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How to Sell the Cloud to a Reluctant Executive

Effectively pitching the cloud to key decision makers is a matter of speaking their language; use the power of social proof

Whether you are promoting a cloud computing agenda internally or to clients, you've likely ran across the case of the reluctant executive. Having spoken with thousands of software buyers about their interest in cloud solutions over the years, I've personally relived the experience more times than I can count.

There is, of course, a lot to consider when it comes to the cloud.  But, I've found that when I run up against reluctance on the part of top decision makers to even open the discussion, there's usually one of two things at play:  An executive intimidated by their own lack of clarity by what is meant by the cloud and an instinctual resistance based on those oh-so-pesky security concerns.  I've tackled these issues from countless angles and I've found the most success through two simple approaches:  cutting through the jargon and addressing security concerns in straight-forward, accessible terms.

Cut Through the Jargon.

What is the "cloud"?  Admit it.  It's kind of a tough question to answer.  Yes, you've got your working definition.  But that definition probably varies from that of the cloud "expert" at the next company over.  And why wouldn't it?  "Cloud" is about as jargon as it gets.  When we say "the cloud," we think of things like distributed wide area networking over the Internet, outsourced application hosting, or natively browser-based software.  How many of these boxes need to be checked off though before a solution is considered "cloud"?  If you're not answering that question, there's going to be confusion.

There's an easy remedy to this issue.  Before pitching any product or solution to a potentially less-than-tech-savvy executive, erase "cloud" assumptions by defining what you mean.  Who hosts the software?  Is it a purchase model or subscripton basis? How is the functionality technically delivered?  Start there.  Answer those questions and you've gone along way toward making decision makers comfortable that they understand what the heck you are talking about when you mention "the cloud."

Address Security in Accessible Terms

For the techier among us, the simple question, "Is the cloud secure?" can seem very 2003 when left unadorned.  It's not that it's not a valid question.  It's just that we understand the answer depends on "What cloud?" and "Secure in comparison to what?"

Here's the thing that needs to be understood:  Issues of security are fundamentally emotional decisions.  This strikes a blow at our fact-loving, data-driven hearts--but it's undeniably true.  When it comes to issues of security and safety, logic supports gut instinct--not the other way around.

So why then do we so often insist on starting the conversation with the supporting details--protocols, policies, procedures. A full appreciation of the differences we are outlining takes time to digest.  If we're honest with ourselves, we have minutes, or maybe hours, if we are lucky to present the case.

Where to start, then?  The simple answer is that the security conversation needs to be firmly grounded in accessible terms.

Keep relatability in mind when you are pitching the cloud. You don't need to lead with a rundown of the SSL protocol or encryption standards. In fact, you shouldn't. Instead, provide a familiar touchstone.  Why is the cloud secure?  Because it relies on the same standards that protect things already accepted as safe. For instance, you can identify that the same standards that protect millions of online banking transactions every day will protect their financial data.

Also, never underestimate the power of social proof.  When we see others have success, that is a powerful example.  Social proof is not hard to find when it comes to something as pervasive as cloud computing. The acceptance of the "cloud" among leading businesses is a great place to start.  Consider sharing an article like this one detailing usage of the cloud among Fortune 500 companies.

More Stories By Adam Bluemner

Adam Bluemner is the Project Specialist Manager for FindAccountingSoftware.com, a service providing free software selection assistance. Over the last decade Adam has spoken with over 10,000 companies, helping them achieve business success through intelligent software investment. Adam writes extensively on ERP and business software.

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