How to Find Enterprise Data Center and Colocation Customers

Today we’re going to dive into How to Find Enterprise Data Center and Colocation Customers.

-- essentially how to find enterprise end user data center customers, as well as customers at colocation and wholesale data centers.

When it comes to being able to find potential clients, to find these customers, we get this question a lot. And I've done sessions about this at AFCOM’s Data Center World, Datacenter Dynamics Colo+Cloud, HostingCon, and MSP Expo -- plus lots of webinars on this very same topic.

Getting Found Early Enough, in the Right Context, to Matter and Earn Trusted Advisor Status

This is really a huge challenge for CEOs, sales directors, and marketing directors of companies that sell to the data center industry.

And a lot of their success comes down to whether they're actually getting found early enough in the right context to matter. That early part is so so important. Why? One big number: 70%.

Now, what does that 70% mean? Is this something that you might see on the report card of a school-age child that comes home and says, “Yay I got a 70% on my test. I’m average!” No. The 70% in this scenario is quite different.

What it has to do with: There have been really drastic changes in the research and purchase behaviors of enterprise IT buyers, colocation customers, and managed services providers -- really big changes in how they go about researching and making purchase decisions.

This has become a really big issue just in the last couple of years accelerated. In a lot of ways, influencers and decision makers, by the time they get to you, they've largely already made up their minds, almost entirely.

So in many ways, by the time you get to meet them, it’s often too late because somebody else already impressed upon them what the key questions are, what they should ask about, and what they should look for. This has completely steered the purchasing conversation in another direction, not yours.

In many ways, if you get there too late, it's like talking to a wall. It’s not a lot of fun.

This is a huge challenge, but this is also a huge opportunity for those that can sell to data centers a lot more effectively.

The key thing: How do we get you found early enough to earn trusted advisor status, to earn a trusted advisor seat at the table, where you and your team are in a really strong position to be the ones that are doing the teaching and the educating -- and seen as the subject matter experts? So you’re guiding the purchase criteria and really stacking the decks in your favor?

Influencing the Purchase Criteria

So what it comes down to -- when looking at how to find enterprise data center and colocation customers, it's not just a matter of finding these customers.

These customers need to be a good fit, be profitable, and see enough value to become your promoters and brand evangelists, so they can help bring you more strangers and help to grow your sales funnel, once they’re satisfied clients.

But again the key thing with all of this: find them early enough so you can really influence the purchase criteria.

How do you find the right center enterprise data center and the right colocation customers, in the right places, at the right time -- timing is critical, you’ve got to get there well before the 70% kicks in, and in the right context? So you're not just a vendor that’s bidding, but your company is seen as a true strategic partner.

Disruption of the Traditional Playbooks for Data Center Sales and Marketing

What all of this means, when you put it together: there's a lot of disruption going on -- kind of massive disruption of the traditional sales and marketing playbooks.

And when you look at the executive teams, sales teams, and marketing teams in a lot of companies that sell to the data center industry, it's very common to find leadership teams in their 50s, 60s, and in some cases of their 70s or even 80s. The age is not inherently a problem if these folks are keeping their skill-sets sharp -- if they totally get just how much search, social media, mobile, and cloud has completely changed things.

But that's not always the case. And I think what a lot of people overlook is just how much of a difference the mainstream adoption of mobile devices has made to how people go about looking into new things.

The Data Center Buyer’s Journey Starts Much Earlier

How the idea of having to sit down and research something -- you don't need to sit down anymore. You can literally be standing in line at the movies, waiting for your train, or be on the side of the road.

You can be pretty much anywhere and start a buyer's journey by simply asking a question. And you don't even have to type it anymore. Literally, press the button and say, “OK Google” and the Google Assistant pops up. Or you use Siri, Alexa, or Cortana. It's not just about Google anymore. It's not just about Yahoo! anymore. It's not just about Bing.

Mobile devices and the addictive levels have become part of our daily routines, have really been a game-changer for shifting power away from sellers and towards buyers.

Search has become another big deal not just because search isn't just something that you do on your desktop or your laptop anymore. Search is done everywhere, and it’s only going to become more pervasive

The Impact of Artificial Intelligence on Selling to Data Centers

As artificial intelligence starts to make it so the search devices don't really need specifics anymore, the pace of disruptive change will only accelerate.

