How will you differentiate yourself from competitors in the coming year? To quote Russell Wilson, quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks, “The Separation is in the Preparation.”
For cloud partners, the preparation lies in having a solid cloud business plan for the coming year. To separate from the herd and build a profitable cloud business, you need to think through what it will take to compete and prepare your business for success.
Here are my thoughts on how to approach the development of your plan for 2016 and beyond:

Step 1: Assess your strengths and weaknesses as a cloud business.

A solid plan for the future starts with careful analysis of your current business and an assessment of your strengths and weaknesses.
Try it: Benchmark your cloud business with our new SureStep Profitability Benchmark Assessment Tool by filling out the brief questionnaire on the Assessment Questionnaire tab. Based on your responses, you’ll receive a cloud maturity stage categorization of Start, Grow, or Optimize.
Once you’ve identified your maturity stage, access the SureStep Profitability Playbook on the Summary and Instructions tab for guidance on how you can mature your business across your sales, marketing, and delivery departments. The playbook will also help you understand the key benchmarks you should be tracking your business against on an ongoing basis.

Step 2: Establish your differentiation strategy.

Given the rise in competition and transacting partners in the cloud, partners have shared with me that they increasingly find themselves needing to compete on price to win new business. This is a tough place to be, and you need to tread carefully in order to avoid putting your profitability at risk.
One of the best ways to protect your price points and margins is to develop a differentiation or specialization strategy by going vertical and/or creating intellectual property or apps.
Try it: Schedule an offsite with your leadership team outside of the distractions of your office to brainstorm how you are going to differentiate your business and stand out from the competition. Make sure there are plenty of snacks and espresso to keep the creative juices flowing!
Evaluate your customer base and look for where you have strength in selling and effectively meeting customer needs. Make sure you leave the meeting with a clearly outlined differentiation strategy and alignment on your 1-2 big bets for the next year.

Step 3: Build your cloud plan and socialize it with your team.

It’s absolutely essential that you document your plan and rally your team around it. Our Cloud Business Plan Template will help guide you through each of the key elements of your cloud plan, including your differentiation strategy, target market, sales, marketing, delivery, financial projections, capital requirements, and risks and mitigation.
If your business is seeking outside investment to support your plan, this template can serve as a great document to take to potential investors to garner investment. The template includes sample text for each section as well as short videos throughout the document to help guide your thinking. You’ll also find links to complementary tools and resources including the Profitability Scenarios and Financial Models.
Try it: Upon completion of your cloud plan, make sure you share it with your team. Help each of your employees or team members understand their role in executing the plan.

Step 4: Measure results and look for opportunities to fine-tune your plan.

Try it: Once you have begun to execute your cloud plan, it will be very important for you to have regular check-ins with your team on the execution of your plan and performance against critical KPIs you’ve established. Don’t be afraid to adjust your approach based on what you are learning; agility is essential, given how rapidly market dynamics are changing.
Please let me know if you have any questions as you develop your cloud plan. Feel free to reach out via email, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
Happy New Year!