By Matthew Adkins, SunPoint IT Solutions and ASCII Group Member
I was recently asked about the hallmarks of a great managed services provider (MSP). I started to fire off a quick answer based on my years of MSP experience and then paused. Are we talking strictly about service delivery? Client satisfaction? Profitability? Gross sales? Employee engagement? Do we even agree on a definition of MSP? And what is a hallmark anyway other than a TV channel my mother-in-law watches all day?
It turns out that a hallmark is a mark struck on metal to confirm purity, genuineness, or origin. Merchants and consumers could count on that mark to be assured they were dealing with quality products. Unlike with doctors, attorneys, and CPAs, however, there is no universally recognized certifying association or government agency that confirms an MSP meets a U.S. state or national standard, let alone that an MSP is “great.”
So, we shall first define what is a Managed Services Provider and then discuss what makes them great. The Gartner Glossary says an MSP, “delivers services, such as network, application, infrastructure, and security, via ongoing and regular support and active administration…” The key here, in my opinion, is managed “ongoing and regular support”. A more complete definition would be, “a technology services firm that replaces or augments the IT staff of a company providing high quality actively managed technology solutions and additional value in consultative and premium services from a highly available team of trained professionals with a broad depth of experience in a contracted, recurring billing model.” This model would seem to work especially well for overtaxed IT departments and small businesses that cannot afford to hire enough tech staff to cover vacations, sick days, and nights.
With MSP defined I can now hit you with my 10 hallmarks of a great MSP.
A great MSP:
- Knows the numbers. Great MSPs have established key performance indicators (KPIs) and know their numbers forwards and backward on service delivery, profitability, and every other aspect of their business. There are some great consulting firms and peer groups that can help with this.
- Is continuously marketing and selling. You must be profitable to provide great solutions, so you need to be continuously looking for new prospects you can turn into better, more profitable clients. Great MSPs are always practicing, measuring, and evolving their process to better procure leads, set appointments, explain the value to their prospects, and land that deal. There are several industry gurus and peer groups who can help with this.
- Is profitable. So many MSPs are afraid to ask for money. Industry legend Gary Pica says that you must make 70% margins to take care of your people, yourself, and ensure you have the resources to take great care of your clients. Great MSPs have 70% or higher margins.
- Provide a complete solution. There is nothing wrong with your first MSP offerings being what you know, but phones, wireless, wiring, physical security, network security, and even temperature monitoring are all things on the network you support. A great MSP will develop the product depth to provide everything they can to the client (and charge for it) and develop the vendor partnerships to provide what they cannot - like managed security solutions, HIPAA compliance, and things requiring state licensing.
- Is actively engaged in client business processes. An effective MSP is involved in client budget discussion and invited to board meetings because they understand that their strength lies in helping clients with business processes and not just fixing PCs.
- Has great vendor partnerships. A successful MSP knows the value of having a vendor relationship that ensures quick sales and tech support when needed. Many vendors have lots of money to give for marketing and sales of their products and are just looking for an MSP willing to use it.
- Has happy, trained employees. A great MSP pays their staff a proper wage, makes sure they are properly trained in both customer service and technical skills, and makes sure there is a terrific culture that allows employees to feel respected and part of a team.
- Is involved in the daily lives of client users. A great MSP knows that if they can get the users to think of them as a daily necessity through things like a resource filled user support portal as well as regular communication via meetings, office visits, and training (bring food!), that your competitors will be told to pound sand when they call.
- Employs a Service Coordinator (SC) and great techs to make sure that client requests are answered, scheduled, and resolved promptly. An SC will quickly address any complaints and be the person your clients know will always advocate for them. A great MSP knows that a Service Coordinator can be more valuable than a tech and free up those techs to be far more billable.
- Is an ASCII member. Okay, maybe you don’t have to be in ASCII (you should), but you need to be a member of a life-giving community of like-minded folks who you can share with, learn from, and lean on when needed (the discounts aren’t shabby, either). I’ve been a member of a few groups and I couldn’t have been as successful without them. I would also encourage you to join a peer group where you can talk much more candidly about your specific situation – there are many fantastic peer groups out there, but I can vouch for MSP-Ignite.
At the end of the day, a “good” MSP is what you make of it. A good MSP organization is treated as a core part of the client’s business, charges enough to take great care of the client, and is a cheerful place to work.
How about you? Are you a great MSP?
About The Author
Matthew Adkins is Service Coordinator at SunPoint IT Solutions and a member of The ASCII Group.
About The ASCII Group, Inc.
The ASCII Group is a vibrant reseller community of independent MSPs, VARs, and other solution providers. Formed in 1984, ASCII has more than 70 programs that provide turnkey cost-cutting strategies, innovative business building programs, and extensive peer interaction. ASCII members enjoy benefits such as marketing support; educational information; group purchasing power; increased leverage in the marketplace; and multiple networking opportunities. These programs enable ASCII members to increase revenue, lower operating costs, and grow service opportunities. ASCII is the oldest and largest group of independent information technology (IT) solution providers, integrators and value added resellers (VARs) in the world. Learn more at www.ascii.com.