For example, if you are on a mobile device and you're standing in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, and you hit the button, or you type the word “pizza.“ It knows your GPS exactly where you’re located and it figures you're on a mobile device. So it’s going to show you the names of pizza restaurants that are nearby. In other words, you no longer have to say, “Show me a list of pizza restaurants that are nearby.” Or in Los Angeles or in a particular zip code. This is a huge change in how search and artificial intelligence (AI) has evolved in the past five years.

AI is really good at inferring what you want. And that over time, it builds up history. You see this in your preferred feed on Google, Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Search learns what you click on. It learns what you like. And the AI gets better and better at suggesting things that you’re a lot more likely to interact with.

Artificial intelligence has really changed how useful search has become.

So that makes it even more critical for companies like yours to get found early on, with the right people.

The Emergence of Social as a Must-Have, Not Longer Just a Nice-to-Have

Social is a really big deal too.

In the data center industry, a lot of CEOs, sales directors, and marketing directors under very under-invested when it comes to the social media that’s most important to their core buyer personas -- the influencers and decision makers at enterprise data centers, colocation providers, and managed services providers.

There are now over 2 billion people on Facebook. The average Facebook user spends about an hour a day on the platform. To get to this tipping point, where people spend that much time on this feed is because Facebook has become crazy relevant to their lives.

And don’t forget that there are now over a half a billion people on LinkedIn.

The numbers are just way too big to ignore.

Cloud, shadow IT, the consumerization of IT, and selective consumption have been another set of disruptors of the traditional sales and marketing playbook. These have all shifted the power away from the seller back into the hands of the buyer.

Common Frustrations Over Price Competition and Declining Word of Mouth Referrals

Some of the things that we hear all the time from people like yourself that sell to data centers.

“Every single deal comes down to price. I never get in early enough to explain our real value. This sucks!”

So if you are frustrated that you're being forced to compete on price, more than likely that symptom indicates that your company just isn't getting found early enough.

It's not getting found by the right people, in the right places, at the right time -- before that 70% point. You’re getting found after. And another option -- a competitor -- has already really driven home and influenced how they see the world.The key thing is getting found early, which we’ll talk more about in a moment.

“We’re rock stars when our clients that love us refer us to their friends. But holy crap do we suck at getting a foot in the door when nobody knows our name!”

Another big frustration that we tend to hear about is the disruption of traditional sales and marketing in the data center industry: people feel like they're rock stars when their existing clients, that love them, refer them to their friends.

But they really struggle to get a foot in the door when nobody's ever heard of them before.

And again, this is another really telling sign of just how much traditional sales and marketing has been disrupted.

Reclaiming Your Relevance

People are starting buyer’s journeys very early on. They’re completely self-directed. They don’t want to talk with you until they've largely done all of their research already. And they don't have to anymore.

All of these platforms and technologies that started on the consumer side -- iTunes, Hulu, Netflix the DVR, and SiriusXM -- they're all about the same thing. People got tired of getting interrupted by obnoxious sales and marketing messages. They’re willing to pay for control. And that same desire to exert control has come over to enterprise IT and business to business (B2B).

We have to figure out a way to be relevant in those early stage searches when people are starting to solve problems, especially for your most important economic buyers -- especially for your primary buyer personas that are so important to be able to reach.

Creating Scalable, Predictable, Data Center Revenue Growth

So if your company is really trying to create that scalable, predictable, revenue growth, you need to first and foremost recognize just how much the world has changed in the past 5 or 10 years.

If you’ve been selling in the data center industry for quite some time, think back to 2006.

The buyer's journey was largely started when you made a cold call to someone.

And because you were still in the driver seat, your prospects were ready to talk to your sales team very early on -- maybe 10% or 20% of the way into their buyer's journey.

Before the iPhone

Way back in 2006, the primary parts of the playbook that were effective in the data center industry included things like trade shows, print advertising, direct mail, and email spam -- basically interrupting people with your message that you thought everyone would want to hear. At this point, buyers were at the mercy of the sales team. Sales controlled access to a ton of information. It was very lopsided, asymmetric.

Marketing could be totally unaccountable, and it didn’t matter. And it was a very seller-centric sales cycle.

This was as recently as ten years ago. So what happened after that changed everything?

The Post iPhone Era

There a big seminal event -- that a lot of people didn’t realize at the time, but in retrospect was huge -- in 2007, the original iPhone came out. Prior to that, if you were using a mobile device like a Palm Pilot or Blackberry, it was definitely not mainstream. You had to be kind of geeky to figure it all out. The bandwidth wasn’t there. The mobile apps weren’t there. You certainly weren’t watching hours of video on your mobile device. Social media hadn’t really broken through yet. Search engines hadn’t become as mainstream as today.

