The Differentiated Data Center Defined
Is your data center truly differentiated? Says who?
The reality: today’s enterprise IT buyers are more empowered than ever before. And they have a much higher bar than ever before for getting things 100% on their own terms.
So at the end of the day: You and your data center’s leadership team aren’t the ones that get to determine whether in fact you’re truly differentiated. Your target clients’ perception of your data center’s differentiation is what really matters. It’s all about them and their needs, not yours.
In this podcast episode, we’ll explore what it means to be a differentiated data center and how companies in the data center ecosystem can take proactive steps today to stand out from the crowd.
Defining the Differentiated Data Center
Welcome to the Selling to Data Centers Podcast -- where CEOs of aggressive companies in the data center ecosystem learn how to attract the right data center influencers and decision managers at enterprise IT end users, colocation and wholesale data centers, and enterprise managed service providers that focus on mission critical infrastructure.
I’m your host Joshua Feinberg, from the Data Center Sales & Marketing Institute.
And today we’re going to dive into defining the differentiated data center.
While it’s no big surprise -- with what’s going on in the data center industry: So much consolidation. So many changes. Almost enough to make your head spin.
There is a new competitive battleground that most in the mission critical space, in the data center ecosystem on the IT side, on the facilities side, and on the operations side. Even sales and marketing should be thinking about this.
What is this new competitive battleground?
Position You and Your Team as Subject Matter Experts and Thought Leaders
Why is thought leadership such a big deal? Thought leadership refers to the kinds of educational content and resources that you use to position your company as the definitive go-to experts in your sector of the mission critical industry.
This is extremely important because the way people research and make purchase decisions has really changed dramatically during the last few years.
Today we’re saying that as much as 70% or more of the buyer’s journey is now over before someone in your company even knows about a particular opportunity.
70% of the research is being done with people asking questions on Google, Yahoo!, Siri, Bing, Cortana, and Alexa. They’re asking tons of questions before they ever get to you.
Why? This is just the way that purchase behaviors have changed. Think about your own personal purchase behaviors. Think about when you go to a conference, how do you decide what hotel to stay at? How do you decide where to rent a car? If you’re not going to rent a car, how do you decide how to get from the airport to the hotel?
There were only one or two answers 10 or 20 years ago. But now there’s a whole new app-based ridesharing industry that exists.
All of these technologies -- social media, search engines, cloud computing, and mobile devices -- have made a huge difference in how influencers in enterprise IT, data centers, and managed services providers (MSPs) navigate and make purchase decisions.
So the question is: Is your company doing what it needs to do to keep up? Or is your team living in the past?
Find Out How Your Clients and Future Clients Perceive Your Differentiation (Or Lack Thereof)
Most data center operators, and those that sell to data center operators and other related companies in the ecosystem think that they’re differentiated. But the reality is quite different.
What you perceive to be your company’s point or points of differentiation doesn’t matter. It’s how your stakeholders, how your potential clients and existing clients, perceiver your company’s differentiation. Even when you’re doing that, in a lot of ways the whole notion of what differentiation means has changed drastically.
What does it mean to be a differentiated data center?
What does it mean to help data centers differentiate?
In most cases, this differentiation is only happening in the last 30% of the buyer’s journey.
Why? Because the first 70% is so completely different than the way it was five or ten years ago.
If you’re a baseball fan, what I’d liken that to:
Constructing a roster for a fantasy baseball team where you spend most of your payroll for players that only play during the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. You have fantastic players sitting on the bench ready to come in during a close game in late innings. You have fantastic pitchers sitting in the bullpen, primarily for late innings. But the position players that take the field starting during the 1st innings and throughout most of the game are pathetic. And the starting pitching is pathetic.
Why? Nearly all of your payroll has been allocated to those late-inning role players. And that’s exactly what we see happening in the data center industry. When it comes to differentiation and deciding where resources should go, most companies are really living in the past and have completely missed the huge changes in the way that your clients, potential clients, and partners decide what to look at and how they come up with their consideration set.Consider How a Stranger Would Look for a Solution to Their Problem (Not Yours)
But what about strangers -- those folks that have never heard of your company before?
What about is somebody is just looking for something that describes what it is that you do or the problems that you solve? And they don’t know that your company exists.
Maybe they don’t even know the name of your product or service. They just know that they have a symptom or problem.
It wasn’t a big deal 10 or 20 years ago when you filled up your sales funnel by making cold calls, sending direct mail, sending cold emails, exhibiting at trade shows, and buying website banner ads and pop-up ads. These are all kinds of tools that were designed to interrupt people.
Now there is still plenty interrupting going on. Think about a YouTube video you’re watching where you’re getting seemingly constantly interrupted.
