Channel Women Support ‘Cloud Girls’ Group

Like many channel partners, learning how to capitalize on cloud services has become a priority for Jo Peterson, regional sales manager for telecom agency Teleproviders Inc., Laguna Hills, Calif. In fall 2010, she started her pursuit by joining one of the suddenly numerous cloud networking forums. She left her first meeting disappointed; participants hardly discussed cloud beyond hosted VoIP, eventually falling into the familiar conversation about sharing carrier contracts. Undaunted, Peterson did what most women would do she called a close girlfriend, and not any girlfriend, but a fellow channel partner. There was some complaining during that discussion to be sure, but there also was a determination to create a forum that would better meet their needs. And, so the Cloud Computing Forum (aka Cloud Girls) was formed.

Peterson and her confidant, Manon Buettner, principal of Nuvalo LLC, a data center and managed services consulting and brokerage firm, identified some initial functions for the group around educating participants, filtering important information and collaborating on complex solution sales. These goals, they felt, would be best supported by a small group. One obvious way to keep the numbers down was to limit membership to professional, technical sales women they already knew and trusted. Immediately, the two women came up with eight veterans based in the West Coast sales territory. Today, via referrals, the group includes 12 members representing vendors and partners, including CenturyLink Inc. (previously Qwest Communications International Inc.), Rackspace Hosting, HP, Navisite Inc., Savvis Inc., Terremark, Allyance Communications Inc.

One of the early invitations was extended to Crystal Gilbert, enterprise account executive Southwest region for Rackspace. Gilbert said she decided to join after understanding the group would provide knowledge sharing at a senior skill level. The fact that the group was all-women also was a plus, she said. Its actually very difficult to find other women that have the seniority and the knowledge and the skill set in this industry,” Gilbert said. I think we all felt a connection and felt that we could develop deeper relationships simply because we are a very small group in a very male-dominated industry.”

The Cloud Girls mission is to be an open, vendor-neutral, not-for-profit community of female technology advocates dedicated to educating themselves and their stakeholders — organizations and customers  about cloud computing services. To accomplish this, Cloud Girls holds a monthly conference call exploring emerging market and technical trends. Members take turns preparing presentations and/or securing experts to speak to the group. Topics range from public vs. private cloud to security and regulatory compliance.

Weve almost got every representation of the [cloud] ecosystem to the group, so each of us brings a totally different perspective that really allows us to look at a topic from each view,” Gilbert said, noting that gives sales executives a better understanding of what the customer is hearing from the ecosystem. Getting that full perspective is huge.”

Peterson agreed. For me personally, I am stretching and learning stuff that I would not normally learn, and its causing me to get new business, frankly,” she said.

An outgrowth of this regular networking also has been collaborations between group members in the field. Peterson said she and Buettner are working with Savvis and Rackspace on a virtual private cloud implementation for a health care software company. I would have never taken that leap into something so complex that had cloud security and compliance attached to it if I had not been part of this group and learned about whats viable in the cloud and not had Manon [a former Qwest hosting sales overlay] by my side. I would not have ventured out and pushed the envelope,” Peterson said.

Buettner said she draws on Petersons expertise in WAN, telecom and email hosting.

The networking aspect is probably one of the biggest benefits,” Gilbert said. Because we have been in the same industry and in some cases the same territory for a really long time, we find that we know many of the same organizations, many of the same contacts. We understand their overarching infrastructure and it allows us to come in with a lot of knowledge about that company early on. Its probably opened up a lot of doors for me personally.”

In addition, Gilbert said, that when they are working on a customer issue, they can call on the expertise of the group and by extension their contacts to solve the problem. For her, membership in Cloud Girls has been the single most effective activity for improving her sales results in 2011.

Where do you sign up? Cloud Girls plans to stay small, capping membership at about 20, but Peterson said the group is willing to share its framework with other women that want to start similar forums in their sales territories. Inquiries can be directed to Cloud Computing Forum (aka Cloud Girls) on LinkedIn.

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