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The ServInt Source

Earning Cash the PowerPartner Way, With ServInt

money image$13,000

That was the cash value of what our top affiliate marketing partner earned in one year with ServInt.

ServInt’s PowerPartner program is your portal into our affiliate marketing community. With cash or hosting credits available for referrals, simple, regular payments via Paypal, our proprietary Custom Shop tools to help you land more referral business, and a newsletter to keep you up to date on the latest tips and tricks for affiliate marketers, ServInt’s PowerPartner affiliate marketing program is simply the best web hosting affiliate marketing program in the business.

ServInt offers cash payments as high as $799 for referred hosting business, and there’s no limit to how much PowerPartners can earn. Every referral fee is equal to the first full month of service for the referred server at the base price. Read more

Is Cloud Right for You?

Have you been thinking about cloud hosting? We have.

A lot.

We’ve launched our Java cloud PaaS product, Jelastic, and we’ve been incorporating cloud technologies and automation into our VPS IaaS line to increase scalability and redundancy while at the same time getting pretty close to true zero-downtime migrations. And we’re continually working with partners to vet and develop other cloud technologies to bring to market.

But so far we’ve yet to market an IaaS product as “pure cloud.” And there’s good reason for that. Simply put, we’re not sure cloud is right for most of our customers. This doesn’t mean we won’t ever offer cloud, it simply means that right now, we’re concentrating on what our customers demand: a predictably priced, virtualized server that is highly scalable, very stable, ready to use from day one and comes with world-class managed support and service.

That’s a tall order by any standard, but it’s one we’ve been perfecting since the first days of VPS itself.

We’re taking a new step here at ServInt in the coming weeks. We’re reaching out further afield than we ever have before to make this pitch to potential customers who share your need for rock-solid VPS infrastructure from which to launch an online business. One way we’re doing this is to publish a series of white papers to simply educate the public about hosting technologies. One of these papers is Ten Questions About Cloud.

If you’re interested in learning more about the pros and cons of cloud technology, check out the white paper and let us know what you think.

Photo by Philip Leara

Ain’t No Free: Thoughts on the marketing utility of Facebook

NRBQ: marketing geniuses

One of my favorite bands is an essentiially defunct group called NRBQ. On their 1978 album “NRBQ At Yankee Stadium,” there’s a track I’ve enjoyed, and, in my role as marketing guy, quoted from many times over the years. The track is called “Ain’t No Free,” and — to the accompaniment of a rollicking New Orleans beat — it details the many ways that none of us ever receive anything, from anybody, at any time, without paying for it:

Well, it might be credit
Or it might be barter
But they always find a way
To make you pay, pay, pay!

Much has been made over the last decade about how the Internet is changing this paradigm. All kinds of companies (including ours, on occasion) launch new products or entice new users, by offering goods and services at no cost. The reality, of course, is that in most cases, these things are only being offered at no immediate cost. Like the song says, “ain’t no free.” Read more

Dude, I Got Nothin’

At the ServInt Source, we try to keep up with two posts a week, one on something technical as part of The Tech Bench, and one on some other pertinent topic. Our litmus test for all posts is: do they have actionable intelligence? (i.e. are we giving the reader information that they can learn from and act on?) Some weeks are content rich. Other weeks, like this one, the works grind to a halt. Sometimes there are a lot of topics we are just not ready to take public, sometimes writers ask for deadline extensions because work takes time away from their writing. And sometimes… well, sometimes it’s a slow news cycle and we’re flat out of creative topics on which to opine. Today was one of those days.

The following is an actual transcript of a series of calls today between me: ServInt Source editor, Andrew Loschert, and my boss: Fritz Stolzenbach, VP of Marketing and Business Development. Read more

How to Succeed in the Hosting Industry: Don’t Suck

Man, there are days when I love coming to work.  I wasn’t sure this was going to be one of them, but a new customer changed all that with what may be the best pre-emptive testimonial we’ve ever received.  In his sign-up form, our new customer, whom we’ll call “MW,” took the time to say:

“After my nightmares with (previous host name deleted), I’m going to go out on a limb and pre-emptively say, ‘thank you for not sucking.'”

MW, I want to promise you, right here and now, that we will do everything in our power to not suck.

Wait a minute: scratch that mealy-mouthed marketing nonsense.  Let me say this instead: MW, we will not suck.  We will deliver what we promised you; we will give you an honest return on your hosting dollar; we will meet or exceed any reasonable service or performance expectation you have.  We will be friendly, we will be helpful, and we will know what we’re talking about.  We will never give you any reason to say:  “man, those guys suck.”

