Continuing the trend of delivering information and insight into SMB purchasing decisions and cloud services demand, Parallels senior manager of market development Stephanie Rowan delivered a talk Wednesday morning providing hosting providers and other Parallels service provider partners with some ideas around creating an effective cloud services portfolio.
There’s a huge and growing market out there for cloud services among small business customers, a message that Parallels is pushing strongly, and that Rowan sort of took for granted, rather than spend too much of the session making a case for delivering cloud services to SMBs.
Success in serving small businesses these tools, says Rowan, is dependent on four factors: a relevant offering; the ability to promote that offering; the ability to sell the offering (this is more of a user experience, ease-of-purchasing issue); and ability to activate.
In the “relevant offering” area, she says small businesses overwhelmingly approve of buying services in discounted bundles of services. Service providers should build bundles of offerings around business use cases (web presence or collaboration, for instance), along with making those services available individually. You can, she says, offer bundles that include your core services, along with bundles that are themselves add-ons to your core services.
The ability to promote is partly an issue of creating awareness about your products internally. Businesses should create a set of offline and online activities (group meetings, test accounts) to create understanding about your services within your organization.
While freemium doesn’t work for every case, Rowan says bundling free versions of services along with your core services can be a great way to generate interest in those products among customers. She says limited-time free trials are much more effective at converting to paid users than limited-feature free trials.
“Ability to sell” is often an issue of channel readiness, she says. Making sure that your resellers understand the product and the sales process, and have marketing materials provided by you, is a good way to make sure you’re selling effectively.
Best practices for online sales, she says should focus on the path to checkout (fewer than 5 clicks), the ease of acquiring help, and the function and usability of the checkout form itself. Service providers should constantly analyze and optimize their checkout experience.
In the “ability to activate” area, Rowan says the growing cost of acquisition is making customer retention a much more important factor for service providers. Key factors influencing SMB retention include service experience and the activation rate (as well as the survival rate of SMBs, which service providers can’t necessarily influence).
Service providers can (positively) impact their activation process by looking at the quality of confirmation page and of auto-authentication. For offline (telephone) sales, service providers should look at their sales reps’ ability to explain the steps following the sale.
Critical elements of a confirmation page include a clear log-in path, an option to save or print the receipt, a confirmation of their payment information, an option to access activation support (even a FAQ link), and sales or support contact info.
This is also a place where you can promote related products, or partner products, but these kinds of things are secondary elements that should be used cautiously. Your first priority on a confirmation page should be to get that customer activated.
Following Rowan’s session, Dan Jacobson of Sprint, a Parallels partner, offered a real-world example of a small business cloud services strategy in action. Sprint offers software as a service through resellers as well as its Sprint Business retail business, along with a kind of test project using Sprint-branded retail storefronts.
Talk back: Do you offer service bundles designed around small business use cases? Have you tried bundling in free trials of add-on services? Do you analyze your activation process on an ongoing basis? Let us know in the comments.