Best Buy and mindSHIFT: Why MSPs Need Not Worry

As Best Buy works to complete the mindSHIFT buyout by the end of 2011, I've reached the following conclusion: Small MSPs need not worry about the deal. Here's why.

Generally speaking, I think mindSHIFT will continue to enjoy success in the managed services market. But I don't expect Best Buy to somehow transform itself into a Big Box Retailer that understands small business relationships. I came to that conclusion this past weekend during separate meetings at my accountant's office and at a big commercial bank's branch office.

Finding A Trusted Advisor

During both meetings my wife and I were seeking advice on how to consolidate and manage 401K retirement accounts that I had opened during multiple career stops over the past 20 years. Now picture this:

Meeting 1 - The Big Commercial Bank: My wife and I were greeted by a polite, smart executive who works for the bank. Our appointment was held in a cold, generic branch office. No family pictures. No personality. The banking executive rotates between multiple branch offices -- he's essentially a traveling salesman within a big, global, financial conglomerate.

For most of the conversation, the banking executive tried to learn about our financial goals. Overall it was a good meeting and I believe the financial advisor is a sharp guy. But at one point, he went into sales mode and pitched a product that guaranteed to outperform the S&P 500.

Meeting 2 - My Accountant: My wife and I have trusted our accountant with our annual tax return preparation for about a decade. The accountant's nephew is a financial advisor, with whom we met to discuss the potential 4o1k account consolidation project. My accountant knows my wife and I tend to be conservative; we invest for the long haul and don't focus on Wall Street hype.

Surely, my accountant's nephew already knew that information. But he still went the extra mile to learn how my wife and I value money, investments, etc. At no time during the meeting did this investment advisor recommend a product or service. Nor did he try to sell us on his expertise. Instead, he kept asking more and more questions about our family's short- and long-term needs and goals. Based on that information, he's developing a plan of action for our 401k consolidation project.

Throughout the conversation, I noticed that the office was filled with family pictures and awards for personal achievements. I could be wrong, but it felt like this financial advisor had deep roots in the family-run firm and had no plans to leave anytime soon.

Same Story, Different Market

Now, apply my weekend experience with similar patterns in the SMB technology market. Whether it's a Big Commercial Bank or a Big Box Retailer, customer service and personalized support is difficult to scale.

Choose any cliche ("People buy from people," "small businesses buy from small businesses," etc.) and they all apply in the managed services market. As a result, I don't think Best Buy can take the mindSHIFT experience and scale it across the big retail business. Nor do I think Best Buy will pursue such a strategy. mindSHIFT will thrive if it retains a core focus on SMB customers, while potentially accepting customer leads from the Best Buy retail stores.

Of course, some big IT-focused companies ultimately master customer service. The Apple Store retail experience comes to mind, as does Rackspace's commitment to Fanatical Support.

But generally speaking, I have first-name relationships with my trusted advisors. That will never change.
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