No MSP Is an Island, Says Tim Conkle
If you want to understand peer groups, Tim Conkle, CEO of the MSP Roland Technology Group and the managed services peer association The 20, says to think back to the 19-year-old Tom Hanks epic “Cast Away.” Stuck on that deserted island, Hanks’ character names a volleyball “Wilson” and turns it into his best friend in order to have someone to talk to and keep his sanity. Managed service providers (MSPs) that see peers solely as competition are in pretty much the same boat.
“If you’re ever going to make it big, you’re not going to do it from an island,” quips Conkle. “A lot of MSPs [that don’t want to talk to their competition] might be keeping their sanity, but it’s like talking to a ball. The company is like Wilson. It can’t fix itself.”
It’s only when you mingle that you start to figure out there are other ways of doing things and other ways of approaching business problems. That’s the lesson Conkle learned almost two decades ago when he arrived at his first industry conference armed with a knowledge of pay-per-click and ready to learn. Through talking with peers, he realized there are three main things that any MSP needs to perfect. Despite how much the industry has changed since then, Conkle says those three main ingredients haven’t: lead generation, sales and scale.
Conkle had the lead-gen piece down, or at least a good chunk of it, through his PPC prowess. He started sharing what he knew with the people who were part of his peer group’s genesis — MSPs he’s still close to today. One peer had gone on an astounding 44 sales appointment within about six months, but he hadn’t closed any of them. Another was closing deal after deal, taking his shop from about $750,000 in annual revenue to more than $3 million in two years, but discovered he really wasn’t making any more money. One had a sales problem. One had a scale problem. And Conkle had the foundations of what would later form The 20’s methodology.
You can think of The 20 almost more like a consortium than a peer group. MSPs that belong to The 20 operate on the same sales and service platform, essentially acting as extensions of one another. Separately, they may not wield the power they would like to. But together, they have engineers on the ground from coast to coast. Where one MSP may fall short, another in the group can help bolster. From vertical offerings to software systems to separate geos, members of The 20 essentially act as one giant MSP.
Some studies, such as the annual MSP 501 survey and report, find strong correlations between peer group membership and things like pricing models, marketing activities and company size. But there are some experts that are skeptical about the impact peer groups actually have on their members’ businesses. Conkle says there’s a good reason for that.
“There’s a big difference between belonging to a peer group and being in a peer group,” he emphasizes. “I know a lot of people who belong to peer groups. But being a part of them is where you truly come together and do it. If you look at The 20, we statistically grow faster, we are statistically more profitable and all other pieces that go with it. Why? Because we are one big-ass peer group that moves in the same direction.”
Conkle, a native Texan with a drawl and affinity for storytelling to match, likens peer groups to someone handing over all the parts to a car in a big cardboard box. It would take the average person a lifetime to build it. But within a few days, a team of engineers with the instructions in hand could have the car ready to go — preferably, a mid-engine Corvette, the 2020 release of which Conkle is giddy about.
That’s a peer group. Specifically, that’s The 20: a team of business engineers with the blueprints in hand to help you build your MSP.