Some 2018 applicants will get a partially pre-populated survey to make life easier.

Kris Blackmon, Head of Channel Communities

March 20, 2019

5 Min Read
MSP 501 Multiyear

Year after year, managed service providers (MSPs) around the globe apply for the Channel Futures MSP 501 ranking list and survey. Some applicants can trace their submission history back to the days when the list was the MSPmentor 250 more than a decade ago.

Every year, these MSPs sign up to provide us with a trove of information about their companies. We collect information about hiring trends, pricing models, customer demographics and, of course, financial performance. The MSP 501 is not a quick and dirty application. It delves into the inner workings of managed-service businesses around the world. We don’t take our rankings lightly. They aren’t a popularity contest or based on frivolous metrics. This is the real deal.

But there’s a lot of information repeat applicants have provided us over the years that isn’t all that nuanced. It isn’t difficult to enter your company name, address and every social handle you can think of, but it’s admittedly tedious and not exactly quick. We need this information, obviously, but we also hate that our applicants have to spend time typing the same data in the same fields every year.

Basic company info isn’t the only repetitive data that can take up time to report. Every year, we ask questions about company performance metrics for the preceding two years in order to calculate year-over-year results for a wide array of data. We ask about the number of customers, endpoints and devices applicants support each year. We want to know about employee headcount and how it grew or shrank over 12 months. And, of course, we want to know both year-over-year total and recurring revenues in order to help give us an idea of the health of the business.

This information is often not just sitting there at applicants’ fingertips. Take the 2019 application, for instance. It’s been a year since the last time these MSPs applied; who can remember exactly how many virtual machines they managed in 2017? How many network devices? How many physical servers? Digging up that information is often time-consuming and frustrating. Many applicants email us asking for a copy of last year’s submission just so they can make sure they’re reporting consistent figures.

The Channel Futures MSP 501 team’s goal for this year was to find ways to simplify the application process. Editorial, data research, marketing, compliance and many other departments brainstormed and finally hit upon an idea we hope will make the 2019 application the easiest one ever for MSPs to fill out.

“As with most technology, we are trying our best to utilize our tools to make a sometimes tedious task a bit easier by pre-populating this year’s MSP 501 form with much of the data you provided us with last year,” says Scott Grau, senior market research manager at Informa, which owns Channel Futures.

Grau explains that we know many MSPs are doing their best to adapt to the changing channel landscape. Very little about a managed-service business stays static, and we know our applicants will have their hands full gathering up the dynamic data we need to calculate our rankings. So we extracted the information from the submissions we received in 2018 and parsed it down to the data we felt was least likely to change from year to year.

The 2018 data was then uploaded to a secure server where each record was assigned a randomly generated four- to six-digit code number, which we then embedded into a URL unique to each 2018 applicant. That code number triggers …

… the applicant’s specific information to populate corresponding fields in the application.

“Like password protocols, we used the variable length numbers to keep revenue information from the previous year secure,” says Grau. “Our security methodology generated over 1 million possible numbers, so this should eliminate random guessing of any code number.”

These company-specific URLs were then deployed through Eloqua, our marketing automation platform. On Wednesday morning, all 2018 applicants that have not opted out of marketing communications received a unique link to an MSP 501 application that was partially pre-populated with responses from last year.

The functionality certainly didn’t come without snags. As MSPs the world over know, last year’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) changed the game for every business. We did our GDPR homework but realized last week that one or two pieces weren’t as clear cut as our legal team felt they needed to be, so we had to delay deployment until we could go through the proper compliance checks.

In addition, we were dissatisfied that applicants that had opted out of marketing communications wouldn’t receive this advantage since it was deployed through marketing automation software. So Grau and his team gathered all of the 2018 applications and have committed to providing a copy of last year’s submission to any repeat applicant who needs a reminder about the data they reported.

Finally, since we’re now running the MSP 501 on a different data collection and management system, we can only reach back to 2018 applications. We’re unable to retrieve data submitted before last year.

As to be expected with the first year of any major functionality upgrade, we’re prepared to field hiccups, and we don’t expect it to work seamlessly. 2019 will teach us a lot about how to do it even better next year, just as the 2018 process led us to this innovation. The point is to keep improving every year and stay focused on our mission of keeping the MSP 501 the most advanced and comprehensive ranking survey in the IT channel — while also making it as easy as possible on the partners who apply.

We hope the new functionality eases the submission process for our applicants. We want to hear your feedback! You can leave a comment below, email [email protected] or reach us on any of the following social platforms:

  • Facebook: @ChannelFuturesMSP501

  • Twitter: @MSP_501

  • LinkedIn: MSP 501 Group

As always, please reach out with any questions or concerns about the application, and check out our comprehensive FAQ. We’re here to help! Best of luck, and sincere thanks for your interest in becoming a member of the MSP 501 Class of 2019.

About the Author(s)

Kris Blackmon

Head of Channel Communities, Zift Solutions

Kris Blackmon is head of channel communities at Zift Solutions. She previously worked as chief channel officer at JS Group, and as senior content director at Informa Tech and project director of the MSP 501er Community. Blackmon is chair of CompTIA's Channel Development Advisory Council and operates KB Consulting. You may follow her on LinkedIn and @zift on X.

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