The problem is: the standard for what people want has changed drastically. When you interrupt people now, it’s not a good place to be. Think about how many people are spending money every single month to block out commercials on their car radio with SiriusXM. Think about how many people are spending $10 to $20 per month (or more) on streaming video subscriptions with services like Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime Video -- just so they don’t have to watch TV commercials.
Or they use a DVR to record a TV show and fast forward through the commercials.
Think about how many people have stopped by music CDs and now just buy the two or three songs that they want or iTunes. Or subscribe to a streaming music service.
The idea of personal consumption -- people getting exactly what they want, when they want -- is a game-changer for empowering buyers. But personal consumption can also be really frustrating to old-school organizations that sell to enterprise IT, colocation and wholesale data centers, or that partner with MSPs.
Get On Board for Today’s Market Realities
The deniers are acting as if their particular customers have never heard of Google, LinkedIn, the iPhones, or Android smartphones. The deniers truly believe that their customers are living under a rock, way back in 2005 before the iPhone came out in 2007.
If you want to live on Fantasy Island, sure it was a great TV show decades ago, it doesn’t really reflect the market reality of how we’re going to attract the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and most of all in the right context.
Potential clients know that there’s a symptom and they know that they have a problem.
They have a goal that they’re researching and trying to solve a particular problem.
If your company is successful in reaching them early, generally in the first 10% or 20% of buyer’s journey, this would be like getting found in the first or second inning. And you can earn a seat at the table as their trusted advisor.
Earn the Inside Track as a Trusted Advisor
When you earn a seat at the table as their trusted advisor, this is a huge opportunity for you and your team to be able to shape the decision-making process -- to help them really understand the pros and cons of different criteria and different forks in the road. And differentiate, so your company is seen as world class educators and thought leaders.
Five or ten years ago, this was a nice-to-have. Today it’s really a need-to-have, just because we have much more empowered buyers.
Granted if the enterprise IT buyers that you sell to, or the colo or wholesale buyers that you’re looking to sell to, or the MSPs that you’re selling to, if their influencers and decision makers are 80-something or 90-something years old, maybe the adoption drops off a little bit.
But if your buyer personas are folks that are in their 30s, 40s, 50, 60s, and even 70s, this is the new competitive battleground. They’re using search engines and social media to get those questions answered. They’re doing all of this research.
And if they can avoid talking to a company like yours as long as possible, where they come to you as the expert, this is very different than the conversations that you would’ve had as recently as five or ten years ago.
Most of all, it allows you and your team to be seen as educators, thought leaders, subject matter experts, and trusted advisors.
Differentiate During the Entire Buyer’s Journey, Not Just the Final 30%
So how do we do all of this? How do we differentiate ourselves, not just in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, not just during the last 30% of the game, but during 100% of that buyer’s journey -- so we’re seen as the go-to option for the product or service category that you want to dominate.
A lot of this comes down to understanding their problems and what they’re searching for.
It’s not about your problems. It’s about their problems. It’s all about them and the consensus about what’s driving them nuts, what’s keeping them up at 2 o’clock in the morning, their goals, their plans, and their challenges. And you try to group this together to get some consensus to prioritize your efforts.
When you really get it right, you end up with a primary buyer persona and a secondary buyer persona. You talk about things like product/market fit -- the degree to which you know exactly who you’re selling to and the quantities, terms, duration, and price points in which they buy.
In order to attract the right people, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context, really early on, we need to create helpful, educational content that answers their questions and addresses their concerns proactively.
In the past, this might’ve been predominantly text-based content. But with the explosion of video consumption, especially on mobile devices, but also on TV, desktops, and laptops as well, we need to be able to reach people where they want to be reached.
Ironically, the explosive growth of video consumption online is helping to fuel even more growth in the data center industry with more bandwidth and more storage needed.
But we want to create educational content, not just self-serving stuff, that talks about your products and services -- which of course is important in that last 20% or 30% of the buyer’s journey.
We however need to create educational content that’s product-agnostic that talks about broad-based symptoms and problems that they’re trying to address -- so we can attract the right influencers, decision makers, and other stakeholders at the right time, as early as possible, in right places -- and most of all, so we’re seen as trusted experts.
Focus Your Efforts on Concrete SMART Goals
Another important thing that differentiated companies in the data center and mission critical space are doing is they are prioritizing around SMART goals -- an acronym for:
Specific. We need a number. Sure everyone wants more installations and more revenue. They want to lease their space. But we need a specific number that we can work towards.
Measurable. We have to have a way and the tools to know if we’re on the right track or not.
Attainable. If we look at our past history, is this something that we can reasonably have a shot of being able to go after? If you’ve never had revenue growth before, and you’re in a startup, and there’s nothing to go against, is the goal realistic where you’re setting the bar?
