Cloud Provider Commentary

Apr 3 2012   7:06PM GMT

Three meetings to explain cloud to customers? Yes, it’s that bad

Jessica Scarpati Jessica Scarpati Profile: Jessica Scarpati

Although I hadn’t realized it right away, the idea for last week’s news story about how providers struggle to explain (but not over-explain) cloud computing to customers was really a long time in the works.

People don’t argue about what a router is. They don’t disagree about the definition of a virtual desktop. Nobody takes creative license with the concept of CRM. But when it comes to the vocabulary for cloud computing, all bets are off.

I guess I could complain about it — except that I already did (oops). But what has continued to eat away at me  was how much time I spend getting cloud providers (and to a lesser extent their suppliers) to explicitly define what they mean by “(public, private, virtual private, hosted, fill in the blank) cloud” because those terms have almost become subjective. Maybe subjective isn’t the best choice of words. There are official-ish definitions out there. But for some providers, their usage is sort of… optional.

Trust me, I really don’t want to get into these discussions. I actually hate the whole “Well, does it have an orchestration layer? Is it self-provisioning? What’s the billing model? How is this different from dedicated hosting?” dance when really the more interesting thing to talk about it is what this service actually does. But I’m telling you, it just happens.

It starts when a service provider wants to tell us about their cloud service. Great! What does it do?

“Well, it’s a (fill in the blank) cloud — highly secure, enterprise-grade…”

Every fiber of my being wants to pretend I didn’t hear the “fill in the blank” adjective, but I’m a journalist (we all have our crosses to bear) who wouldn’t be doing her job if she didn’t rudely interrupt to ask, Well, what do you mean exactly by (fill on the blank)? You know, so we’re all on the same page. Going over all of this can eat up a good 10 to 15 minutes, which is about a third to half of the time I can allot to an average interview. It’s a depressing thought that I spend that much time having to determine the rules of engagement, but it’s even more depressing that it’s usually time well-spent because the responses are rarely consistent.

I guess I naively assumed that was just my problem as a journalist — that is, until sitting down with Michael Bucheit, CEO of FiberMedia Group, who came to our offices to talk about his cloud strategy. As we started to go down this linguistic rabbit hole, he explained it’s an issue (and obviously a higher-stakes one) when meeting with customers as well. So, I wasn’t totally surprised then to hear other providers have had the same challenge.

What did blow me away this afternoon was how long it takes the average cloud provider to explain cloud computing to a customer: three meetings, according to a survey from the Cloud & Technology Transformation Alliance. Channel expert Larry Walsh blogs about it at

While three meetings may not seem like a lot, put that in the context of time and scheduling. It often takes weeks to coordinate schedules to get a meeting with the appropriate decision-maker in any deal. If the average sales meeting takes two weeks to schedule, then three meetings just to explain the intent, function, benefit and cost of a cloud computing model could take four to six weeks.

And that’s just the start. The selling doesn’t actually start until after you get past the explanation. It’s at the six-week mark of a sales engagement that the real salesmanship begins. From there, it could take another six weeks to six months to close a cloud deal. And then another six weeks to six months to implement and get to the first billing.

What this all adds up to is a minimum sales cycle of 12 to 18 weeks.

Not to oversimplify the sales process, but that is a lot of time to spend explaining service whose main selling points include being fast and flexible.

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