(Gawkwire.com) – This is not an article; it is a mission to take the hosting industry far away from a world that is generic and boring, to a world of innovation. It is a world of edgy products, edgier marketing and stronger communication, where you will be more passionate about what you do. Join me on this mission from Brand selling to Product selling.
Well now, that was a bit intense, maybe even a bit nerdy, but hopefully it got your attention. I’m hoping that taking the path in this article might actually change the way you do business forever. So let’s get started:
In the world of sales and marketing, one piece of advice which will always be present is the focus on the client and nothing but the client. When I read sales books, there is a consistent theme to avoid using “I” in any conversation, focus strictly on what the client wants, ask him a lot of questions and hopefully based on the answers make a good proposal. When it comes to marketing, a similar connotation is used. Always put yourself in your clients’ shoes and build the marketing strategy around them. It’s tough criticizing this philosophy considering that multi-million dollar corporations were built on this approach, but I must say, and I do use a capital “I,” that it sure makes for a dull business world.
The funny thing is that a dull business world in the web hosting industry would actually be considered a compliment. If I say so myself, for such a high tech industry, built using top of the line servers, firewalls, load balancers and fiber optics carriers, we still somehow manage to achieve an atrociously plain status. Most companies in the shared hosting industry host their stuff on Linux or Windows with some disk space, bandwidth and a control panel, without even knowing what half the applications on the panel do. Of course let’s not forget the so called great customer service that brings it all together. Can anyone spell borrrring? For the few that attempt to get more innovative, they plug in some VPS technology or integrate compatibility with platforms such as cold Fusion and Ajax. Yaaaaawwwwnnn.
And for all of you who host your stuff on FreeBSD, Ubuntu or any Mac technologies, don’t tap yourself on the back, you’re not that exciting either.
Okay, now that I’m done insulting almost everyone that is reading this article let’s talk some constructive business. (Note to the publisher – this would probably be one of those articles where including my home address would not be the best move, at least not until the end of this article where I will hopefully have compensated for my criticism.
When it comes to hosting and other industries with competitors that provide similar solutions, the word “I” is a key component to drastically increase your growth. Focusing on yourself and your needs creates passion, and passion creates good products and It also helps create better sales. This is not to suggest that focusing on the client is not important, but in my opinion, it should only come second or at least synchronize with what you are passionate about.
So why, you may ask, is my opinion so different than some of the leading marketers and sales consultants?
The answer is simple, most of them tend to sell brands and not products!!!
In the hosting industry, especially, companies tend to sell their brand, which includes reputation and word of mouth, but I simply do not see too many people that actually sell hosting.
Oh boy, I think I just insulted a few other readers. Wait guys please don’t turn the page just yet, I know it might sound a bit confusing, considering that all of us are in the hosting business, but let me explain why too many providers are still not selling their product.
I will start by throwing an example by you – see if you can relate:
Let’s take companies such as FastServers , RackSpace and Softlayer. All three have their 2 biggest selling points to be high level customer service and stability. They claim to have amazing customer service and an incredibly stable networks. Considering that every hosting company promises great customer service and stability, no one really knows if any of these claims are true unless you know them or have tried them. It is even more amusing to know that way too many clients don’t even have a specific standard as to what we consider to be good customer service. Now before I get these 3 behemoths to also include me on their blacklist, I must tell you that I picked them because I feel pretty safe in their capacity to provide what they promise with hopefully not losing any of my credibility. Yet at the end of the day I have not used any of these companies. The reason why I know these companies do what they say is their great reputation – I was simply told by many credible sources that they are the right companies. If I choose to buy a product from them, the only reason why I would bother looking at their site or talking to the salesman is because I’m trying to negotiate a better price.
This is exactly what I’m referring to about selling our brand. I would purchase because of what I hear not based on the attraction of the product.
Well I’m definitely not here to teach these 3 big boys how to run their businesses; they clearly know what they are doing and do it very well. Yet maybe my advice can be useful even for them to build their business a nudge faster. The ones who can truly benefit are the smaller companies that don’t have the massive advertising budget and didn’t start their business early enough to grasp a solid market share in the industry.
So don’t get me wrong – I do feel that brand, word of mouth and phenomenal salesmanship are crucial for the success of your business. Yet I’m here to suggest a new out-of-the-box approach that may drastically increase your growth as an addition to your already healthy operation and brand recognition (at least I hope that’s the case). Selling product, or as I described it, really selling hosting, is about getting your client to buy your product because he/she is interested or even excited about the product and not focused on who is offering it.
Allow me offer a challenge to the readers. When you are done reading this article, imagine yourself to be a complete stranger within your own company. Pretend you simply cannot recognize your site and your employees. Then go visit your site as if it is for the first time, (yes I know it’s kind of tough visiting your website if you don’t recognize it but I think you’ll manage). Now here comes the big question – ask yourself, “am I motivated to buy this hosting package? If I compare this to another site is there anything that attaches me to my own product or even excites me?” If the answer is “no” or even simply “I don’t know” there is clearly some improvement that you can make. Just a quick side note here, if the only thing that excites you about the product is the price I would still put it in the “needs improvement” category. Yes, I completely understand that many companies do well with the budget solution just like many companies do very well in simply selling brand. Yet the key to this challenge is to get you to become more innovative, not to focus on more of the same. Also if I know my industry well enough, budget hosting is a very tough business in which to keep profitable, and a slight change in mentality could impact your profit margins drastically.