Relevant. Is it relevant to the overall mission of the company? A lot of times people that are new to digital marketing, inbound marketing, or content marketing, sometimes they chase after vanity metrics. So they end up all happy and giddy that they have a certain amount of Likes on their Facebook company page or a certain number of Twitter followers or followers on their LinkedIn company page. At the end of the day, all of these are merely leading indicators -- at best -- for what most people want those assets to be doing: generating leads that materialize into sales opportunities with good fit potential clients.
And a healthy percentage of those sales opportunities materializing into profitable clients. We want to be careful to make sure that we’re not just chasing after nebulous things like branding or chasing after vanity metrics. With a lot of this, if you’re truly looking to differentiate there really is no room for decisions based on the HIPPO (the highest paid person’s opinion).
Timebound. Pretty straightforward. SMART goals must have a concrete date or deadline to work towards.
In order do this, one of the big things that you’re going to want to assemble is a thought leadership committee that goes across silos in your company. Why is this so important to include different groups or different teams within your company?
Be Sure That All Voices Are Heard
Each person in different kinds of roles within your company interact with different stakeholders. And those different stakeholders ask them completely different kinds of questions. The better job that your company can do in representing those diverse kinds of questions and answers, including the diverse institutional knowledge stored and accumulated within your company, the better job you can do at attracting those good fit clients.
This can include folks in support, engineering, facilities, certainly in sales -- whose very close to customers all of the time, professional services, finance, and executive management. Sometimes people dump this kind of content creation program on marketing, thinking that marketing can handle this by themselves 100% on their own.
But the reality is that most marketing teams are not the ones that are closest to end customers and end partners. So marketing can be involved in the process, but the majority of this thought leadership content is not going to be coming from someone in marketing. When on the same page, marketing team members can certainly be good facilitators and coordinators for its company’s thought leadership committee.
One big piece of advice is you really want to differentiate: build a world-class thought leadership team that cuts across silos. And make sure all team members are involved on a regular basis.
Address the “I Don’t Have Time” Excuse
Now people often push back and say something along the lines of “I don’t have time.”
The reality is: Once you realize that this is key to being able to differentiate your products and services, it’s key to attracting the right people in the right places and growing revenue, this is a top-down initiative. This is something that your CEO really needs to get behind as something that’s a priority.
And of course, it’s not so much a matter that people don’t have time. It’s that no one has said that this is worth spending the time on. This is a cultural shift for many.
For companies that are living in the past, and in denial about the realities about what it takes to complete, this is a big change that’s got to start at the top.
How much time does this involve? For example, if these are eight people on the thought leadership team, from different roles cutting across different departments, if each one of those eight people can spend 30 minutes per month being interviewed about some of the biggest questions that they hear on a regular basis, that 30 minutes per month can make an enormous difference from those interviews.
If the person being interviewed is great on camera -- typically sales professionals, you video record the interview and excerpt some video flips. If the person is not so great on camera, but still has really solid verbal communications skills, you can audio record the interview and excerpt some segments into audio-based content like a podcast.
And if that person is neither great on camera or audio, at the minimum, you can transcribe the interview and turn that into text-based content, for white papers, downloadable eBooks, and special reports. From there, you can excerpt into blog posts and all kinds of social media posts.
Make the Differentiated Data Center Part of Your Company’s Culture
The key: this is a culture decision that needs to be a C-level driven decision, at least in most small- and medium-sized businesses. This is critical so that people prioritize time for that 30-minute monthly meeting or whatever it takes to make this happen on a regular schedule.
It’s also really important to make sure that your efforts are covering the full buyer’s journey: the active research process someone goes through in between when that person first discovers your company and when they’re ready to become a customer.
It’s so critical to cover that full buyer’s journey. By default, most people that are new to these kinds of initiatives are overweighted in the late stage. Remember the analogy earlier about the fantasy baseball team? All of their efforts on concentrated on the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings. And because of that, they have no resources to get the team through the first six innings. By the time they’re getting to the seventh-inning stretch, it’s a blowout. They’re losing by ten runs. And there’s no chance of being able to bounce back.
So it’s important to be able to spread your assets around throughout the full funnel. Recognize that most of the influencers and decision makers you’re looking to attract are getting very far along before they’re ready to speak with you.
And we need a way to be able to intercept them about things that matter most to each of those buyer personas, with where they are in that buyer’s journey.
What it really comes down to: if you want to position your products or services to fit the truly differentiated data center, regardless of whether you’re selling to enterprise IT, data center managers or CIOs, colocation operators, wholesale providers, or MSPs that specialize in the mission critical space, the way to differentiate it to become the definitive go-to experts on anything and everything having to do with your category and your segment of the data center industry.
I’m so glad to have you with us for this episode of the Selling to Data Centers Podcast.
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I’m Joshua Feinberg. And we look forward to seeing you back again next time when we’ll continue the conversation about how your company can attract the right data center influencers and decision managers at enterprise IT end users, colocation and wholesale data centers, and enterprise managed service providers that focus on mission critical infrastructure.