The snowball effect of what happened within the next 3, 5, 7 years after the iPhone came out really set off a communications revolution.

What we find, in today’s buyer’s journey, that 70% factor is really huge.

In order to be successful at getting found before that 70% point, where 70% of the purchasing decision is being made, sales and marketing has to work really closely together.

Sales and Marketing Alignment in the Data Center Industry

If you have things going on in your company,  where sales and marketing just don't get along, or they sit on opposite sides of the building, or they talk about each other behind each other's backs, and say nasty things about each other, that toxic stuff has to stop.

Sales and marketing has to be able to work together this kind of environment to be successful.

Marketing has tremendous control over sales paychecks because marketing is the one that can help make sure that sales get found early and often by the right people, in the right places, and at the right time for sales to be seen in the right context -- for your sales team to be seen as industry experts and not salespeople.

Because nobody gets up at 2 in the morning and says, “Oh my gosh. If I don’t talk with another five salespeople today, life is going to come to an end as we know it.”

If they’re up at 2 o’clock in the morning, they’re worried about their problems -- not yours.

Repositioning Your Sales Team as Subject Matter Experts and Thought Leaders

The more you can align your sales team with your buyer personas’ biggest problems that they’re facing, their biggest challenges, struggles, questions, dilemmas, and goals -- the easier it is for you to be able to successfully reposition your sales team as industry experts, consultants, and advisors -- so they’re not seen as and thrown into the dreaded sales box.

That’s why you see LinkedIn profiles, email signatures, and business cards getting more creative with job titles to reposition sales resources.

So this whole traditional playbook has been very disrupted by the mainstream adoption of search engines, social media, mobile devices, cloud, and the consumerization of IT.

Again, in today’s buyer’s journey, marketing has a very different role than it had 5 or 10 years ago. If your marketing team is not keeping up, it’s time to make sure that they do keep up.

Otherwise, your company is going to be at a very severe competitive disadvantage.

Back 8, 10, or 12 years ago, your best prospects were ready to talk with your sales team very early on -- usually when enterprise data center end users and colocation buyers were 10% or 20% through the buyer’s journey.

Today, they’re doing all of this research on their own. They’re doing crazy amounts of research on search engines and social media before they get to you. So much to the point that 70% or more of that decision may be made already by the time you're able to get a word in edgewise.

In order to be successful at this stage, personalizing your approach is extremely critical. If you're using the same static cold call, elevator pitch on everyone, it is such a huge turnoff. It's so critical to be a lot more consultative.

Your sales team really needs to get found early on and be seen as trusted advisors, subject matter experts, and educators. Today is in a much more buyer-centric sales cycle. The sales monopoly on information is gone.

The Future of Selling to Data Centers

Where do we expect the buyer’s journey is going in the next couple of years?

For those that sell to data Centers, the handwriting is on the wall.

Sales and marketing departments as we know them today are going to largely disappear and consolidate and organize into one revenue generation team.

It’s super-critical for sales and marketing to be working together on getting the company found by the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context.

If sales is just focused on interrupting people, that's not good. If marketing is not close enough to hear what the real concerns are, that's not good either.

So it's super critical that the two teams work together and those silos completely disappear.

Marketing is going to own as much as 70% to 90% of revenue generation.

So if most of your company's resources are very heavily allocated to the last 10%, 20%, or 30% of the buyer’s journey and you're completely invisible or nearly invisible during the first 70%, that's not good.

Don’t Allocate Payroll and Resources to the Wrong Places

The analogy I tend to use if you’re into baseball: Think about putting together a roster where most of the payroll was allocated towards your bullpen -- your pitchers who primarily pitch in late innings of the game -- and bench players -- who primarily play in late innings of the game. What if you were very payroll-starved with the rest of your roster: your starting pitchers and your starting position players?

Sure, you’re in a fantastic position to win a close game in late innings, for example, the eighth or ninth inning. But what happens in the first seven innings when the other team -- that was more careful to spread its resources around -- has Major League caliber players on the field, and you have essentially Little League caliber, OK more like high school baseball, players on the field?

In this scenario, in the overwhelming majority of games, the other teams will have totally kicked your butt by the time the seventh inning rolls around. The other’s score may even resemble that of a “football” score (dozens of runs) rather than a baseball score?

Be really careful to make sure that you’ve spread your resources around for what’s appropriate, and competitively necessary, for the state of today’s buyer’s journey.

