Person wearing headphones working on laptop

Your organization in the cloud: How ACTS has adapted their organization to sell, grow, and thrive in a cloud-first world

Download case study


Enabling business with the cloud

James Farhat, CEO of ACTS, has been doing business with Microsoft for over 20 years and has worked within the Microsoft ecosystem since 1996. As James adapts his business to thrive in a cloud-first world, he has found himself drawing on some of his earliest experiences working with Microsoft, experiences that were similarly defined by change.

“When we as an organization look at the changes taking place with cloud technology today, I find some similarities between the transformations that took place back in the late ’90s, when organizations began moving from Windows NT to Windows Server 2000,” says James.

At that time, there was an onus on IT organizations to train their people and reimagine themselves, to understand that there were now business requirements for IT and that IT products were, more and more, becoming business solutions. For James and his team, that initial shift in mindset is now reaching its logical conclusion with the onset of cloud computing.

“We are seeing some of the same changes now that we saw then with customers moving to the cloud. Office 365 was the first wave, but now, with Azure, we are experiencing a reimagining of the role of IT. In a way, we have all had to stop thinking of ourselves as IT organizations and started thinking of ourselves as business problem solvers.”

As transitions to the cloud become inevitable, IT organizations are learning to sell services instead of features. ACTS restructured their sales organization from the ground up to speak to cloud services as business enablers, educating their customers on the value of cloud services and how those services align to business priorities.

We are seeing some of the same changes now that we saw then with customers moving to the cloud. Office 365 was the first wave, but now, with Azure, we are experiencing a reimagining of the role of IT.

– James Farhat, CEO, ACTS

Structuring solution selling

For IT organizations, the paradigm of selling products and features used to be enough. However, with the advent of cloud and IT as a business solution, that mindset has become outdated. Now, organizations like ACTS provide value to customers by working to understand their business problems and collaborate to solve them with cloud solutions and services.

To help customers understand the benefits of transitioning their businesses to the cloud, ACTS developed a series of films around Microsoft Azure solutions and services. In these films, their team takes a systematic approach to helping even their largest customers understand Azure, the solutions and services it can provide, and how these services can help solve some of their biggest IT problems.

James says, “First, we look at how a particular business problem is currently being addressed and how it can be addressed in a cloud environment. We look at cloud migration risks and roadblocks, and we break down the various costs associated with services solving for that business problem.”

The costs associated with a given cloud service are added to ACTS’s Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) calculator, a data model that outlines comparable ownership costs against key competitors. ACTS creates additional documentation around each of the services, providing further insight into how the services fit into strategic initiatives.

This larger roadmap helps ACTS’s customers rationalize the gaps between their business needs and their IT capabilities. Customers gain insight into how their IT environment can be extended to add business value. The plan indicates current challenges, action plans, risk controls, projected opportunities, and any organizational changes that could be made to optimize the benefits of using cloud services within their organization.


Beginning with the problem

James says, “Almost every service in Azure has a business context that has to be answered if money is going to follow it. Very few people have sat back and rationalized the message. Partners need to understand who they are talking to when selling Azure services. A CEO will be 100% oriented toward strategic initiatives, but lower-level business decision makers will appreciate a more tactical approach.”

James and his team have found success working backwards from their customers’ business problems, packaging the right cloud services to fit their customers’ needs. They begin by working closely with their customers to identify the key sets of business problems they face. From there, they identify which Azure services can be combined to solve for that business need, and finally they help the customer implement those services within their organizations.

Two men having discussion in factory

Almost every service in Azure has a business context that has to be answered if money is going to follow it. Very few people have sat back and rationalized the message. Partners need to understand who they are talking to when selling Azure services.

– James Farhat, CEO, ACTS

ACTS can then package the services they provide one customer into a product they can sell as a packaged service. By productizing their solutions, ACTS has built a suite of their own IP on cloud services, extending their own brand and enhancing the value of other Microsoft services, including SharePoint Online.


Starting with the right people

Working with Azure has changed the way James and his team sell to customers. With that change in mindset, James has adapted his own organization as well, shifting his hiring practices to build a workforce suited to selling in a cloud-first world.

James says, “You can’t teach people to be conceptual learners with common sense. Teaching technology, on the other hand, is easy. When hiring in today’s landscape, you need to hire so that driving that context with our customers is easier. Changes in the digital landscape are easy, and they’re predictable. Humans are difficult; we are very analog. We look for people who conceptually understand the business side of the equation. That is what we continue to drive in our hiring practices.”

James looks to hire experienced staff whose business acumen is backstopped by their technical expertise. Their hiring philosophy works from the belief that it is easier to teach the technology than it is to teach people how to function as conceptual learners. This enables James to hire valuable and consultative engineers with learning styles suited to his organizational philosophy.

Having hired the right people, James works with his team to work through case studies and develop supporting sales and marketing collateral around Azure services from a practical perspective, deriving the messaging from the relevant business outcomes the solutions can help customers realize.

With a deep understanding of the services they are selling and the business solutions they are addressing, James and his team are able to speak directly to their customers’ priorities, rather than listing features or services in the hopes that one or more can address a customer need.

ACTS’s model for hiring and developing their people has positioned them as a leader in selling and supporting cloud services, and their model functions as a roadmap for other partners looking to find similar success.

You can’t teach people to be conceptual learners with common sense. Teaching technology, on the other hand, is easy. When hiring in today’s landscape, you need to hire so that driving context with our customers is easier.

– James Farhat, CEO, ACTS

More like this

Two coworkers having a discussion

Barracuda

Learn how Barracuda works to maximize the value of their Microsoft partnership.

Man and two female coworkers talking and working on tablets

Insentra

Learn how Insentra has grown their business through a unique, partner-only business model.

Three coworkers walking down hallway talking

Barhead

Learn how the founders of Barhead have seen success having made the switch from Salesforce to Microsoft Dynamics 365.

Business conference in front high rise window

Revera

Learn how Revera has found success introducing a powerful hybrid cloud solution to their portfolio.