I had an interesting discussion with one of our service provider customers recently. They told me that when it came time to evaluate new storage platforms last year, they really put their vendors, including us, to task during the RFI and evaluation process, asking some unconventional questions that took many vendors off-guard.
Some key reasons they were investing in a new platform:
- to achieve specific business outcomes, like providing a better application experience for their customers running mission-critical applications on their private cloud offering,
- to offer new performance-based services and differentiate in the market to attract new customers,
- to reduce operational tasks and performance troubleshooting issues, thereby improving customer satisfaction and reducing churn.
They needed business answers to appease the product management team and help them select the best platform given their business case, not just technical answers to satisfy the platform architects and engineers.
The typical storage vendor RFI
Typical infrastructure RFIs are filled with technical questions storage vendors can easily answer, like how they have architected their system for performance, quality of service (QoS), resilience, data protection, etc. These are usually pre-fabricated answers that storage vendors cut-and-paste out of a large RFI response database into a prospect’s RFI.
But this service provider was asking questions from uncharted territory … questions about how the vendor helps them achieve their business outcomes. The horror! What does a storage vendor know about your targeted business outcomes and how you go to market? We just want to sell you more hardware and leave you to figure that stuff out, right?
That’s the way it goes with most vendors today. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and buyers need to start forcing the issue.
This discussion provided proof to me that more and more customers are looking not at features and functionality alone, but beyond them to the business outcomes those features can deliver.
The “outcome economy”
This new concept of an “outcome economy”was recently described in a Tech Target article. Buyers are looking to buy an outcome rather than a product, and sellers are offering the promise of results that are important to the customer.
Our global economy is still a ways away from being able to precisely measure and deliver products and services based on outcome alone, but forward-thinking companies, like the service provider I spoke with, are gearing up for this in smaller ways by adding more rigor to their purchase evaluations based on expected outcome. It prepares them better for offering business outcomes to their end customers, too.
So, as a service provider evaluating new storage vendors for their ability to deliver business outcomes, what should you consider? After polling many of our service provider customers, we narrowed it to four key questions:
- How can the vendor help you monetize storage?
- How can the vendor help streamline your operations?
- How will the vendor reduce your technology and business risk?
- How will the vendor help you win more customers and more service revenue from existing customers?
The results of this informal survey were so thorough and valuable, we decided to package them into a helpful tool and reusable template for any service provider considering new storage vendors. The Storage Vendor Request for Information (RFI) template and guide to What Every Service Provider Needs to Ask Prospective Vendors provides detail around each of these four areas.
It should help you ask insightful questions of potential flash storage solid-state array (SSA) vendors, and get answers to determine if the vendor is a good technical fit, as well as whether the vendor is the right one to deliver the business outcomes you seek to achieve in order to take your cloud and hosting business forward.
Storage vendors selling to service providers need to intimately understand your business, your customers, the market in which you operate, your supply chain, and your business and technical goals.
From storage vendor to end-customer — accretive value is the goal.
Hit me with any questions or thoughts in the comments below!