customer satisfaction Tag

Should Big MSPs Continue to Partner?

In a previous post, I talk about how the added efficiency from the scale of a traditional NOC service, with its shared service model, decreases as an MSP grows, and in fact the lack of process and tool flexibility can actually impede a mature MSP’s growth. This naturally leads to the question, should a large mature MSP still partner and if so why? I believe the answer is absolutely yes, but the partner selection needs to focus on different criteria.

  • Dedicated Resources – Once an MSP has enough internal scale, the additional efficiency contributed from the scale of a shared NOC is very small. At this point, the MSP is better served by finding a partner that can offer a dedicated team that benefits from a shared facility, infrastructure and management and that is located in an economically advantaged geography. This arrangement provides the MSP with the consistency that comes from always working with the same individuals, but with little facility and HR overhead. Additionally, the members of the team assigned to a given MSP will become very familiar with that MSP’s customers and will deliver better service over time. Operating within a shared facility and infrastructure, the MSP will still benefit from shared cost on those items that will not effect day-to-day service. Finally, an economically advantaged geography provides highly trained resources at a fraction of the cost that is available locally.
  • Process & Tool Flexibility – When a VAR first embraces services and becomes an MSP, they will typically be weak on processes, but as they mature, they develop a deep understanding of what works for their customers and they may even acquire some large customers that have their own process requirements. At this point, the MSP needs a partner that allows the MSP to specify the process and tool selection and to perhaps set specific processes by customer.
  • Flexible Resource Pool – Having a dedicated team is great for consistency and building specific knowledge to support your practice areas. However, there are times when a skill set is required either on a one time case or a periodic frequency that does not justify a full time resource within you team. To meet these requirements, an MSP needs to identify a partner that has a pool of specialized talent that can be drawn upon to meet a specific need or simply augment the staff to meet a temporary workload increase.

By following these considerations, the large MSP will still benefit from improved service quality and reduced service delivery cost while still focusing their internal resources on high-value projects and closing new business.

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Questions Organizations Ask Prospective MSPs

In talking to a number of IT departments and MSPs over years, I hear the same few questions come up over and over when the SMB is evaluating a perspective service provider. Here is a list of what I hear most often and some thoughts about how to respond:

Do you have proven experience?
The last thing an enterprise account wants is a service provider that is learning as they go. They need an MSP that has direct, long-standing experience delivering the services they need. That’s why it’s no surprise that in a recent survey, Enterprise Management Associates found “proven experience/depth of expertise” as the top factor organizations use to evaluate prospective MSPs.
Expect the prospect to ask you detailed, targeted questions. Ensure your answers speak to your deep technical and operational expertise. Be sure to provide specific examples of similar things you do for other clients. Additionally your prospects will consider whether you can meet their longer term needs. They may ask you about your capabilities within their emerging requirements, both technology expertise and operational scalability to ensure your team can handle their foreseeable expanded requirements.  While it is most important to find a fit that works now, the better an MSP can grow and adapt along with the organization’s business, the more value the customer will realize from the relationship in the long-term.

Your takeaway: In sales situations, sell your experience honestly, give specific examples. Oversell, and you may raise flags for the person sitting across the table.

Can I see your service datasheet?
Your service datasheet says a lot about your business, and it’s a great first step in assessing whether a you are the best match for your prospect. First, and most obviously, decision makers need to make sure the services outlined map to their needs. Next, the service datasheet provides insights into how organized and packaged your service offerings are. For example, the datasheet should provide clear definitions about what services and capabilities you provide, and, if different tiers are offered, it should be clear what is added as you move up each tier. This organization in your datasheet will provide confidence to your prospect that you have thought through your offerings and are delivering them consistently. Decision makers often attempt to spot service providers that are trying to do too much too fast. This can be seen as  a sign of organizational immaturity and can signal future delivery problems. By presenting a focused set of services specific to your market, you will convey that your team is equipped to deliver on their commitments.

