Last year, Angel and Nancy Sabino took a deep breath and made the jump from a break fix model to managed services. They’d started SabinoCompTech in 2008, when traditional business models were being turned upside down by cloud and mobile technologies, and the IT industry was diving headfirst into the Digital Transformation. It didn’t take long for the Katy, Texas-based business owners to realize they were in a hamster wheel of low-effort, low-cost services. If they wanted to build a sustainable and scalable business, they needed to transition to managed services.
Today, the Sabinos are coming face to face with all of the roadblocks associated with such a pivot. Though they’re committed to building a services-based consultancy, Nancy admits it hasn’t been an easy journey, and there’s been a bit of stumbling as they navigate this path.
“We decided to close our doors to break fix, so we’re solely focusing on our managed service clients,” she says. “Now we’ve found ourselves saying—oh, we don’t have a sales channel built.”
To help them get more business, they’ve instituted a referral program, and have been fine-tuning it as they go. After encountering some awkward situations when direct referrals turned out to not be a good fit, they’ve begun couching referrals in terms of customer education. Instead of an existing customer directly connecting them to a referral, they can pass on things like webinars to expose potential clients to SabinoCompTech’s capabilities. Nancy hopes to start lunch-and-learn sessions next, which will be open to customers and non-customers.
“We’re also going to a lot of our clients’ events as guest speakers. It’s a lot of direct communication as opposed to going the cold calling way.”
As they tweak their sales and business development processes, their marketing message and material has also evolved. Nancy says it isn’t difficult to sell people on the technology. Where she struggles is differentiating SabinoCompTech’s service offerings.
“With technology, people think it’s the IT guy kind of thing and they don’t really want to move past that. Educating them is the hardest thing. I’m trying to really get down to how are we going to differentiate ourselves and also have people understand what it is we do.”
When she pitches prospects, Nancy no longer talks motherboards and storage solutions. Though vendor selection varies from MSP to MSP, at their core most IT solutions are comprised of the same technology, and she’s discovered that talking about the actual tech doesn’t really move the needle. Instead, she’s focused SabinoCompTech’s marketing efforts around the high-touch service levels they provide. The Sabinos’ goal isn’t just to satisfy their customers; they want to delight them.
To that end, they went out and talked to their customers in the field to discover what their main ask is. “One thing we’ve heard throughout is simplicity. People want to have a simple understanding of everything.” Nancy revisited the company’s offerings and pricing model and found areas where she could reduce complexity so that she could hammer home the simplicity message.
“We’ve gone back to our pricing model. It helps with our marketing because it’s simple. You’ll understand it in one go, and not everyone is doing this pricing model. Our marketing will help people understand that’s a difference in how we’re doing things.”
The Sabinos have settled into a couple of niche areas where they can offer tailor-made solutions. Being a small business owner, Nancy knows how to talk to SMBs and has found her stride there. She understands what they want over and above the technology: a ‘trusted advisor.’
“One thing we’ve noticed is that because of technology expanding, SMBs don’t know how to make the right decisions, but they know they want the technology. Because of that, they’re looking toward an outsourced IT services firm that can guide them.”
Over the last couple of years, SabinoCompTech as developed expertise in the healthcare sector and built up their roster of clients in that vertical. Recently, they’ve expanded their view to include financial services and legal firms, applying what they’ve learned about stringent regulations to fields facing similar challenges.
“They share a lot of the regulations they all need to abide by, and if we do this for the healthcare industry, we can apply what we know and what we can do to these other verticals.”
Nancy admits that they’re figuring things out as they go. There isn’t a template for how to make this difficult transition. They have to feel comfortable trying new things and then quickly letting them go if they don’t work or integrating them into their services model if they do.
But when it comes to growth, Nancy says more often than not the roadblocks she encounters are personal, not business related. It takes a certain amount of resolve and comfort with taking risks to run your own business, not to mention executing a pivot like the one SabinoCompTech is undergoing.
“For me, it’s been a journey on a personal level to get to know myself and get over certain fears. Even if you have a guide on the business side of it, there’s no one to guide you through the personal growth side.”
Nancy often feels as though she’s fighting an uphill battle on two fronts, as a woman and as a millennial. Though she’s successfully completed the Goldman Sachs 10k Businesses program and runs the business side of things, she often feels as though she’s immediately written off as just ‘the owner’s wife.’
"I’m definitely treated differently than Angel is with certain people. It’s not just the tech industry. It’s business in general. I try to be as diplomatic with the conversation as possible, to tell them this is a thing. Women can be owners, they can own businesses and run businesses and make decisions, and also be technical.”
While the fight to be taken seriously as a woman is personal, Nancy often feels as though she’s fighting on behalf of her generation when she encounters ‘the millennial issue.’ Many small business owners still struggle with adapting their company culture to include some of the things millennial workers famously demand, such as flexible work environments, being shown appreciation and feeling as though their jobs have a purpose beyond just punching a timecard.
She points out that the millennial issue isn’t new. The first members of Generation Z have entered the workforce, which means many millennials are well into their careers. Millennials have worked their way into management or, like the Sabinos, become business owners. They’re in their late 20s or early 30s and have families.
“We have to get over talking about how we’re going to deal with the millennial factor. If you haven’t already adjusted your corporate culture to fit the new workforce trends, you’re behind.”
Despite the challenges, both personal and professional, that the couple has had to overcome during this transitional phase, they’re proud of what they’ve accomplished and are optimistic about the future. While they have yet to land on the exact formula that will lead to unqualified success, they’ve learned a lot and course corrected along the way. Nancy says she knows in her bones that they’ll be successful.
Here’s to hoping her instincts continue to guide her in the right direction.
Look for our next installment of Partners in Transformation, where the Sabinos talk about cultivating a vertical focus and their next leap of faith.
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