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.

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?


Cloud Services for SMBs

The cloud has evolved to a point where I see no advantage to a new SMB investing in Exchange & SharePoint on premise solutions. Too many very good hosted solutions are available today to justify new investment in these systems. For existing SMBs with current on-premise systems, they should consider migrating to cloud based solutions as their maintenance contracts come up for renewal. Naturally, they need to look at the ROI of the migration, being sure to include the cost of the migration, but I am confident that in most cases the near term ROI in such a project will be excellent.

Recently, with the BPOS and AWS outages, a lot has been written about the availability and reliability of the cloud for these applications, this is where the SMB and their advisor need to be realistic about how the on-premise solutions they put together actually perform relative to modern cloud solutions. I argue that the best on-premise solution in an SMB will never approach the availability, security and reliability or performance of a well designed cloud implementation.

A newly formed SMB also needs to consider the alternatives to Exchange, SharePoint, etc. available today as well. For example, Gmail is a great way to get a hosted email solution going with almost no cost.

The cloud creates a lot of possibilities for SMBs: improved functionality, lower risk, less management overhead, lower cost to name a few. The channel has even greater opportunity to reshape their businesses to better serve their customers by leverage these unique cloud based solutions that deliver far better value and functionality compared to the traditional approach. The open minded and nimble VARs will find the right balance of cloud solutions for their customers and become the leaders in their markets, the others will be stuck in the past.



The Core Four

Back when we were launching services at NetEnrich, we often had conversations with VARs about how to get into selling managed services and what services to initially launch. The initial services in your practice are your core services. We actually have four services we recommend as a starting point. We call this group of services, The Core Four. They are easiest to sell because the ROI is clear and they have broad appeal because their value is universal all companies. Additionally, these services create a “foot in the door” that provides a foundation for you to sell additional specialized services down the road.

The Core Four

  • Backup & Disaster Recovery — Every business needs a viable way to recover its data in the event of a disaster. Traditional solutions are too costly and too complicated for typical SMB customers. Protection from data loss, local failover and complete disaster recovery are now available to your SMB customers in an easy to consume and affordable service.
  • Hosted Exchange — Email is the life blood of any business, but the cost of infrastructure, licensing and expertise to properly manage it is out of reach of most small companies. A hosted Exchange solution delivers an always working and fully updated Exchange with no expertise required from the customer, all at a lower cost than a local exchange server.
  • Desktop & Server Management — Most work stops when a company’s IT systems break. Typically your customers will have to wait for your technician to arrive, troubleshoot and then fix the problem. All this time is lost productivity for your customer. Desktop and server management services perform regular preventative maintenance to prevent most minor problems. These same services can monitor the systems to catch bigger issues and fix them remotely before they create downtime for the customer.
  • Helpdesk — The profit margin on SMB customers demands a low touch model, however we know many small customers can become needy. The helpdesk service allows you to monetize these high touch customers while you and your staff remain focused on higher margin projects. A helpdesk service provides an affordable and affective resource to keep the users productive.

Specialized Services

After you establish success with The Core Four, you will likely want to add a few specialized services. Examples of these services include: VoIP, hosted SharePoint, email archiving and many others. In future posts we will discuss how to best select your specialized services and pricing strategies for your services.

Be sure to let us know your thoughts or what you would like to see us discuss.