By Robert Cooper, Wildix Americas
If your solutions are just “off the shelf” instead of fully personalized to customer needs, you’re not putting forward real value as an MSP.
There’s simply no overstating the blow MSPs have been dealt by the industrywide move to B2C sales. Now that end users can purchase their communications technology directly from manufacturers, the simple act of selling UC&C solutions puts you in competition with bigger and bigger entities. After all, as far as the end user is concerned, all they’re getting from a local MSP or an enormous company is a new set of phones — right?
This dilemma has put countless systems integrators out of the game already, but the reason behind those bankruptcies isn’t only competition. Just as much, it’s a failure to adapt: specifically, it’s an inability to move on from the old model of reselling technology under the old precedent of “one size fits all.” Once upon a time, without competition to slow us down, it was enough to resell a solution as an all-purpose remedy to customers’ business ills. However, now that the market is bursting at the seams with retailers selling this same technology, offering products as-is has become a losing game for the MSP.
The reason why is that if a solution is “one size fits all,” it makes no real difference where the end user gets it from. From where customers sit, an off-the-shelf solution will amount to the same thing whether it was sold by a local technology expert or a giant retailer who doesn’t even know the customer’s name. Given all of that, what reason would a customer have to buy those products from you, an MSP, instead of someone cheaper?
The answer, frankly, is that there isn’t one. If you want to sell a solution that will stand apart, the only choice is to build one with specialized technology. What these massive, direct-to-consumer VoIP providers haven’t yet found a way to provide is a tailor-built solution for customers; although their technology provides a basic feature set, without a certified solutions expert, it only scratches the surface of business issues. As a result, what local MSPs still have over the competition is the ability to provide customers with a setup designed for individual business needs.
A Specialized Solution
Now more than ever before, services are vital to a systems integrator’s future. Mere products, as I’ve said, are available anywhere now, from the big box store to a few clicks in your browser. To offer something worth more than an online order means working beyond that set-it-and-forget-it approach to installations.
What often goes unrecognized by MSPs is that customers care most about the results a solution brings them. Yes, having a recognizable brand in your stable is important, as far as getting noticed goes. But just as valuable (if not more so) is selling customers on a unique outcome through that brand, one that businesses know they won’t get anywhere else.
This type of installation comes through being specialized. The differentiating factor isn’t the basic product; if what a business needs is just a simple chat and video calling system, the customer can just get that online at a moment’s notice. What makes the difference is going deeper with the vendor: becoming specialized in the technology, learning the complete ins and outs of the solution, and achieving full expert status with it. The answer now is going deep, specifically to address a business’s individual concerns.
What I mean by this is a fully custom setup, tailor-fit to customer needs. This is a more involved installation, one backed up by hours of building and configuring technology to address specific needs. For one example, it’s easy enough to simply give a customer a solution with status indicators (online, offline, and so on) for each user. But suppose setting a status is linked to an employee clocking in or out of their shift, and switching indicators records that timestamp instantly. Or suppose location trackers in the software are reconfigured to automatically change a status indicator to “online” when an employee is registered as being in the office. Thinking outside of the box in this way, even slightly, is what ensures your solution stands out from the crowd.
Finding The Right Technology
Of course, it isn’t as if every solution on the market is even capable of providing that custom-fit installation I’m talking about. Plenty of options are just unable to provide the flexibility that’s necessary for these installations; maybe they’re too old and unsupported, or maybe they’re designed with just a handful of deployments in mind. In any case, there are plenty out there that don’t fit the bill in terms of a truly competitive option.
Searching for a platform with true value for an MSP means going outside that rigidity. The solution to look for here isn’t the one with a laundry list of features to advertise or a minimal cost. Rather, it should be a solution with clear potential. On top of the valuable capabilities already on offer, an effective solution will have the building blocks an MSP needs to create something uniquely valuable on a case-by-case basis.
The search also means considering technology in terms of specialization — that is, finding an option to make your main focus in terms of study and installations. We’ve all likely seen the systems integrators who think they’re being smart by choosing variety: they’ll put multiple logos and brand names on their website, boasting that they provide all these options, hoping one out of the bunch will just so happen to be what a given customer was searching for. More than being desperate, this approach is simply impractical. With how difficult it is to fully understand just one UC&C solution, how can we expect someone to understand more? What expertise can a customer possibly hope to receive if an MSP says they can install Brand X, Brand Y, or Brand Z?
Achieving that specialization means looking for technology that can do far more than meets the eye. And, of course, this takes a closer look at the technology itself. Rather than the usual easy route of going by feature sets and calling it a day, this approach means looking closely at the code of the system, how open the APIs are, and what kind of customization it offers.
All of that is going to take more time and consideration. But, for profitability today, there’s simply no alternative. Just for staying in business, the work required here is very much worth it.
Building It Yourself
Actually, deploying a custom solution is, by its nature, not a consistent process. But what is consistent here is the procedure behind figuring out and building something tailor-made for customers.
The first part is a given: Listen to customer needs and propose something designed to address them. After that is where you must get creative and create something new. This should not be a standard deployment of a standard solution; instead, MSPs need to consider how the entire 360-degree scope of their project will affect business needs and processes.
The solution is far more than a few capabilities that provide video calling and remote work capabilities. It’s just as much about integrating with current systems, putting minimal stress on existing architecture, requiring little to no training from users, and opening the door to easy expansion and future integrations.
It’s hard to think of many off-the-shelf solutions that provide all that — which, of course, is exactly what customers are paying a skilled MSP for. In reality, it’s that analysis, design, and realization that earns a constant paycheck just as much as the actual install. In so few words, it’s specialized knowledge of the technology that sets the systems integrator apart.
Again, not every solution can feasibly support a piece-by-piece custom deployment of this nature. That shouldn’t be any kind of obstacle — it merely serves as a way to guide what you’re looking for and how to consider your future catalog. This stands even more true given the depths of knowledge an MSP needs to deploy for something truly custom-built from the ground up: without specialized knowledge of that technology, there’s little meaningful variation one can add to that deployment. Like all other stages of considering the solution, here too we have to ask, “What about this deployment is different from an off-the-shelf order?”
Specialization is the key here, but primarily because it leads to meaningful value for the end user. Just as much as what you have, you’re selling what you know — both of the customer and what you can apply as a remedy. Any supposed “silver bullet” in your arsenal will be one that most any vendor will have too, after all, and they’ll be just as ready to deploy it as is. With a complete solution of your own, however, you’ll consistently stand apart.
The key here is finding the right technology vendor — one that’s focused on your success through open, truly customizable technology — and going all in on the knowledge necessary to use that solution. It’s only by going deep into your solution that you will win in the marketplace.
About The Author
Robert Cooper is the president and managing director of Wildix Americas, where he leads the charge toward a channel-focused approach to unified communications. In addition to his military background, he has more than 20 years of experience in leading technology sales teams and has served on the White House Conference on Small Business