In a cloud computing world, the role of an MSP revolves around providing your clients with expertise, time-saving service and money-saving strategies.
Since you’re not actually sourcing hardware or keeping systems running yourself, your worth is centered on how easy you can make your clients’ lives so they can focus on their core business activities.
To stand out from the pack and continue providing your clients with value they’re willing to pay a premium for (vs. going the DIY route or shifting to a competitor), an MSP must create strong relationships with the SaaS cloud vendors you’re curating, recommending and managing on behalf of your clients.
Get with the program
Most SaaS and IaaS companies offer developer, reseller, ISV and other programs.
If you plan on reselling or recommending these products and services, it pays to join up.
You’ll gain access to information, tech support and other benefits that will help you better support your clients and run your own operations more efficiently.
Some firms might also offer discounts or freebies that will come in handy, not to mention business development opportunities you can use to further grow your business.
Plus being a member of these programs is often a prerequisite to having any sort of strategic-level conversation with anyone at that vendor.
Forecasting the future
The more you know about what’s coming, the better you can support your clients and prepare them for the next big thing.
That means developing relationships with strategic vendors, understanding their roadmap and being able to translate that into the impacts this will have on your clients.
Finding a trusted contact within your key vendors can go a long way to ensuring you’re the first to know about what’s coming down the road.
Getting to know sales engineers, product managers and developer relations staff can give you a solid contact with whom you can discuss the real-world implications of upcoming changes.
Be a beta tester
There’s no better way to understand new technologies and implementations than to get early hands-on exposure to them.
Joining beta programs will let you get a taste for how things will work, give you an opportunity to provide feedback before things are set in stone and sniff out bugs and problems before they impact your clients.
Once a vendor recognizes your valuable insight, you can even become a trusted partner in helping them with product development ideas and roadmap prioritization.
Embrace your community
Many vendors give their resellers and distributors the opportunities to participate in community forums, events, councils, etc.
While this might mean more interaction with competitors than you’d prefer, it’s also a fabulous opportunity to learn from others in the same boat.
Swapping best practices and missteps with your peers can help you better support your clients by learning from the mistakes of others without having to experience them yourself (and to spare your clients any inconvenience).
Narrow your focus
While your firm should be familiar with most vendors in the ecosystem, there’s no reason to become an expert in everything.
Becoming intimately familiar with two or three solutions for each part of the solutions stack is probably all you’ll need for the vast majority of your engagements.
And if a client specifically requests an alternate vendor, you can always expand your repertoire in those cases.
Not only will this let you make the most of your time and limited resources by not wasting cycles on little used solutions, showing loyalty to specific vendors and frequently using them can increase your visibility with those vendors and might secure more favorable pricing as you consolidate volume and increase your total spend.
Beyond the boilerplate
No vendor wants to renegotiate their standard contracts, but securing favorable terms with your vendors is one of the value-adds you bring to your client relationships.
This can be a result of the total volume of business you represent or because of your familiarity with the service compared to a single client.
Areas to focus on include guaranteed uptime, support levels, included professional services, volume discounts and price lock-ins.
This will keep your clients from experiencing any outages (that they’ll likely blame on you) and from your margins suddenly disappearing when your vendor decides to increase their rates.
Early and often contact
Healthy vendor relationships take steady work, just like your clients.
Invest time up-front to find the right staff that understand your business and provide you with value.
Schedule regular check-ins and keep your firm top-of-mind so they’re sure to include you in exclusive programs, early access and generally keep you informed.
You should also make sure vendors know the full scope of your business.
As an MSP, it’s not about the specific client engagement but the larger total book of business your firm represents.
Keep them abreast of the progress you’re making and how your business’s growth potential and long-term value.
It’s also helpful to understand the motivations of your vendors (and your contacts within those vendors).
What are their goals?
How are they being compensated?
Then position your business in terms that speak to how you’re able to help them be successful as well.
Kirill Bensonoff is a seasoned entrepreneur and the founder of Unigma, a unified cloud management platform. Kirill blogs regularly about cloud, tech and growing your managed services business. He can be reached at [email protected].