Mine data for insights so SMBs understand needs and MSPs, vendors can build strong customer experience.

Craig Donovan

September 22, 2023

5 Min Read
Positive channel experience


Craig Donovan

The concept of customer experience isn’t a new one, both within the channel and outside of it. For decades now, companies have done research and changed their products and processes to ensure an easy, pleasant and memorable experience for their customers. I’ve always considered customer experience to be more than just user happiness; their experience should feel easy and seamless, yes, but also feel as though it was custom-made for them and deeply personal to their individual needs.

In the channel, we don’t always have just one type of customer, and many of us interact with entities who aren’t necessarily direct customers. MSPs interact with a variety of stakeholders, from solutions vendors to distributors, marketplaces and their clients. The experience of all those components should be treated equally, with all needing each other to succeed to themselves be successful.

The Channel’s Evolving Landscape

It’s important to note that the channel landscape is constantly evolving. What began as a system built on traditional selling models between vendors and partners with a distributor in the middle has now expanded into an increasingly open ecosystem with full marketplaces. Partners need and expect automated self-service platforms that simplify their business operations. By extension, small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) might need MSPs now more than ever, as cloud technology becomes more crucial to business success, but organizations struggle to recruit and retain skilled talent in-house.

What does this look like in practice? It’s far easier to say an experience should be good than it is to build a truly positive experience for such varied stakeholders. And no one part of the channel can do this independent of the others.

Vendors, partners, marketplaces and businesses can all affect their own experiences and those of others. I’ve spent the past several years coaching basketball and engaging with MSPs around the world. While those two activities might not seem to have much in common, both have taught me the importance of listening and meeting people where they are. When people feel that they are valued, trusted and that they truly matter, everyone around them wins. The members of our channel need each other now, maybe more than ever, and listening is the best action to take.

Building a Positive Experience

Here are three areas of focus to create a positive experience across providers, vendors and users throughout our ecosystem, regardless of size.

  1. Understanding pain points. The managed IT space will continue to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 13.6% over the next seven years, but that growth doesn’t mean that participants in the ecosystem aren’t struggling with some aspects of the business. Vendors, for example, struggle with the costs and time associated with acquiring, onboarding and servicing SMB customers. Partners, ready and willing to take those SMB clients on, also find customer acquisition a challenge. Business owners in search of cloud solutions might not even know that an MSP exists as an option to them and are overwhelmed trying to manage their IT on their own. At every point in this space, businesses have strengths and weaknesses. A truly positive experience will have to involve problem-solving for the pain points of everyone.

  2. Digging into vertical markets. SMBs and MSPs will often tailor their products and services to certain industries or subindustries. Expertise around an industry’s specific needs when it comes to practices such as compliance, privacy and security standards are standard business practice for many MSPs. For example, take an SMB doing business in the health care space. That business needs an MSP because they don’t have the headcount or expertise necessary to handle their own technology. MSPs who specialize, or at least have dedicated experience, in the health care industry will know the technology most applicable to and helpful for this SMB client. Vendors, similarly, will often offer products and solutions that cater to the needs of businesses within certain markets and industry groups. All of this makes for a better, more personalized experience for the SMBs, of course, but expanding into markets also helps vendors and MSPs build trust with their customers and ultimately improve revenue.

  3. Connecting with the needs of SMBs. SMBs are still a widely untapped pool of opportunity for software-as-a-service (SaaS) vendors. However, as noted above, vendors can’t fully enter the pool due to high onboarding and acquisition costs. They need MSPs to connect them with SMB customers and to provide the provisioning and support that vendors don’t always have the ability to provide to SMBs on their own. Further, MSPs are increasingly becoming trusted partners to their clients, offering advice and expert guidance on top of the routine provisioning of the technology. The best way to connect with a business is to understand their needs through insights provided by data. Unlocking the potential of the SMB market by harnessing data will help not only the SMBs but their MSP partners as well.

MSP owners, solution vendors and distributors all have the same goal in mind: excellent customer service and the enablement of cloud technology for SMBs. Along the way, there are bumps in the road, but remembering that everyone in the broader ecosystem has the same goals in mind will provide opportunities for renewed commitment to building a well-rounded experience.

Craig Donovan drives the strategic direction of partner, customer and vendor experience teams as chief experience officer of Pax8. With over 20 years of experience in engineering and leadership within the software and operational arena, he has built his career on strong customer relationships through innovative technology. He previously led engineering teams at Weyerhaeuser and River Software. You may follow him on LinkedIn or @pax8 on X.

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