Your True Value Proposition

Hosted solutions have simplified business operations somewhat for managed service providers and their clients. As a result of relying upon cloud providers to host business critical services, MSPs have tended to begin “outsourcing” services that used to require their time, effort, and expertise. Subsequently, reliance upon cloud providers has increased as hosting providers assume more operational responsibility. Likewise, some MSPs have backed off from providing several elements of support.

What is an MSP’s true value proposition?  SMB clients hire a great MSP for the relationship, for the on-call response, and the “we’ll handle that” attitude. They need problem solvers who are not only personable, but who are also reliable and capable. An MSP that surrenders even a portion of their forward-facing customer support is surrendering a large part of their value proposition. This is undoubtedly a slippery slope, which could lead to Microsoft owning your client.

By relinquishing a number of tasks they used to own, MSPs have the tendency to discount the true importance of the Tier 1 help desk support they provide. The true value proposition for an MSP is to know your client’s business inside and out. Beginning with knowing the people within that organization, the MSP and their help desk team gets to know the individuals, their workflow, and their personalities.  In addition, the IT environment, the applications, the technological advantages and limits, the culture, and the budget, are all crucial facets of this service. Having that knowledge is what sets an MSP apart from others and provides an essential edge when a client picks up the phone seeking help.

Deploying and supporting a complex hosted environment isn’t easy. With a strong hosting provider, technology is relatively straight-forward. The greatest hosting providers consistently update systems and manage support and ongoing maintenance, thus eliminating many of the issues that would otherwise appear. However, relationship building isn’t included in a cloud service provider’s SLA.

Amidst the overwhelming trend toward hosting, the true role of the MSP is invaluable and irreplaceable. Here are some guidelines to ensure you stay relevant in the mind’s eye of your client:

Know Your End Users

Although IT systems can be streamlined and efficient, it’s the human variable that introduces unpredictability and inefficiency. As one of my MSP partners explains, “This business would be easy if it weren’t for my clients.”

Hasty missteps or simple negligence provides the unpredictable challenges that truly shape IT. Not all users fit the mold of an ideal client, nor do all users work within the “IT box” they’re provided. Remind yourself that MSPs have a job because end users and their businesses are unpredictable. You’re assigned an important role because your client and their end users don’t posses the skills, time, or resources to intimately understand and effectively manage their complex IT environment.

Understand Your Client’s Workflow

Understanding a business’s workflow means understanding the business processes, whether IT-dependent or not. Where are the efficiencies? Where are the inefficiencies? Find out what technology employees are avoiding and where systems are breaking down. Exceptional MSPs interview managers and employees in addition to the business owners and the “Head of IT”. This not only helps develop a bond, but it helps identify pain points that *may* be remediated.  Understand the technological pain points and understand what’s preventing users from doing their jobs faster and easier.

Embrace Your Role as a Consultant

After relying on your experience and expertise to identify breakdowns in productivity, use your soft-selling skills to recommend a solution. You’re not the “break-fix” guy or gal that fixes things when it breaks. You’re a consultant. Describe to your clients the latest application, solution, or update if it’s likely that the current solution will not improve efficiency. –And always convert the cost into business dollars and time (i.e.” X” employee hours gained/lost each day, a free Saturday morning, etc.)  Always link the recommended change or the upgrade or the new solution directly to THEIR business.

There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging that a service you honestly thought could work for the client last year just isn’t working a year or two later. If you’re not recommending a fix or a new solution, another person is. Be prepared to have a better solution for nearly everything and to present that solution.

Take Command of the Ship

If you’ve earned your client’s trust, be comfortable taking charge and being direct, if it’s necessary. Your expertise and your people skills got you in the door. Now your client expects for you to lead the battle on the IT front. Make recommendations that will improve uptime, service, and support. Be prepared for these recommendations to initially rock the boat or to get your client thinking. Get over the hump and stand behind your convictions. Ultimately, your know-how, experience, and instruction will ensure a life-long client.

Be Seen and Be Heard

It’s true that hosted solutions do require less need for on-site support. Just because you or your techs no longer need to make that urgent on-site tech visit…  Or because systems seem to be working efficiently and users are able to log into their desktops does not mean that you’re not needed. Show up as often as possible. Be seen and be heard. Schedule review meetings and survey end-users. Remember that out of sight – and in your case, off site – is truly out of mind.

Schedule On-Site Reviews

Depending upon the complexity of your client’s business and the speed of their business, schedule standing monthly or quarterly reviews. Formally meet with the decision makers to review active desktop user accounts, application usage, overall performance, and any other developments. These face-to-face talks will not only ensure that your client’s pricing is in check with their usage, but it will also let you personally make the case for new opportunities and any business modifications or changes.

It’s important to remember that managed services is a people business FIRST and a technology business SECOND. Technology can undergo the proper troubleshooting and can eventually be fixed, replaced, or upgraded, but relationships cannot. If you inadvertently begin ceding aspects of your personalized Tier 1 help desk support as a result of providing reliable hosted services, you would be failing to deliver upon your one true value proposition as an MSP  – Providing that valuable and personal help desk support.