Here’s the deal, though:  you can’t suck, either.  You’ll need to work with us as a partner.  You’ll need to keep your server clean and tidy.  You’ll need to make sure your third-party software is up to date, and that your passwords are secure.  You’ll need to have a backup system for your critical data.  You’ll need to describe any performance issues you see in as much detail as possible, so we can help you quickly and effectively.  And if you’re starting to grow too big for your server, you’ll need to upgrade it.

We’re lucky.  We attract customers who realize that reliable hosting requires a little bit of organization on their part.  They’re smart.  They’re friendly and helpful when working with us on a problem.  They’ve got their act together.  They don’t suck.  We treat each other respectfully, and we call many of them friends.  That’s what we’re going to call you, MW.  Not just a client, or a customer, but a friend.  We’re going to help you grow your business, MW.  We’re going to make you glad you chose ServInt.  I promise you:  we will not suck!

Photo by Stewf

Utility-Model Web Hosting? Sounds Great!

About a month ago, I was meeting with the ServInt Marketing team, discussing the fact that — while we have a relatively high proportion of customers who will shout from the mountaintops about how much they love us (thanks, guys!) — the vast majority of our customers are silent throughout the length of their stay with us.

This topic was top of mind for us because we were in the process of designing a full-time staff position dedicated to customer outreach and relationship management — and we were frankly wondering how useful such a position would be if, in fact, people didn’t really want to engage with their web host unless something went wrong.

We began contemplating the possibility that our customers see us the same way they see their electric utility — i.e., they only think of us when their service is interrupted, or when they open their bills each month.

From a marketing perspective — trying to build brand loyalty and attract new business through referrals — this may sound like a bad thing, but it doesn’t have to be.  It’s possible to offer a commodity service on a utility model and still have your customers love you — and one sector of the utility industry is particularly good at this.

The American rural electric utility industry is made up of about 1,000 electric cooperatives — small, non-profit, consumer-owned utilities that serve the needs of the 10% of Americans who live in areas largely beyond the reach of investor- or municipally-owned power companies.  Because these co-ops are owned by the households and businesses they serve, an extraordinarily high emphasis is placed on providing impeccable, personalized customer service.

These co-ops invest in community business development, constantly enhance their infrastructure with systemic upgrades, and — despite their small size — are frequently the first in the industry to deliver new technologies that lower costs for their customers.  The result is a peculiar anomaly in the business world:  these are regulated monopolies that enjoy fierce customer allegiance — utility companies that are actually loved and appreciated by their customers.

ServInt isn’t a cooperative.  But it turns out we operate a lot like one:  frequent, free infrastructure and service package upgrades, customer/community-centric decision making, personalized service geared towards making our customers’ businesses succeed — the similarities are striking.  And because of that, I’m not afraid of the similarities between us and the electric utility industry when it comes to customer engagement and feedback.  We love talking to our customers — but a healthy silence can be a good thing when it’s coupled with fierce loyalty.  Bottom line:  if it turns out that web hosting is seen as a utility-grade service these days, at least I know we’ve modeled our business after the right segment of that industry.

Photo by ykanazawa1999

Hosting for the Holidays

Happy Festivus.

With the holidays upon us, I thought I’d step back a moment from our insight-heavy “actionable intelligence” and ponder the season and our place in it.

The holidays are a busy time for all of us. Whether it’s buying presents and visiting relatives, or getting those end-of-year projects complete at home and at work, it’s definitely a time of high stress and manic energy.

But in the midst of the holiday shopping season with its black Fridays and no payments until the new year, the spirit of the season can get lost pretty quick.

That’s why I’m so happy to be working in an industry that doesn’t have to capitalize on the season the way so many businesses must. Hosting is not an impulse buy. It’s a long, thoughtful decision process—especially at the high end of the hosting market where ServInt lives. So, no matter what time of year it is, buy-now short-term advertising gimmickry really has a very small potential impact on our sales. And that’s not the kind of company we are anyway. Read more

Customer Service Series, Part 5: Exceeding Customer Expectations is Stupid

I just got done reading an excellent blog post by Dan Palotta on the Harvard Business Review site.  It’s called “I Don’t Understand What Anyone Is Saying Anymore,” and if you’re a lover of words — by which I mean, if you love words enough to care about them and hate seeing them being abused — you’ll definitely want to give it a read.

