Q&A Roundtable: Best Practices for Increasing Visibility with MSP Customers
In our fourth and final installment of this series devoted to rekindling customer intimacy in a managed- or cloud-services business, we turn to three experts for their guidance on how MSPs can remind their customers what they’re doing for them, the best way(s) for MSPs to get face time with those customers, and identifying and overcoming the obstacles to both. All three are experts with broad experience both directly and as advisers in organizations that have helped many MSPs thrive:
- Charles Weaver: Weaver is the CEO and co-founder of the MSPAlliance, the International Association of Managed Service Providers. Since its founding in 2000, the organization has grown from fewer than five founding members to more than 30,000 members worldwide. Under Weaver’s management, the MSPAlliance has expanded its reach and influence to include education, standards of conduct, and certifications for managed-services professionals and companies. In addition to running the daily operational activities of the MSPAlliance, Weaver writes and speaks extensively around the world on the managed-services industry.
- Gil Cargill: Cargill, founder and CEO of Cargill Consulting Group, had a successful sales career at IBM before becoming a consultant, speaker and trainer helping thousands of businesses achieve dramatic and permanent improvements in sales productivity. Cargill has taught salespeople across diverse industries, including MSPs, the importance of developing sales processes, the advantages of implementing new technology and the benefits of tracking sales performance.
- Dale Stein: Stein is co-founder of Technology Assurance Group (TAG), an international organization of independently owned telecommunications and IT providers, and currently serves as a partner. He is responsible for TAG’s strategic planning and business development. One of the nation’s most sought-after speakers on technology and its impact on advancing businesses, Stein has more than 30 years of proven entrepreneurial, business strategy, management, sales and marketing experience.
Many MSP services, when they’re operating correctly, are virtually invisible to customers. What are some of the best ways MSPs can show proof of service, or otherwise remind customers that they’re there, taking care of them?
CW: Reporting is one of the obvious methods of informing customers about work being done by the MSP. In order to be effective, though, the reports have to be read, which is why having regular, in-person or teleconference meetings to maintain an ongoing relationship with the customer is really important. Constant reinforcement and communication with the customer is crucial.
GC: The best way to show your customers how much value they’re getting out of your services is to do a benchmark assessment prior to launching your services. In other words, you can show them the amount of time they lost prior to engaging your team to maintain their network versus the little or no time they’re losing once they’ve retained your services. In addition, you may be able to show them how many virus or hacking attacks you’ve stopped, depending on the software products that you’re using. Overall, my strongest suggestion is that you have a quarterly business-plan review and, during that review, show the customer the value that they received in the prior 90 days.
DS: Staying in front of the customer is the best thing you can do for them and yourself. Plan your reviews a minimum of once a quarter using the proper tools to produce the reports telling you and them the state of their networks and state of their technologies. A well-run MSP will – and should be – showing the process is working in a proactive manner, not reactive. Discuss the issues they have had and what you did to resolve them. If you are just sending these reports and trying to do this over the phone, you will lose these customers to a better-run MSP.
Face time with customers is both rare and valuable. What types of interactions/activities do you find work the best for getting relationship-building time with clients? In-person reporting? Invitations to sporting events? Going to trade shows in your customers’ industries? Something else entirely? What, in your experience, works best?
CW: Face time with customers used to be associated with pain, meaning the only time the customer saw their IT support provider was when something was broken. That all changed with managed services. Now, MSPs can interact and have face time with customers to provide education and training, strategic vCIO [virtual CIO] types of meetings, and other high-level interactions that have nothing to do with fixing a broken desktop, and instead add value to the customer.
GC: The best strategy to build value with your customer and to gain face time is to offer business-strategy plans. Many MSPs offer quarterly reviews. I encourage my clients to be future-facing with their customers. Where do your customers want to go? How do they want to get there? How can technology, combined with your team’s services, help them get there? Become a partner, not a servant, and you will have all of the face time you ever need.
DS: As mentioned, you have to structure your company to have mandatory meetings with the customer — separate meetings that discuss the reports from the strategic meetings discussing budgeting for the year, growth plans, introductions of new technology and cloud services. Become the virtual CIO. Play that role to their best interest, not yours. The reason I say this is there will be times you will reduce your bill to them by showing them a different way of managing their technology, but remember the technology will continue to change and you will be there making those changes with, and for, them.
What are the greatest obstacles for MSPs in reminding customers of their value and getting face time with them, and how can MSPs overcome those obstacles?
CW: The greatest obstacle in generating ongoing “face time” with customers is having the right people interacting with the customer. Technical staff are great at fixing things, but may not be the best at fostering relationships, listening for new opportunities, or problem-solving human issues. Having someone (or a team) dedicated to this relationship building is critical for an MSP to acquire and keep their customers. These are different skill sets and demand different people and personalities.
GC: The biggest obstacle facing today’s MSPs is they fail to translate technology services into measurable, permanent improvement in business operating conditions. If you show your customer how you can help him/her achieve their goals better, faster and more easily, you’ll be able to gain the face time, gain access and, most importantly, keep your competitors out. If you allow the customer to think that all you are is a collection of technology experts, you will not enjoy the kind of relationship that you deserve.
DS: The biggest obstacles are the MSPs themselves not realizing they will be more successful the more times they meet with the customer. And they need to invest in training to stay in the forefront of the changes that are occurring at a rapid rate. They need to understand that key partnerships are vital to their success. We need to realize we are not just MSPs. We are more to our customers. We are MTSPs, which means we are managing all of their technology from voice to SD-WAN, carrier services, desktops, networks and security (both physical and cyber), and more. Education, training and select partnerships will keep us in business and bring value to the customer, so they reach out to us to help them become more profitable and competitive in the marketplace. You need to understand their business to earn their business.
Khali Henderson is senior partner and Casey Freymuth is managing partner with BuzzTheory Strategies, a marketing and strategy consulting firm specializing in the channel.
Henderson has more than 25 years of marketing, communications and content development experience in the technology industry. Well known for her leadership at Channel Partners, the telecom and IT industry’s leading channel media and events brand, Henderson is one of the country’s foremost experts on channel strategy and marketing. She also has developed and managed marketing and public relations programs for a range of technology companies and trade associations. At BuzzTheory, she heads up business development and serves as the chief content officer. Henderson serves on the boards of The Telecom Channel Association, Cloud Girls and Women in the Channel. She can be reached via email at khenderson@buzztheorystrategies, Twitter @khalihenderson and LinkedIn at /in/khalihenderson.
Freymuth is a strategy and marketing executive specializing in high-tech markets, disruptive and rapidly evolving technologies and value generation. His client list includes many of the world’s best-known brands as well as emerging market leaders, their investors and the media that cover them. With deep roots in management consulting and analysis, Casey has extensive experience in identifying growth opportunities and helping clients position their companies to capture, retain and defend revenue and market share, and to bring their internal operations in line with marketing and positioning objectives. At BuzzTheory, he advises clients on a wide range of strategic and marketing matters and is responsible for BuzzTheory’s operations. He can be reached via email at cfreymuth@buzztheorystrategies and LinkedIn at /in/caseyfreymuth.