In so many words, selling product, unlike brands, is about innovation. It is the notion that when a person visits your company, Whether on your website, a booth at a conference or contacts you by phone he or she is truly motivated by the product that you have to offer and not the reputation of the company that sells it.
While I have described how boring our industry is, I have not yet mentioned its potential to be one of the most exciting. Simply put, not too many industries have the capacity to innovate and improve their product as quickly as we can. Whether you are in a high tech business such as software or low tech industry such as a coffee shop, most businesses require a heavy investment of budget and time in order to take a product to the next level. The research and development within a hosting company simply consists of research and some testing. The main challenge in improving or differentiating your company is simply to find the right supplier that can provide you with the right solution. After that it’s a matter of days or even hours until it is implemented. That flexibility gives you the capacity to take not just one but several products, combine them together and even create a fully upgraded “Super Package”.
I would like to skip back to the challenge that I mentioned earlier. If you don’t mind I would ask you to get your friends involved this time. Invite 3 techies and 3 non-techies and see what they say about your product. Again, this should all be done with them imagining that they don’t know your site or brand. So get them on board and ask the same question, quickly finding out if your site or operation influences them to buy without knowing your brand.
If both the first and second challenge did not go too well and you feel that your product is still exciting and unique, let me pose a third challenge. Grab a timer and let your friend go through your entire website or talk to your salesman and see if they can actually find out if they “get” the uniqueness of the product like you. If it takes more than a few minutes, you simply have not brought your message to the forefront, if they don’t seem to be able to find it and you’re forced to explain, you clearly have a communication issue on your hands. If they don’t understand after you explain, all I have to say is “Oh Boy”
The truth is many companies take the time to create a unique product with a lot of differentiators but fail to communicate it properly to their clients. If you decide to focus on an innovative product you need to let people know about it. That does mean putting it on your home page and equipping your sales staff with the right “elevator speech.”
I find it amazing that people don’t spell out their qualities. Every time I visit web sites, the first thing I see is packages, disk space, bandwidth and price. Browsing the home page a bit more you may notice some other generic content including uptime, a great customer service promise, maybe even a small blurb of where the business is located (quite frankly I really don’t care where you are located as long as you are somewhere normal). If it really does matter to someone they can go and search it in the about us section. These days a mention of uptime, customer service network and couple of the other staples of the industry are probably necessary to assure people that you have the basics. Saying that, you can keep the basics in small font and simply focus on more of the innovative stuff. If you want to turn a complete stranger into a client, spell out in big letters the values you bring to the table. Unless you have so many exciting things that make you special, don’t clog up your home page and the important pages of your site with things that don’t really make a difference in converting and energizing your visitor.
When it comes to salespeople and other company representatives, this challenge can be even bigger. Too often I approach a hosting company and ask them about why should I go with them and continuously get the same spiel. We have great customer service, great uptime. Yes I know that, I repeated these benefits several times within this article, but it’s simply all people say these days, so enough already. If everyone provides great customer service and uptime how in the right mind do I pick which company to go with? I will simply go with the best brand combined with price, and seriously speaking, getting into the price battle for who can provides the cheapest package, is not a fun place to be. For crying out loud, if great customer service is your true niche, at least use terms like fanatical (sorry that’s already trademarked by RackSpace) or unbelievable support. Make the client believe it enough to pick up the phone so you can prove that you have this amazing support. At the end of the day if your salesman does not have an exciting, clear and concise message that describes the reason why the potential client must absolutely go with your company, you completely miss the potential of all your effort in creating an innovative product in the first place.
So by now you are probably asking yourself "what is an exciting product". I would be more than happy to throw you a few examples, but the moment it lands on this page, it will simply not be as innovative because several thousand readers (at least I can dream) will be exposed to the same product. It is up to you, to research on the internet, visit conferences and read magazines such as PingZine to really get the perfect niche for you. So let me provide three examples:
High Availability Solution – What can be better than creating a 99.9% or 100% uptime environment? It is even better if you can actually explain to your client how you built this 100% uptime network; that could create credibility even if your company has no brand recognition.
Full web design for $30 – Maximize the site builder technology to its full potential and suddenly you are providing affordable web design instead of providing web hosting with site builder which ends up being an unnoticed extra feature
Extreme security – Definitely one of the biggest weaknesses in the industry. Make your shared hosting truly secure, promote it and clients will come.
I hope these three examples help, but again I would encourage you to find so much more and create your own “Super Packages”.
So bring the “I,” your passion and creativity, on board. It’s not just a question of growing your business, it is also a reality that makes running a company so much more fun to operate. When you start to innovate, your business goes through a dynamic process that is felt throughout your company. Suddenly your sales people are motivated, your techs feel more challenged and your partners or owners feel like they are running a more complete operation.
Whether you run a lareg fast-growing company or a slow but stable operation, you should focus on selling products, because it simply does your company good.
Sharon Koifman is a veteran of the web hosting industry and an active participant in the tech community. He has been running a hosting company and recently stopped to initiate a brand new consulting operation. As a consultant he became the Hosting Director for Applicure, an extremely innovative, easy to use and robust Application firewall technology to protect even individual shared hosting accounts to full capacity. He is the business development director for Soholaunch and consults with a few other hosting companies.