If we know that getting found in that first 70% of the buyer’s journey is totally critical, but you have very few resources being allocated, that’s a really big problem.

The Future of Publishing and Media Consumption

So what are some of the ways that you can continue to stay relevant in today’s buyer’s journey and the buyer’s journey of the future?

We know that search, social, mobile, and cloud are only going to get bigger. 5G pretty much ensures that.

We know podcasting, what you’re listening to right now, is going to continue to get bigger. Satellite radio and auto manufacturers are going to make it even easier to listen to podcasts on the go.

Video is huge. It's ridiculous how much videos being uploaded to YouTube and being consumed on a daily basis. A lot of the tipping points have come about because of smart TVs, and mobile devices have gotten better, bandwidth has gotten cheaper, and mobile broadband has become more widely available.

Live video is huge.

Personalization is just assumed now. It’s not a nice-to-have. It’s a must-have.

People have gotten totally used to the levels of personalization they get when they make a purchase on Amazon.

What's going to happen in the next couple of years?

Self-Service Preferred in Many Scenarios When You’re Not Seen as Thought Leader

Your prospects will not be willing to speak to your sales team until they're at least 80% or 90% of the way through their buyer's journey.

They may not want to speak with your sales team at all. If they can find a self-service option that allows them to get what they need without speaking to a salesperson, they're probably going to try to do that.

Think about in your own life when you've said, “Wow! I can book a doctor's or dentist’s appointment without talking to a person. This is awesome.” Or “I can make a restaurant reservation without talking to a person. This is awesome!”

Think about all of the things you used to do. I can book a car to come pick me up without ever talking to a person.

Think about all the things that you enjoy doing completely on your own, completely self-directed, that used to require a person. And as software gets better and as personalization, mobile, artificial intelligence, machine learning, and IOT (Internet of Things) get stronger, there are going to strongly favor people being able to do things on their own.

So it's critical that your sales team is repositioned as consultants and true experts. The order takers and the explainers are going to be completely gone. The true consultants are going to be the ones that are going to dominate sales.

And your sales team really needs to be repositioned as thought leaders.

An All-Hands-on-Deck, Company-Wide Culture Change That Elevates Your Position in the Data Center Industry

People ask a lot of times, what's more important for growing revenue, for scaling and having more predictable revenue? Is it marketing? Is it sales? Is it the CEO?

It’s really all of the above: marketing, sales, and the CEO all on the same page about what they're doing with strategy. If marketing is doing its own thing and operating its own silo, completely independent of sales, and only marginally aligned with what sales is doing, that's not good.

The reality is that lots of different stakeholders within your company interact with different kinds of prospects, clients, partners, vendors and internal customers.

The better the job you can do with making sure that their voices are all represented in your content, your thought leadership, and your digital strategy, the better you're going to do at being able to attract people just like that.

At the end of the day, any question that you ever get asked in person, on the phone, during a video conference, by email, on a support ticket, or at a conference, chances are somebody just like that is going to go to a search engine or social media channel and ask that exact same question.

When that person is asking a question that you've already been asked (and answered), do you want that person to find a competitor of yours? Or do you want that potential client to find your company?

And how much effort are you willing invest so that when they land on your digital presence, when they land on your website, they have a two-pronged emotional reaction:

  • “Wow! I've been looking for something just like this for hours. I can't believe I finally found the answer. This is awesome! This is so helpful. Who are these folks? What t do they do?”
  • “Oh, there’s an eBook that goes into this in more detail. Yes sure, I’ll trade my business card for what’s on the other side of the landing page. I definitely want their free Book that does into this in more detail.”

The Bottom Line on Finding Enterprise Data Center and Colocation Customers

In order to be seen as that kind of thought leader, it is a big cultural change for a lot of companies that sell to the data center industry.

The problem is, in a lot of cases the leadership team thinks that they're bleeding edge and this is all new.

But the reality is: this isn't all new. This has been going on for four or five years. In most cases, your clients and potential clients -- the data center end users, the colocation providers, and the MSPs have already dramatically changed how they research and make purchase decisions.

It may be that you've just been asleep at the wheel and behind the curve on this.

Because of that, it's so important to get everyone aligned and working together to change how your company is perceived -- so you're not just seen as a vendor, you're not just seen as a bidder of commodities. So you're not just subject to RFPs (requests for proposals).

So you’re instead, truly seen as advisors, educators, industry experts, and subject-matter experts. And that’s a total, complete game changer for how your company goes about finding the right kinds of enterprise data center customers and colocation customers.

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

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