Permission Cloud Marketing

imageWhen Seth Godin released his award-winning book Permission Marketing back in 1999, I had just completed my MBA, was wrapping up my time with Pacific Bell Wireless and heading to NorthPoint Communications, all while working part-time on my own software startup. The Godin book was transformative in that it helped explain much of what I had been seeing within my day job (where many of my initiatives involved data analysis and systems support for the back-end marketing tools) and my startup: the ideas of building brand trust and marketing to individuals and businesses through personal relationships, incentives, and the exchange of free services or information. I’ve never considered myself a salesman – but where I have excelled has been in the areas of permission development, brand building, and evangelism.

When Microsoft tried to convince customers and partners to move to the cloud through sheer blunt force of their messaging, I instantly thought of Godin’s book. Not that Microsoft has not done the footwork in developing customer relationships, but the fact is that when you change a strategy so dramatically as they did, you can no longer automatically rely on the permissions, trust, and relationships from the past. Some may transfer, but many will not. It’s much the same story when deploying a new version of SharePoint – you cannot assume that your end users will just “get it” and automatically become proficient and productive on the new version. It requires re-training, convincing, trust-building.

Fast-forward to the Ignite Conference last month, and Microsoft’s maturing sales strategy that includes case studies, field data, and storytelling in an effort to develop and nurture those permissions. There are still many organizations who have no immediate plans to move away from their on premises SharePoint deployments, with many recognizing that some aspects of their broader business systems have been transitioning to the cloud whether or not their company has a formal strategy in place. And through a steady cadence of customer examples, certifications, and sales tools, Microsoft has made solid progress in moving from “interruption marketing,” as Godin puts it, which is the ongoing battle to win people’s attention, to providing education and solutions to help convince customers of the need to move.

The use of cloud assets has slowly permeated organizations for quite some time — from cloud-based file sharing tools (Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and OneDrive), to free cloud email (Hotmail, Gmail) and other social and business applications, such as payroll and customer relationship management (CRM) services. Cloud is becoming integral to how we connect with partners, how we archive our messaging and content, and how we approach complex business activities. Recognizing that most customers cannot make a complete switch to the cloud in one step, Microsoft has softened some of their cloud messaging over the past year. The company is focusing on reducing the fears surrounding security and performance, and at the same time is providing more tools and content and support for hybrid solutions.

What has become clear in my conversations with partners and customers is that organizations are being very thoughtful about what to move into the cloud, and how quickly. For some, the move is fairly straight-forward because their investments in SharePoint on prem were light — no major workflows, third-party solutions, or line of business (LOB) integrations that could take time to re-architect for the cloud model. For others, it will take time and effort to transition these workloads.

Some questions to consider as you start thinking about your own move toward the cloud:

  • Which workloads do you have in the cloud today?
    Developing a strategy should begin with an understanding of the drivers behind the move, and expectations from end users, admins, and business stakeholders.If you think your organization is 100% on prem, you’re not looking hard enough. Part of your initial assessment should be to catalog the various solutions in use today — approved or unapproved — and to include those cloud assets as part of your broader strategy, which may include plans to incorporate (or shut down) rogue cloud tools, and re-train employees on the new technology. You will likely also need to reinforce training on policies for unapproved tools and data usage.
  • What is your transition plan?
    Once you understand the drivers behind your move, and have an accurate picture of what is in place today, start thinking about the workloads which can easily be moved — versus those that will take time and budget to re-design, re-architect and re-build for the cloud. Depending on the complexity of your workloads, you might consider a phased approach, rolling out email and possibly a cloud-based partner extranet as your first steps, and then work with your team to prioritize each subsequent workload rollout.
  • What is your governance strategy?
    Remember that a hybrid environment means that you are managing (at least) two disparate systems. Ensure that your policies and procedures around security, auditing, and other compliance measures are being met during and after the transition. Remember that tasks you may have automated in SharePoint on prem around things like permissions management, reporting, and provisioning all operate very differently in the cloud. Be sure to review your transition strategy through the governance lens so that you are not caught with your guard down.

Leading up to Ignite 2015, we were told that much of the focus of the event would be around hybrid, and Microsoft continues to develop content and partner marketing to help customers understand what hybrid really means (it clearly falls into the “it depends” definition) and the impacts of change. A hybrid SharePoint solution is not the desired end-goal for organizations, but the fact remains that companies have made large investments in their SharePoint environments, and it may take time for many to transition to the cloud.

Much like the early days of SharePoint, when many companies decided to start using the "free" SharePoint licenses that came with their Enterprise Agreements from Microsoft, I anticipate a surge in SharePoint usage in the cloud as more and more organizations make the transition to Office 365 for other workloads (primarily email). As the capability of SharePoint Online becomes more integrated into the overall Office 365 platform, and the features become more compelling (through the expansion of NextGen portals, for example), we will see a surge in adoption of these cloud collaboration tools. But we won’t move because we’re told to do so – we’ll move because it makes sense, because we have clear examples and best practices to follow, and because we’ve developed trust.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Apps & Services MVP, and the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Lehi, Utah, through which he provides fractional-CMO for partners in the Microsoft ecosystem.