Guest Column | June 17, 2020

Surviving The Bumpy Road Of The MSP New Normal: Part 1

By Dede Haas, CA-AM, Channel Sales Strategist, DLH Services, LLC

Progress Long Road

Though it has been three months since the pandemic caused stay at home orders and lockdowns, many managed service providers are still grappling with how to overcome these hurdles to take care of their clients and themselves.

I sat down with Victor Cora Nazario, COO of SOAR Community Network, to discuss what MSPs should consider as they make their way down the bumpy road of the ‘new normal’ of customer care and business survival.

This is part one of our conversation. Click here for part two.

DEDE HAAS: Victor, tell me about SOAR and what it is that you do.

VICTOR CORA NAZARIO: SOAR stands for See, Own, Articulate and Release, and what we’re talking about is your vision, mission, and your social impact on the world.

We help the MSP or internal IT department align their service catalog, which is all the IT services they provide and map it to the organization’s business processes and business objectives. And that way, we empower the C-level folks to run their IT department in a way where they don’t have to be technicians, and at the same time, we empower the IT group, whoever it is, internal or external as an MSP to know how they’re contributing to the strategic objectives of the organization.

DEDE HAAS: What do you see as some of the challenges that the MSP community is facing in these uncertain times?

VICTOR CORA NAZARIO: Well, in my opinion, the MSPs should shoot for becoming a strategic partner to their clients instead of just an expense. And the reason is that right now, their clients are facing issues with cash flow, reduction in force, and issues like that, which you don’t necessarily fix with just the technology. You also must fix with some policy and procedures, and guidance.

DEDE HAAS: How can this MSP become a strategic partner with their client instead of an expense?

VICTOR CORA NAZARIO: The MSPs can become a strategic partner by not focusing on just the services that they provide, but what are the clients’ strategic objectives, and how IT helps those strategic objectives. What I mean by that is when you go to your client, you don’t start saying, “Well, yeah, we can deploy your Office 365 or we can manage your SharePoint.” You start by asking questions about their strategic objectives, and sometimes you won’t get good answers. But you push the issue. When you talk about your solutions, you always talk about how can this help the organization meet its objectives? That’s one.

You could also transform their internal IT folks, if they have them, if they’re big enough, they might have one or two people internally, and you are kind of like co-managing their IT department. You turn them into your cheerleaders. You do that by mapping services to business processes and looking at the gaps like what’s missing here? What do your internal IT people need to succeed as well? If they succeed, believe me, they’ll cheer for you, and you’ll succeed, too, because mostly they’re senior techs or mid-level techs, and they’re not equipped to manage at that level. Be the center of influence. You run a business as an MSP, which means that you have contact with other vendors, too, including vendors that are not IT. You go to networking events like chamber and professional networking groups. So, make sure that your client understands that if they need anything, they can call you. That’s useful as well, and so when they have a problem, they immediately think of you before anybody else in terms of finding the solution and don’t just show up with a quote. Show up with a solution and that goes back to understanding their strategic objectives. Those are the things that I would start with to become a strategic partner.

DEDE HAAS: For an MSP, how should they be helping their clients enable telework?

VICTOR CORA NAZARIO: That’s one of the things that I wanted to address because obviously, MSPs know the software and hardware necessary to enable telework, but the MSP needs to point out to their clients that it first starts with your policies, procedures, and expectations. Well, expectations are in the policies. You should guide them on that. Now, mind you, there are some HR or even legal implications to that. So, when you approach this, you have to make sure that your client understands that you’re guiding them in terms of what you’ve seen before, but the finalization of those policies still needs to be done by their HR and their legal department, just make sure that they understand that it’s not just a software or a hardware solution. They need to think about these other things, administrative things that you can’t finalize on. They must have a sense of what they want. One of the things that we advise is to make sure that they’re not just thinking of oh, okay, I just let them VPN and remote into their desktop, and then they’re done. You don’t know what their environment at home is and connecting into a workstation at work is kind of like sending a long virtual Ethernet cable straight into your network. So, what they have at home might end up in your network, too. So, you must be careful about that.

And the other part that a lot of people miss is telework supervising capabilities. As an IT and an MSP provider, you can’t necessarily help them develop their leaders to supervise the remote workers, but when you bring it up, that shows you are a strategic partner. Your client will understand that you’re not just thinking about technology. You’re thought of as the group that enables their technology. Okay, how is this going to work now on a day-to-day basis? If you have supervisors uncomfortable with teleworking people, this is not going to work anyway. They need to address that point. So, you bringing it up makes them see you as more than just a technology company.

DEDE HAAS: How do you as an MSP make your quarterly reviews with your client more productive?

VICTOR CORA NAZARIO: It must be about them. I’ve seen a lot of MSPs do the following. They show up with a report telling the client, “We performed these many tickets. We performed these many patches. We finished these many projects on time.” The projects on time is a little better. The rest of the stuff is just justifying your fee, which I understand why people do it. I mean the contract says we’re going to do these things but in the quarterly review, that should be just part of the appendix. What you should look at is, okay, you have these objectives, you have these business processes, and then you have this set of IT services that map to business processes or map directly to a business objective. You look at that and the effect of these services being up or down or, you know, by percentage, by 99.999, all that stuff and how you contributed to the success of the organization. If you have that type of mapping and that type of chart, you make it more useful for the CFO or the internal IT person to justify you being there than you just saying, “Well, you know, we did our job.”

Imagine if you — and to give you a more specific example, imagine if you have the services that you provide support for, let’s say Office 365, the firewall, the Internet. Imagine if you have those services mapped to business processes like the sales process, the business development processes that the clients have mapped already, the client’s onboarding process. If you have those things mapped, then when you have the conversation, you can say, “Well, we kept your,” I don’t know, “client onboarding process running 100 percent of the time because these services provide support for that.” That has more meaning to the business than just saying, “Hey, firewall number three was patched three times.”

About Dede Haas

Dede Haas, the founder of DLH Services, is a channel sales strategist and coach helping technology vendors create innovative and successful channel sales solutions and programs. More channel sales tips and informative stories can be found in her Channel Knowledge Nuggets newsletter.