I'm now convinced that all IT service providers -- MSPs, VARs, resellers -- need quoting and sales proposals software. Ironically, I reached that conclusion while researching a potential home improvement project. Here's the back story, and how it shaped my views back in the managed services providers.
My wife and I have spent the past few weeks meeting with home improvement contractors and Home Depot. We may -- or may not -- remodel our aging kitchen. We're still weighing the potential project "components" and costs. Call me crazy, but the process reminds me of a potential sales engagement in the managed services market.
Consider these three scenarios:
1. Contractor one is well-spoken and comes with numerous references. His work for some of our neighbors is stellar and he has incredible vision for how our kitchen could be remodeled. But we've met this contractor twice and we've asked him -- multiple times -- for a project estimate. He originally told us the sales quote would arrive in two weeks. It has been a month. We've yet to see an estimate from him.
2. Contractor two has a well-regarded team -- rip-and-replace specialists, plumbers, electricians. We suspect he could handle the entire job. He's a project manager of sorts and extremely personable, spending considerable time on-site making sure home renovations meet customer expectations. Here again, we've asked multiple times for a job quote but we've yet to receive one.
3. Contractor three is a tag-team involving Home Depot and a local contractor that is part of Home Depot's outsourced "service provider" network (no joke). Here's where things get really interesting:
- Home Depot has essentially given us 20 hours of free in-store consulting. A Home Depot employee has sat with us two or three hours per weekend, designing kitchen layouts and then using the layout software to generate a real-time price quote for all the "hardware" (cabinets, etc.). Each time we change a cabinet or a design point, the sales quote is updated dynamically -- in real time.
- The local contractor, potentially working in combination with Home Depot, visited our house with a laptop. Using (1) our kitchen dimensions, plus (2) some custom requests (from us) plus (3) the Home Depot "hardware" quote, the contractor was able to generate a price quote for us during his first visit to our house. The quote covers installation services.
Information Technology Projects and Managed ServicesNow, apply our home improvement example to the managed services market. As Big Box retailers (Best Buy, Staples, etc.) continue to push into managed services, you can imagine the Home Depot price quoting model taking hold.
First, Best Buy can offer some basic hardware quoting services to small businesses -- generating on-the-fly cost estimates for a 25-node small business network running email, for instance. Next, perhaps mindSHIFT -- Best Buy's managed services arm -- could further customize the quote to blend in managed services and cloud services.
Get MovingWhere does that hypothetical scenario leave independent MSPs, VARs and IT resellers? The short answer: To compete with the big guys and with entrenched MSP rivals, you've got to generate accurate, comprehensive price quotes far more rapidly. It's not enough to sit down with a customer, offer sound advice and great customer references. You need to follow-up rapidly and seal the deal with a compelling proposal.
That's where sales proposal and price quoting software enter the picture. Two of the best-known options are Quosal and QuoteWerks. I've also heard some buzz about BigMachines, CIS QuoteBuilder, CNet ChannelOnline, QwikQuote and VARStreet (which Autotask recently sold back to VARStreet's employees).
I wonder: How many incomplete sales proposals are sitting on your desk? And how many of your customers are choosing alternative IT service providers simply because they received a timely price quote?