The San Diego Supercomputer Center (SDSC) has a long and distinguished history of providing high-performance cyberinfrastructure solutions to government agencies and researchers in fields as varied as healthcare, biology, genomics, bioinformatics, and life sciences.
Much of the work in these fields involves highly regulated and sensitive data such as personal health records. To protect this data and provide its customers with advanced cyberinfrastructure solutions that adhere to the strictest standards for data privacy and security, in 2013 the SDSC launched a special division called Sherlock Cloud.
Led by Executive Director Sandeep Chandra, the Sherlock Cloud team is an expert at analyzing customers’ security and regulatory requirements. Based on this expert understanding, Sherlock then designs and implements cyberinfrastructure solutions that meet those requirements in compliance with regulations such as FISMA, HIPAA, and NIST CUI.
When you’re building advanced computing environments like those built by Sherlock Cloud, it’s easy to find your focus drifting to technical details—lots of technical details—instead of focusing on your company’s purpose and value. That’s what happened with Sherlock Cloud. Its go-to-market strategy came to rely too much on implementation details instead of customer problem-solving.
With Fulcrum’s help, Sherlock Cloud refocused its marketing efforts and, as a result, found its customer engagement to be—well, high performance. Here’s how, working together, Fulcrum and Sherlock cracked the case of Sherlock Cloud’s go-to-market and sales strategies.
Selling Sherlock Cloud’s expertise, not their complexity
Sherlock Cloud’s success led to the expansion of its portfolio and offerings to cover additional needs for their research institution customers. They added cloud services offerings and modernized their data management platforms to deliver the value of the latest hyperscale architectures while continuing to meet the highest levels of data security and compliance.
However, as Sherlock Cloud’s product portfolio grew, its marketing and sales materials became more jumbled and complex. As a result, Sherlock Cloud missed the mark on closing business at times. Sandeep has vast technical knowledge, but he found that diving into the technical details — something he and his prospects could do very easily — wasn’t always the best way to move a deal forward.
“Our customers are very technical people, and I can talk to them at that level, but those conversations weren’t necessarily conveying why exactly they should partner with Sherlock Cloud.”
Sandeep and his team faced other challenges as well. Their marketing messaging and sales deck that Sandeep was relying on had been developed in 2013. Over time, the messaging had drifted from its original focus, and their customer presentation had ballooned into dozens of slides that emphasized technology at the expense of purpose and value.
“Our messaging had gotten stale, and we didn’t have a consistent story across all our offerings,” says Sandeep. “We really needed to simplify our message and focus, but we didn’t know how to do that on our own.” The sales process continued to be long and arduous.
“When we decided to launch our new solution focused on government regulations in the defense space, I realized it was a good opportunity to wipe the slate clean and say ‘what should I be focusing on’, and how do I narrow that down, and how do I come up with a clean message that represents our expertise across all our materials, our presentations and our marketing, our website—all of that,” says Sandeep.
“And then Ian Hameroff, founder of Fulcrum Group, called with questions about a joint customer of ours he was doing research for,” Sandeep says. “We weren’t doing that kind of outreach to develop and refine our own marketing materials. We were too internally focused, and we lacked that broader perspective. That’s why, in the fall of 2022, I called Ian back and asked for Fulcrum’s help with our own messaging and product marketing. I realized Fulcrum’s method of developing messaging and testing it through customer research was just what we needed when it comes to product marketing and strategy. Fulcrum was building and testing what we needed for our sales efforts to break through.”
With Fulcrum’s Help, Sherlock Cloud Discovers Its “Why”
In January 2023, Sandeep began working with Fulcrum to develop a new product narrative for Sherlock Cloud.
“The Fulcrum team were really good at pushing me to bring out the key points of our product offering,” says Sandeep. “Using Fulcrum’s narrative framework, we kept coming back to the question of why. Why should agencies and researchers come to Sherlock? Why are we different? And why does that matter? That really helped us look at things differently.”
“Where we arrived was a place that leaned more into our academic DNA,” Sandeep continues. “We could always talk about our expertise and our being part of a university, but with Fulcrum’s guidance, we decided to bring that to the foreground. Now we have this very clean messaging in all our materials, and we can get to the more technical details in our next discussion.”
Together, these materials have transformed Sandeep’s experience of pitching Sherlock Cloud to researchers. Within three days of receiving new materials from Fulcrum, for example, Sandeep had the opportunity to pitch a major state university in the western United States. A couple of months later, Sherlock closed the deal with that university.
“The Fulcrum materials really help setting the stage and conveying the value of what makes Sherlock Cloud unique,” says Sandeep. “Our message to these other universities is simple. We are an extension of your research teams. We’ll reduce your risk and your stress. We’ll support your researchers and research IT teams. Our pitch is less about selling technology now.”
This new approach, emphasizing the advantages of Sherlock’s academic heritage and research experience, differs starkly from the technology-centric approach the company had been relying on in its earlier sales efforts.
“Before, we went into too much depth right up front,” says Sandeep. “We didn’t really get to the value proposition until slide 20 or 25. Now, thanks to Fulcrum, we have a much shorter deck that gets to the point much more quickly. And with Fulcrum’s help, we’ve discovered our ‘why.’ It’s not just about technology. It’s really about being a partner to these organizations and a trusted member of their research team.”
Rethinking Sherlock Cloud’s go-to-market strategy has also helped Sandeep and his team rethink their product portfolio.
“We have narrowed down our services to just three areas: the government space, the data space, and the commercial space,” Sandeep says. “Now we’re focusing on use cases and case studies, showing the world what Sherlock Cloud has done for various areas of research.”
The new company narrative and sales deck have also helped Sherlock broaden its sales efforts. “Thanks to Fulcrum, I’m no longer the single point of contact for sales at Sherlock Cloud,” says Sandeep. “The new deck is so succinct and compelling, other team members can use it for pitching customers. We’re confident now that, no matter who’s making the initial pitch, our key messages will get through, loud and clear.”
What was Sandeep’s experience working with the Fulcrum team? “It was great,” he says. “Fulcrum is easy to work with. They have technical backgrounds and understand that we need to focus on the real value. Every company has technical chops, but we need to bring it back to the fundamental level of what we’re delivering. And they helped me see that and then build on it.”