Are Data Centers and MSPs Like Oil and Water? Or Peanut Butter and Jelly?

The way in which influencers and decision makers navigate the data center ecosystem has changed drastically during the past five years

Joshua Feinberg

July 12, 2016

5 Min Read
IBM Cluster
(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

With so many doing so much self-directed research on search engines and social media to help address problems and identify solutions, in many cases as much of 70% of the decision-making process is now over before potential clients are ready for a conversation with a data center’s executive- or sales team.

Today’s data centers face a very different buyer’s journey where the traditional marketing and sales playbooks have been severely disrupted.

Why? People got tired of being interrupted by obnoxious marketers and sales reps. So fed up that it’s fueled massive changes in consumer preferences that have powered selective-consumption platforms like iTunes, Netflix, SiriusXM, and TiVo.

This cultural shift presents major challenges for companies with leadership entrenched in old-school, interruption-focused tactics. But it also presents many opportunities if you can get found early enough by the right stakeholders, in the right places, at the right time, and in the right context.

Scaling Up with Managed Service Provider Channel Partners

To help address these challenges, many CEOs and sales leaders of data centers are looking to a grow a channel partner ecosystem.

Sometimes they’re looking to attract non-competitive colocation providers -- perhaps from other geographic areas.

Most of the time these data centers want to build out a channel program with managed service providers (MSPs) and other MSP-ish technology providers including integrators and IT consulting firms.

Why? Savvy data center CEOs and sales leaders recognize that MSPs have a very coveted asset with their clients: a long-term trusted advisor relationship.

In small companies that lack a true CIO, as is often the case below 100 employees, the MSP’s lead person on the account essentially is the outsourced, virtual CIO.

Assessing Potential Conflicts of Interest

If you poll the sales directors of small- and mid-sized data center providers, you’ll find that many offer a limited menu of managed services to their clients.

The consensus on the menu of managed services offered will vary quite a bit depending on the size of the data center, the size of its target clients, its locations, and the vertical markets it serves.

One common theme, however, is that most data centers’ managed services focus on off-premise- or cloud-based assets, rather than equipment located on-premise at client sites.

The line of demarcation seems straightforward enough. But at data center providers that are too small to have a full-time product manager, let alone a product management team, it’s very common to wobble all over the place in which managed services are core to the data center business and which managed services should be the domain of its MSP partners.

Achieving Product/Market Fit

When a data center grows to the point that it hires a true product manager, one of that person’s first missions will be to figure out if the company has achieved product/market fit.

Product/market fit is simply the degree to which you know, with a high level of certainty, who your ideal clients are, what products and services they buy, at what price points these products and services are sold, and in what ideal quantities.

Having product/market fit is a critical prerequisite to profitably scaling Inbound marketing and Inbound sales. All too often, a data center has been able to achieve respectable growth, well into the low seven figures in annual revenue, sheerly based on the principal's personal networking and word of mouth. But is that truly scalable?

That’s where a more disciplined strategy becomes critical.

Completing the Checklist

So how can you tell if your data center is ready to launch its MSP-focused partner program, so you gel together like peanut butter and jelly, rather than oil and water?

  1. Do you have a list of which core managed services your data center provides?

  2. Do you have a list of the non-core managed services your data center would never provide -- and instead refer to its MSP partners?

  3. Do you have buyer personas built out for at least two of your most important kinds of ideal clients?

  4. Do you know your average client lifetime value (LTV) of your most important kinds of ideal clients?

  5. Do you know the average cost of client acquisition (COCA) for each buyer persona?

  6. Do you know your average sales cycle length for each buyer persona?

  7. Do you know your buyer’s journey deal stages for each buyer persona?

  8. Do you have a buyer persona built out for your ideal MSP partner?

  9. Do you have a channel partner growth plan?

  10. Does your channel growth plan include a way to attract your ideal partners using educational content, blog posts, keywords, and social media?

  11. Does your channel growth plan have a way to convert strangers into early-stage partner leads -- seeking educational content on awareness stage and consideration stage problems?

  12. Is there a way to nurture and accelerate prospective partner leads into highly-qualified partner applications?

  13. Do you have a well-defined partner onboarding, training, certification, continuing education, and coaching program designed to help your partners succeed in working towards your mutual goals?

  14. Have you defined how you’ll resolve potential conflicts between your internal sales team and your channel partners?

The Bottom Line

As the data center industry continues to mature and consolidate, and the buyer’s journey for data center services becomes more self-propelled, data center providers need to get found early enough to earn a trusted advisor seat at the table.

For many, part of the solution to this challenge is building a robust channel partner program that focuses on MSPs. But a lot of data center providers get this wrong out of the gate. While their goal is to get along like peanut butter and jelly, the result feels more like oil and water.

In this post, you’ve been introduced to how you can stay relevant, scale up with partners, assess potential conflicts, achieve product/market fit, and address key prerequisites.

If you need to make sure that you have the basics in place to create more scalable, predictable revenue growth, be sure to watch the recording from the Data Center Sales Growth Q&A Webinar.

If you’re attending Fall Data Center World, be sure to catch Joshua Feinberg’s related session on How Data Centers Use Thought Leadership to Attract World-Class Clients and Talent on Thursday, September 15, 2016 at 10:20 am in room R215 of the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center in New Orleans. If you have not yet registered, visit

Joshua Feinberg is Vice President and Co-Founder of SP Home Run, Inc. -- which helps data center, managed service, hosting, and cloud providers grow their leads, client base, revenue, and profitability. To find out how your sales, marketing, and revenue growth strategy stacks up, schedule a complimentary consultation with Joshua Feinberg.

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