Your takeaway: If you do not have a service datasheet, create one.  Be sure datasheet positions your capabilities with creditably.

Who will serve as our day-to-day contacts?
We’ve all had this experience: Vendor representatives come in during the sales process and amaze everyone with their savvy and expertise. After the contract’s signed, those people are never seen again, and you’re left with the junior team to manage your service.  I refer this to the bait and switch method of service sales. For an IT service provider, success is all about the people and customers are particularly disappointed when they are greeted by the “B” team as soon as they sign on. It is important to actually have your prospective customers meet and interview the actual members of your staff who will serve as their day-to-day contacts for account management, delivery management and technical support. Expect them to treat it as a job interview, your ensure your staff is prepared to help the customer gain an understanding of how they will work together. This process will go a long way to eliminate the buyer’s remorse caused by the bait and switch sales process.

Your takeaway: Be ready to have your operational staff participate in prospect discussions. Train them to help in the sales process. Nothing is more powerful in a presentation than a confident delivery expert talking about how they will be working to meet the customer’s needs.

What is the On Boarding Process?
This will be of critical importance to most customers. Depending on the type of service being delivered, migrating from their internal team to an external service can require a significant effort. For both the MSP and the customer, it’s critical to define respective roles and responsibilities. You should attack this issue upfront in the sales process. Highlight your on boarding process as a strength in your sales presentation. Present the prospect with a plan. Be sure the plan details time frame, responsibilities, cost and the SLA provided in the transition period. This will go a long way to setting a realistic expectation from the beginning and will truly aid your sales effort. Decision makers will look for vendors that approach this upfront process as part of building a long-term relationship, rather than a one-time transaction.

Your takeaway: Make the on boarding process a repeatable process that is one of your strengths. It as an investment in a long-term relationship.

How Strong is Your Business?
The act of researching and migrating to a service provider represents a significant investment, and the beginning of a partnership. Potential customers want a long term relationship so they can maximize their ROI. Decision makers will attempt to gauge, in as rigorous and objective a way as possible, your company’s long-term viability. They will probably want to see your financials to assess profits, operating cash flow, resource utilization, cash flow, and long-term debt. Another key indicator to viability is how long you have been in business and how many happy customers you have.  A long track record with lots of happy customers is not a  guarantee you will be able to serve them in the long term, but it is also very hard to beat.

Your takeaway: You can’t make this part up. Over time, you will have a good story to tell.

What do your internal processes look like?
Depending on the nature of the IT service required, these area will vary significantly for a given prospect. At a high level, it’s important a prospect is able to gauge your operational sophistication. For example, are all your processes documented? Do you leverage ITIL? What control mechanisms are in place? How much is automated? These are all areas where you should be prepared to discuss in detail as part of the sales process.

Your takeaway: Investments in developing good processes will payoff not only in operational efficiency and predictably, but sales as well.

Can we see the reports we will receive?

Reporting is what customers use to measure the work you perform for them. Reporting is also typically the only way you can show a customer all the detailed work you do for them day in, day out. Because of this importance, prospects will want to see your reporting capability and you should want to showcase it to them. Show them how to navigate the reports to find the information they are looking for, explain how reports generated as well as when and how they will receive them.

 Your takeaway: Reporting is the primary vehicle for demonstrating your value add to your customer on a regular basis, treating it as an important element of your overall service will lead to better customer satisfaction.

Can I Tour Your Facilities?

If the answer to this question is “no”, prospects will start looking elsewhere. By refusing this request, you are raising the possibility that you have something to hide. A prospect can learn a good deal from a tour of your facility, they can get a good reading for the people and the setup of the facility will help them gauge the efficiency of the organization.

Your takeaway: Here again, good organization can help sell and will project a sense of maturity and stability. Be prepared to show off your facility and be proud of it.

Can I Speak with Customer References?

