Changing The Customer Relationship Approach To Grow Your MSP Organization
By Elma Levy and Dov Levy
Dovel Technologies started as a two-person company, and by the time we sold to Private Equity in late 2019, Dovel had more than 1,200 people on our payroll. Two concepts, in particular, helped us grow and can help your MSP organization grow as well.
1. Prioritize Building And Maintaining Customer Relationships
Growing your business is easier said than done, and it means selling more products and services to existing customers (easy), and/or selling products and services to similar customers (a little more complicated), and/or selling products and services to new types of customers (challenging).
There are two ways to view relationships with your clients. One way is transactional, where the only objective is to score a sale ASAP. The other is personal, meaning taking a deep interest in the client as a person, as well as their organization's story—whether this relates to the product or solution you are selling or not. A more personal approach is paramount for businesses hoping to grow.
You may say, “what's the point of the relationship if it's not focused on what I sell?” This is what's called Customer Discovery: learning about the client's interests, what frustrates them, and what are their pain points, wants, and needs. By engaging in a "discovery" conversation, you learn so much about the client, including their product/solution-related frustrations. You should use open-ended questions to elicit the information you seek, for example: how does this work for you? What frustrates you? If you had a magic wand, what would you change?
Their responses will give you insight, as well as an opening to talk about the experiences of other clients who adopted your product/solution. In addition, they notice that you have a genuine interest in their issues rather than just presenting your "elevator speech." This creates a connection because they feel listened to.
Finally, even a conversation unrelated to anything professional, the so-called "small talk" that everybody dislikes at networking events, has an essential function in relationship building and connecting. Find out what you might have in common: a sport, a pet, where you're from, etc. This person will remember you because of what you have in common and the comfortable and personable interaction. This person will remember you when they need your product or solution.
During our business years, we saw many companies concentrate significant resources on attempting to make a sale, perfecting their "elevator speech," and trying to forge connections. Still, very little attention is paid to building and managing the relationship.
We intuitively knew we needed to flip the model upside down from giving information to eliciting information. From making us look good to making our customers look good. It should all be about the customer. If we make a real connection and learn what the customer needs to look good, we as a company will be in great shape. It is that simple. So, we decided to evolve from the contract being at the center by executing well and keeping the customer as satisfied as feasible to putting the customer at the center: Making customers happy and, over time, the company will do very well.
In summary, building relationships will grow your organization because:
- Building and maintaining customer relationships is Business Development
- Asking open-ended questions makes the customer feel listened to and remember you
- Asking questions is more valuable than presenting your perfect “elevator speech” that very few will remember
- "Small talk" builds a foundation for a relationship
2. Use A Lessons Learned Paradigm To Gain Business
As a small start-up with limited resources, our business development approach was like what most companies do: knocking on the doors of potential customers. We had some results, but it wasn't enough. One day we spoke to a team member who was hearing from a customer while on-site on a project; the customer was describing a business challenge and complaining about the lack of real solutions offered by the industry.
We decided to schedule an informal discussion, not to say, "we have the solution and can do the work; please give it to us," but rather, "we have worked with customers with similar business challenges, and this is how we approached the challenge and provided the solution. These are the lessons we learned." Our approach focused on the "lessons learned" with this potential customer. Doing so led the customer to recognize themselves in the story and visualize the business solution working for them!
Sharing the lessons learned made it clear to the potential customer that we understood their challenge, recognized their needs, and knew a lot about the subject. They compared us to other, much larger, companies that had pitched their story and provided them with an unworkable and expensive solution, and they liked what they heard! This effort led to our very first direct, very exciting, and valuable, prime contract (directly to the customer vs. via another company's contract). From then on, we recognized the value of this successful approach, and used this, again and again, leading to successful growth. From then on, the "Lessons Learned Paradigm" became a valuable tool in our business development toolbox.
- When the client learns that you see and feel their challenge, they feel understood
- It's more powerful to share what you have done vs. talking about what you can do!
About The Authors
Elma Levy and Dov Levy are coauthors of Partners in Work and Life: Finding Success Through a Partner Business (Routledge, 2022).
Elma Levy is an entrepreneur, investor, leadership coach, and public speaker. She is cofounder of Dovel Technologies Group, Inc, and served as CEO & Chair of the Board She is cofounder and principal of The Eldov Group, LLC, a boutique investment and startup advisory in the Washington, D.C. area
Dov Levy is an entrepreneur, investor, and leading expert in large-scale, mission-critical IT solutions. He cofounded Dovel Technologies Group, Inc. and served as its chief technologist until the company's acquisition in 2019, remaining a dynamic leader at the forefront of technological innovations. He is cofounder and principal of The Eldov Group, LLC.
Read about the authors at www.eldovgroup.com