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Service providers should ask more questions

Nick Booth catches up with Barracuda and hears how it wants its channel to ask much more about the everyday stuff of life

Barracuda has launched a cloud-to-cloud backup service for Office 365 users.

The chief technical selling point seems to be its ease of use, thanks to new Fast Search and Filter features, but it’s the service improvement that’s most interesting. The channel boss has had the revolutionary idea of listening to what people actually want.

The big lesson that Barracuda’s UK channel has learned is in connecting with the channel and the user base, says Jason Howells, vice-president of managed service partner (MSP) international sales at Barracuda.

Recent events – namely Covid, lockdown and the rising panic caused by fear, disinformation and paranoia – have reminded the channel boss this is very much a people business. Adding value in IT can’t be done by machines – it’s too complex and tied up with emotions and human instincts.

In a business where human decision making still prevails, empathy is your most powerful weapon. Howells has made a conscious effort to encourage a more humane approach to business.

Last year was like no other, but adversity brought out aspects of humanity that are worth celebrating, he told his managed service partners in a morale boosting private briefing.

Staying on the right side of evolution got a lot harder for MSPs last year – and it was already tough enough. These extreme conditions made Howells question everything, from business opportunities to the nature of existence.

Dealing with the lockdown

Take the lockdown: is it a blessing, a curse or both? Some never want to work in an office again, while other miss it more than anything else. In these unstable times, Howells found the great leveller was to ask about the individual. Simple questions like “how are you” and “how can we help” proved important in a year when many lost everything and humanity returned to basics.

Howells experienced a revelation in this time: the power of asking questions, rather than making statements. Questions help people to realise what they want, on their own terms. This empowers them and makes them feel in control of the sale, rather than pushed into it by a salesman.

Howells gives two examples of how asking questions improves your situation tenfold.

Firstly there’s the Barracuda MSP Insiders Partner Advocacy Program. This is based on a new policy of Advocacy. What is advocacy? Standing up for someone.

Mental health

Mental health charity Mind recognises the frustration caused by people that don’t listen to those with problems. It describes how devastating it is when your opinions and ideas aren’t taken seriously. Health professionals become advocates for their patients, and advocacy is a discipline based on asking questions. The more you ask questions and the better you are at listening, the more comprehensively effective your treatment will be, says Howells.

Barracuda sees advocacy as a means to getting support from another person, both to help them express their views and wishes for their business and help you stand up for their rights.

Advocacy of channel partners helps them learn new tricks, share expertise, connect with their peers, compete in the market and give feedback.

The second great advance is that Barracuda’s MSP are more security-centric. Self-questioning helped Barracuda realise that security tools are easily the outstanding benefit for everyone, be they the vendor, the partner or the customer, so it built security-related duties into its cloud backup service offerings without extra cost.

“We want our customers to work with us, tell us exactly what they want and when they want it,” says Howells. “If they have issues or they’re overwhelmed, we will be there to help.”

Questioning yourself is human – and it’s vital in business. Those who ask the best questions have the best ideas.

Asking the right questions

The simplest question Barracuda asks of its partners is: “Why aren’t you doing this?” But there is an art to asking questions, says Howells. Like learning to ask the right questions for innovation.

“If our customers are missing vital resources and support from us, we aren’t doing our job, and we need to be better and more innovative to proceed,” he says.

Finally, there is a need to train yourself to avoid making statements. This is a really hard skill, because it’s so easy to make instant judgments, especially among sales people who, as a breed, are impatient and target driven. Asking and listening don’t come easily to people anxious to bring niceties to an end. People who close business will all too easily close down conversation, frequently acting as if their glib second-hand soundbites are the last word on the subject.

In these cases, Howells is working with the channel to remind them to be inquisitive.

Ask more questions, get better results and stay curious, advises Howells. “We really are all in this together,” he says.

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