Talking to an MSP’s customers is probably the most vital step of all. It’s a critical way to verify that the service provider’s answers are accurate and forthcoming. Does the customer attest to the MSP’s claims of being responsive to inquiries? Do the promised SLA correspond with the customer’s experience? Prospects will also examine length of the customer engagements. Here again, long track records are good to show.

Your takeaway: No surprises here. Happy customers are key to survival. Happy, referenceable customers are key to growth.

Do you outsource any parts of your service to other IT service providers?
In today’s global economy and given the powerful remote monitoring and managements available, it makes good business sense for an MSP to outsource part of their operations to an external provider. However, it is important for your prospect to understand this up front. What they don’t want is to encounter an issue and start seeing finger-pointing among various IT service providers. If you use external IT service providers be sure your prospects know you are solely accountable for their satisfaction.

Your takeaway: If you use other service providers, make sure you tell a clear story to prospects.

Can I see your contracts and service level agreements?
Early on, try to get decision makers to assess the agreements that are part of your service. They need to get clarification on what their obligations are. Items like, What if the client wants to terminate early? What are acceptable grounds for termination? Will a refund be provided? Also, decision makers need to review Service Level Agreements (SLA). It is important for them to understand what specific SLA commitments you are making, and what happens if service levels are missed? Here, beyond the specifics of the agreements, prospects can also infer a lot about how the service provider stands behind their people and obligations.

Your takeaway: Make sure your agreements are current, and accurately reflect the commitments you can deliver.

Summary
If you’re a seasoned MSP, you know better than anyone the common pitfalls organizations run into when they’re looking for vendors, and how they attempt to avoid a poorly prepared MSP.  Always think about the problem from the other side. How would you evaluate MSPs if you were the customer?

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The Importance of SLAs

In reading a post over on one of my favorite blogs, Talkin’ Cloud, I saw a discussion that caught my attention. The post itself is titled, Top 11 Questions MSPs Ask About Cloud Partner Programs, but the discussion touched on Service Level Agreements (SLA). In particular the seeming lack of importance customers give the actual SLA service provides give them.

In my experience at NetEnrich and at OpSource prior to that, our customers would spend a lot of time on the Master Service Agreement (MSA) with many conversations between their legal team and our legal team and give and take on a number of points. Naturally, these are important conversations to have, but in this negotiation process the SLA was typically given a cursory read and accepted.

As a commenter pointed out, one can argue that the ultimate SLA is customer satisfaction and a vendor with low customer satisfaction will loose their customers. While I agree with this premise, I believe customers who do not question the SLA, miss a great opportunity to get a better idea of how the service vendor will deliver on customer satisfaction. I recommend not only reading and fully understanding of a perspective vendor’s SLA to insure it meets your needs, but also to always ask the vendor a number of pointed questions about their SLA and how they operate in a number of possible incidents and then carefully gauge their responses. This is the best way for a customer to set their expectations of how the vendor will respond to incident prior to engaging. It will also help to expose areas to negotiate on the SLA along with possible areas where you may need to augment the service to maintain that ultimate SLA with your internal or external customers.

A few things to consider in an SLA:

 

  • Evaluate the promised response time based on the severity of the incident. Does this response time fit your needs, if not is there a way you can work with internal resources to deal with it?
  • Look at the teeth in the SLA. This is what happens if the vendor does not meet their commitment under the SLA. Many vendors have great standards in their SLA, but have little or no teeth in the event they fall short.
  • Understand how breaches need to be reported. Here you need to understand how long you have to report the breach and what process needs to be followed.
  • Look for  what we call the No Harm, No Foul SLA. In this SLA, if your team does not report the breach, it did not happen. In many cases this type of SLA works fine, however, if you are relying on the service to support a series customers, then this may not work as well because some of your customers may see problems you did not see and they may be too busy or frustrated to report it to you. In this setting, you may want an SLA where the vendor is required to report to you any and all breaches.
  • Lastly, be sure you can live with the performance level defined in the SLA. If you can, then you will probably be happy when your vendor out performs it.

Let us know you thoughts and please ask questions.

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