The missing element in enterprise hosting

Published on by Chris Lema

Everybody loves moving up-market

Now when I say “everybody”, I’m using the term loosely. Because we all know companies that price things low enough that they’re sending the signal to the enterprise market that it’s not for them.

What I mean, is that deep down inside, we all get pulled up-market. If you sell products or services, it’s hard not to get pulled up-market. Sometimes it’s our own pushing – we add some new features and change our price.

What we don’t realize, is that as we change price, we may also be changing target markets. It’s not always a “larger share of wallet” situation – sometimes it’s just a swap from one client base to another.

But we get pulled up-market because it’s always nice to get paid more. Who hasn’t designed a website for $1,000 and later, after learning more, decided to design one for $2,000? I know even at Crowd Favorite, they started with prices several times lower than what they charge today. Our price points gradually move up.

That’s what I mean when I say that we’re all pulled up-market. And eventually the space at the top looks nice – the space where they pay a lot. The enterprise market.

The strategy of more

One of the places where I’m seeing this more than anywhere else is in WordPress hosting. And the answer that I see across most of the hosting providers is the strategy of “more.”

More availability is a good thing. It means there’s greater redundancy. It means we can handle failure with more grace. More availability means we get more options – options for when sites go down.

More storage, more speed, more options – all of these things are great too. They give us the ability to deploy a site that will get a lot of traffic on servers without worrying as much.

But these are technical offerings. And that’s what I see most, and hear most, when organizations talk about hosting for enterprise clients.

What if more isn’t enough? What if the focus on technology improvements isn’t the only thing needed?

What if we need to move past infrastructure, availability, hardware and security? What if those offering enterprise-level hosting have focused too much on technology and not enough on the missing element in enterprise hosting?

Account management

Before I dig into this “missing element” – let’s talk about how these hosting providers look for and prepare their support staff. If it’s like anyone else, it goes something like this:

  • Advertise open positions.
  • Evaluate applicants.
  • Pick the best.
  • Train them.
  • Teach them systems.
  • Place them on a team and get them started.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this process when it comes to junior developers, or when it comes to tier one support. After all, everyone has to start somewhere.

But let’s look at how that falls apart in account management. Because that approach will always fail. It will always let us down. And the reason is really clear – at least from the outside.

Account management, when working with Fortune 100 or 500 customers, isn’t simply a matter of customer advocacy. It’s not just being a proxy for the customer within the overall organization.

Account management, at the serious enterprise level, is political. I don’t mean that in any negative way. I simply mean, account management at that level means something different.

  • It means knowing when to say something and when to be silent.
  • It means knowing when to push back and when to take a tongue-lashing.
  • It means knowing when to explain that something will cost extra, and when you take a hit financially because you need to do what’s right.
  • And it means knowing how to say no in a way that doesn’t jeopardize your ability to say yes later.

That’s why you can’t just hire someone and train them. Because there are no scripts to teach you how to navigate political waters. There are no simple training courses that give everyone experience, the kind they need, in a month or two.

It’s one of the few areas where I end up suggesting that you find and hire from the outside rather than just training within. Because it often takes years of experience to work with enterprise customers. Or at least years to do it well.

Enterprise hosting

Over the past two months, I’ve been on a search looking at various hosting organizations to see if and when they’ll be really ready to handle enterprise clients – beyond simply the strategy of “more.”

In looking at many of them, and in several discussions, I’ve been challenged to articulate exactly what I’m looking for. And so I thought I would write about my sense of what enterprise hosting really requires – from the account management perspective.

I’ve come back to three core things that I think are required.

Staff with enterprise experience – as I already mentioned, this isn’t an entry level position.

You need people who are comfortable getting on the phone with a CEO or CTO to have an intelligent discussion – one that may have nothing to do with technology.

It surprises some people that an hour-long call can go on and everytime they start to talk about technical specifics, the CEO changes the topic back to risk or stress.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. Fortune 500 customers didn’t grow and become successful having their C-level staff talk about details on phone calls.

So enterprise account management means knowing how to have a business discussion and translate it to specifics internally that they’ll go champion.

Staff with the appropriate authority – speaking of championing, these staff need the right level of authority to “make things happen.”

The last thing anyone wants to hear, on a call with an enterprise customer, is that they’ll have to go bring it up with someone else.

Honestly, if someone else should have been on the call, it’s a mistake in not preparing well and having the right people on the phone.

Enterprise executives jump on a call to get things moving, to see things happen. That means preparing for that kind of call – with the right people on the phone who can make decisions and have their teams begin executing right away.

Staff with excellent communication skills – doesn’t everything come down to communication? And it’s the first thing everyone looks back at later and says, “we’re just having an issue with communication.”

The correct approach, especially if you can predict that communication may be an issue, is to get in front of it and not make it an issue. Mitigate the challenges and nullify the possibility that communication challenges will exist.

I once heard the story of two newlyweds talking. The husband was overheard saying,

“I love you. There, I said it. I’ll let you know if it changes.”

That’s no way to communicate. Few people assume that the absence of information is a positive statement of status quo.

Instead, people regularly assume that a lack of communication is equivalent to a lack of activity. So constant and regular communication is key with enterprise customers.

Everyone is hard at work, but there’s no winner yet

I mentioned that I’ve been looking around to see who has this already in place.

Who has, for example, a dedicated enterprise team that has different escalation paths for tickets?

Who has, for example, dedicated account managers just for enterprise clients, with deep Fortune 500 experience?

Who has, for example, practices already in place for constant communication that is the norm, rather than the response to an urgent situation?

Several companies are hard at work on it. But I don’t think anyone is there yet.

Today, honestly, it looks like everyone has tacked the “more” of technology – so that the infrastructure is ready. But they’ve not yet mastered the account management.

And that’s like the new designer that suddenly spent the money for their Adobe Creative Cloud account. They have the tools. They have the infrastructure. But the experience to use the tools isn’t there just yet.

I’m hoping these companies use the rest of 2014 to bolster their strategies and approaches. I hope they use it to find and hire account managers that have deep experience. I hope several succeed.

But as I’ve said tons of times before, hope isn’t a strategy. So we’ll just have to wait, watch and see.