There was a lot of gold in Dan’s post, but the section that resonated most with me was the following:

Another term that has lost its meaning is “Let’s exceed the customer’s expectations.” Employees who hear it just leave the pep rally, inhabit some kind of temporary dazed intensity, and then go back to doing things exactly the way they did before the speech. Customers almost universally never experience their expectations being met, much less exceeded. How can you exceed the customer’s expectations if you have no idea what those expectations are? I was at a Hilton a few weeks ago. They had taken this absurdity to its logical end. There was a huge sign in the lobby that said, “Our goal is to exceed the customer’s expectation.” The best way to start would be to take down that bullshit sign that just reminds me, as a customer, how cosmic the gap is between what businesses say and what they do. My expectation is not to have signs around that tell me you want to exceed my expectations.

I admit that the marketing function, of which I am the titular head around these parts, only has a tangential relationship with the process of delivering “customer service.”  But there is one area where we have a measurable impact on the customer experience, and that’s in the area of the things we say and the words we use to say them. Read more

The Power of Social Media, or Do You Give a $#!% About Your Web Host?

If you follow ServInt on Twitter, you may have noticed a strange surge in profanity-laced tweeting coming from us and many of your fellow customers—and you may have wondered, what the $%#@! is going on here?

The honest answer is, we’re not entirely sure yet.

Let me explain. About a month ago, I was in a meeting with the ServInt Marketing team, discussing the fact that—while we have a relatively high proportion of customers who will shout from the mountaintops about how much they love us (thanks, guys!)—the vast majority of our customers are silent throughout the length of their stay with us as customers.

This topic was top of mind for us because we were in the process of designing a full-time staff position dedicated to customer outreach and relationship management, and we were frankly wondering how useful such a position would be if, in fact, people didn’t really want to engage with their web host unless something went wrong.

In any case, as we sat there contemplating the depressing possibility that our customers might actually see hosting like they see the electric company (i.e.: the only time you think about the electric company is when the lights go out) somebody blurted out:  “What we really need to know is, does anybody actually give a $#!% about their web host?” There was a burst of laughter, but in the silence that followed somebody said, “We should just ask them.”

Read more

Thinking of Building a New Web Site?

Today, as you may have noticed, ServInt unveiled a brand-new web site — one that we hope will be easier to use, more pleasing to the eye and more valuable to our customers and prospects.

The deployment of our new web site, in and of itself, is probably of modest importance to readers of the ServInt Source. But it occurred to me that sharing details of why and how it was built might be useful, as the challenges we faced before and during the redesign are fairly common ones. So, following are some thoughts, observations, and rules of thumb that may be of use to you:

  1. When your customers tell you it’s time for a change, it’s definitely time for a change. Face it: the attractiveness and usefulness of your web site is way down the list of priorities for your customers — so when they take the time to tell you it looks out of date, or is hard to use, it’s probably a bigger problem than you think it is.
  2. Building a brand-new web site takes less work than propping up the old one. This one may seem hard to believe, since there is no doubt that the process of building a brand-new web site takes a lot of time and effort. But when you measure both the extra work your company has to undertake on a day-to-day basis to make up for your site’s lack of effectiveness and the big-picture process issues you can fix by implementing a new web site, the value proposition becomes crystal-clear. Bottom line: it’s worth it.
  3. Make your web site a mirror facing outwards, as well as inwards. It’s tempting to see your web site solely as a reflection of who you are, or perhaps who you wish you could be. It’s just as important for your web site to accurately reflect who your customers are. Your prospective and current customers need to feel like they’ve arrived at their online home when they arrive at your site — a place where they’re understood and appreciated. Our customer base skews very heavily towards “value purchasers” — people who don’t have time for marketing fluff. That’s why our site was designed with a visibly minimalist style. Our overarching goal was to provide an extremely efficient path towards the information our customers seek.
  4. Show, don’t tell. ServInt is fortunate to have a loyal customer base that is willing to tell the world how much they like us, and why. If your customers are similarly willing to compliment you in public — let them. A basic rule of thumb is: if your customers are willing to say nice things about you, there’s no need for you to say those things yourself!
  5. Pick a designer who understands you. As mentioned before, we had a clear mental image of what this site was supposed to look like before we started building it. We actively searched for designers who understood the minimalist aesthetic we were after, and why we were seeking it. When we found them, we were able to set them loose to do what they do best. This made things much easier than simply “buying talent” and arguing with them over The Vision Thing. When you and your designer clearly understand the brand strategy you have in mind, as well as the design style that’s going to get you there, you can step back and let them do their job.

We hope you like it!

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