because you’re built up trust. And they've seen some of the good stuff already.

Navigating the Massive Shift in Power

This is a massive shift in power that's happened from sellers that’s transferred to buyers.

So the question is: has your colocation data center company adapted to these kinds of changes? Or is it living in the past?

Do you depend on an old, obsolete playbook from the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s when Interruption was still the name of the game?

People don't want to get interrupted. They're paying a lot of money in aggregate to SiriusXM, Hulu, Amazon Prime Video, and  iTunes not to get interrupted. They sure as heck don't want to to get interrupted by irrelevant stuff.

Every Prospect, influencer, and decision maker -- no matter their location, company size, vertical market, or budget is doing tons of research before they get to you and your colocation services offering.

And they're doing this research right on their mobile devices, their desktops, and their laptops -- on search engines and on social media.

Delusional Loyalty to the Broken Data Center Playbook

So the question is:

Is your colo company relevant to them or not? Are you getting there early enough to be seen as a trusted advisor, to earn that critical trusted advisor seat at the table -- where you can actually influence their buying criteria for colocation services that they ultimately purchase?

Or are you getting there too late?

That old-school playbook is simply not designed for the digital-first world. The broken data center playbook is simply not designed for a world where mobile devices, the Zero Moment of Truth, and selective consumption of media reign supreme.

That old-school playbook for colocation marketing and sales is simply broken and no longer effective.

The goal: How can we get your company found early enough, in the right places, by the right decision makers, and in the right context?

The last part is so critical, in the right context, to be seen as educators and subject matter experts -- and to achieve the all-so-coveted trusted advisor status.

The Data Center Sales Cycle and the Future of Pushy, Manipulative Tricks

Look, influencers and decision makers now have all the power.

If your sales team is still trying to use outdated, pushy, manipulative tricks to control things, they are burning a lot more goodwill and a lot more bridges than you likely realize.

Your sales team may not even be in the loop on many of these opportunities anymore if there’s still living in the past -- if they don’t know what the heck they’re doing with social selling, if they think it’s social spamming -- if they’re just talking about themselves all of the time and not tuned into the buyer personas and buyer’s journey.

Prospects and clients have gotten fed up with your company’s selfish interruptions, and they have found a lot of ways to navigate around them.

So if your colocation company is still depending on old-school Interruption that’s dominated for decades -- the cold calls, trade show booths, direct mail, and rented email lists -- in other words spamming people -- think about what you need to do with your existing playbook so you can reinvent it, modernize it, and transform to be relevant to attracting the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context.

This is some really important food for thought for CEOs, sales directors, product managers, product marketers, sales engineers, channel partner directors, and most of all marketing directors of both colocation data centers and wholesale data centers.

Food for Thought for a More Effective Data Center Marketing and Sales Playbook

So some things for you to think about:

1. Do you know who your primary buyer persona is? Who is the single most important economic buyer to your colocation data center?

2. Do you know who your secondary buyer Persona is? Who is the second most important economic buyer for your colocation data center?

All too often, there's way too much on people's plates -- chasing after way too much at once and your sales teams heads are spinning and not terribly effective. So they end up wasting way too much time on long shot opportunities.

So give them clarity: this is the person, their role, and here is what we know about them. And if you can't get to the primary buyer persona, this is the second best (secondary buyer persona).

Oh and by the way we also have come up with four negative buyer personas for who you shouldn't waste your time with it all.

And maybe in 6 to 12 months, we will go back and define a third and fourth highest priority.

But we're going to give you a big jump and head start by figuring out what are sweet spot is -- where 80% of our revenue is coming from -- and who are the two most important people we need to be spending our time attracting, converting, closing, and delighting. And on the sales side: identifying, connecting with, exploring, and advising.

3. Do you have product/market fit (PMF)? Product/market fit is the degree to which you know exactly who it is that buys your colocation services, in what durations, in what quantities, and at what price points they purchase -- so that there’s strong demand and you can actually scale that.

So many smaller colocation providers really struggle with this. And I think this is the reason why there's so much consolidation going on.

Yet part of it too is the size, power, capital, and access to all that stuff is becoming more and more important. Having multiple locations is becoming more and more important.

But I think there are some real blind spots in colocation companies when it comes to understanding just how much change has happened in the way that your prospects and your clients want to research to make their decisions when it comes to colocation.

So understanding your buyer personas is super important. Getting to product/market fit,  understanding whether or not you actually have it is so important to that self-awareness.

4. Have you set SMART goals? It's critical for everything to be grounded in what we call SMART goals -- goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timebound.

Specific: you’ve got to have numbers to work with.

And they’ve got to be measurable. You’ve got to know how you're going to actually track this to make sure you're on the right track.

Attainable is an interesting beast. Is it attainable, realistic, based on past history?

Relevant (“R”) is what knocks the heck out of vanity metrics and ego-driven things -- like the CEO coming in one day and saying, “I think we need more subscribers to our YouTube channel.”  Or, “I think we need more likes on our Facebook page.”

How is that going to help the bottom line or grow revenue?

The goal has to be relevant, and you need a deadline. You need the goal to be timebound.

SMART goals: S, M, A, R, T.

5. Do you have an effective sales process? Finally, you need to make sure that you've invested the resources to develop a strong sales process that supports your primary buyer persona, your secondary buyer persona, and the full buyer’s journey -- so you can intercept potential colocation clients as early as possible and be seen as trusted advisors.

You need to make sure that you have a strong strategy that covers the awareness stage, the consideration stage, and the decision stage. So you can make sure that you're dealing with a modern, effective playbook for attracting the best potential clients for your colocation data center.

I’m so glad to have had you with us for this episode of the ColoCast Podcast.

I’m Joshua Feinberg. And we look forward to seeing you back again next time.

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