Barely six years old, Cloud Sherpas has earned Google Enterprise Partner of the Year recognition for the past three years running.
With more than 850,000 licenses under management, the Atlanta-based company is certainly one of the largest official Google integrators, even though it often competes for business with some of the biggest legacy IT consultants around. Some of the upstart's notable reference clients include real estate firm Coldwell Banker, media business The Weather Channel, apparel maker Jordache and window treatment manufacturer Hunter Douglas.
But it's worth noting that Cloud Sherpas has been developing this practice for close to four years — since before the cloud service provider even decided to create a partner program. "There wasn't any competition of note," said Doug Shepard, president of the Google Business Unit at Cloud Sherpas.
That's certainly far from true today as businesses of all sizes consider migrations from on-premise to cloud-based infrastructure and applications. So how will the company go about holding onto its title? Here are five ways Shepard's team keeps customers and employees excited about the oldest of its three main business practices.
1. Investing Seriously In Certifications
Cloud Sherpas employs about 700 people across all its locations. That includes the "largest volume of Google specialists" in the channel, according to Shepard. Right now, that's 76 people. "Internally, we have valued this highly and we compensate for this," he said.
There are two big reasons that this is important to Cloud Sherpas clients. "First, it is an easy barometer to differentiate from competition that is larger in name, but might have a smaller Google focus," Shepard noted. "Second, it immediately shows them we have a deep base level of functional skill."
2. Shoring Up Its Presence In Multiple Regions
Cloud Sherpas' growth has not been entirely organic. During the first year of building its Google practice, the company made at least four acquisitions in 2011 alone aimed at helping it support new regions. Its latest came last September with the buyout of Stoneburn Software Services in the U.K. The company's growth trajectory accelerated in March 2012 when it merged with Global One; both solution providers were funded early by Columbia Capital.
So far, it is a Premier level partner on three continents: North America, Europe and Australia. Indeed, aside from its overall global recognition for 2013, the company was recognized with six regional awards. "This presence is crucially important to the companies that have international operations, and it makes business easier," Shepard said.
3. Engaging With Google's Expanding App Ecosystem
Cloud Sherpas' first experience with its customers often involves handling a migration into the Google Apps platform, but the relationships don't stop there. It stays relevant by introducing and deploying complimentary applications from the Google Apps Marketplace.
Examples include CloudLock, which is a compliance and data protection solution for SaaS platforms; and Okta or OneLogin, which provide identity management and single sign-on capabilities. But those are just three of the roughly 25 other cloud services that Cloud Sherpas can integrate with a Google deployment today. "We recommend these products at different points of the sale," Shepard said.
This philosophy also extends to representing as many Google offerings as possible. Last year, for example, the company started up a Google Geo practice for mapping and location technologies; it is also boning up on the Chrome platform, Google's cloud infrastructure offerings, and even the Google Search Appliance, which it consciously opted not to support earlier on. "The number one reason is that we believe there is value in having one partner for one Google enterprise," he said.
4. Creating Unique Cross-unit Solutions
Cloud Sherpas isn't just a Google partner. That, too, is instrumental for its ongoing success. In particular, the company also boasts deep strategic relationships with two other SaaS powerhouses: Salesforce.com and ServiceNow, for which it was the first-ever Preferred partners.
Increasingly, the integrator is encouraging cross-selling of services between these three distinct units. "We focus on identifying their needs, whichever door they come through," Shepard said.
Cloud Sherpas is also creating technical motivations for its customers to work with more than one of its business units. One example is the company's geospatial intelligence services, through its G2Maps offering. The solution "provides enterprises with a geo-enhanced version of salesforce.com and the tools to improve sales teams' efficiency and operation teams' management of territories, activities and day-to-day processes." The solution was built on the Force.com Web application platform.
From the ServiceNow perspective, Cloud Sherpas recently completed its 1,000th project related to the service. Over the next two years, it will invest approximately $12 million in the practice.
5. Personalizing The Customer Support Experience
Informing all of the integrator's future aspirations is a metrics-driven approach to customer service. While it would be easy to offload technical support functions onto Google's own technical teams, Cloud Sherpas closes at least 80 percent of its technical tickets on its own, Shepard said.
The company is one of just a few integrators designated to offer Customer Success Services for Google Apps. That's a big deal, because Google is really particular about how partners provide support. The designation lets Cloud Sherpas do the following:
- Offer proactive communications about feature plans and roadmaps
- Provide advice and consulting about management
- Deliver enhanced technical support including 24x7 coverage
"All of this, in our opinion, enables us to offer a far more personalized customer support experience," Shepard said.
It also enables the integrator's team to identify potential ways in which a customer relationship might be expanded. For 2013, Cloud Sherpas reported annualized corporate revenue of about $150 million. For this year, it is projecting $200 million across its three strategic practices, according to a statement released by the company in January.