The Virtual CIO phenomenon is not new, yet the promises of the role have not been realized across the industry. Some mature MSPs who believe they have a functioning Virtual CIO practice, on closer inspection, still show challenges with delivery, scalability and profitability.
While we could go in depth to identify the root of these problems, instead here we'll highlight the twelve most common mistakes MSPs make with their vCIO. At the end of this article there is a questionnaire where you can measure yourself against other MSPs.
#update - We released this blog a year ago. This is an updated version covering the latest developments. It seems that the MSP 2.0 community was able to solve most of the issues during the last year. These mistakes now can be prevented. It has been a long year, for sure... :-)
Mistake #1. Packaing the MSP and vCIO contracts together
Selling the vCIO built into the MSP contract makes you Virtual CIO of the IT Infrastructure. In this there are two pitfalls.
First, the vCIO capacity of the contract does not scale with the size of the organization like the other IT company related services do. It scales up with the complexity, changes and developments of the clients. That means ball-parking a user based price for a Virtual CIO is unlikely to be appropriate. This results in either the price being too much for the market (they don’t want to buy it), or the contract being more work than revenue supports (you don’t want to sell it).
Second, creating a solid offer on virtual CIO involves capacity time with a very expensive resource. That makes the MSP offering more expensive compared to the competition. For the client, the results and benefits of the "vCIO of the infrastructure" do not make much sense. Customers are apt to compare prices ‘apples-to-apples’ between competing IT managed services providers but rarely are the service offerings that comparable.
Virtual CIO can deliver a major competitive advantage. It needs a separate service offering with a distinct pricing strategy.
#update - Working with clients around the world, we have designed a smooth transition from vCIO Light to a real vCIO services. That means even if you packaged together, there is a way out.
Mistake #2. Not creating the necessary budget to get results
Let's say we have a 50 seat "sweet spot" client set up with the needed virtual CIO core services like: yearly, quarterly, monthly and weekly cycles. This could eat up 70 - 170 hours easily with automation. (We refer to the virtual CIO here as a general one taking care of every IT-related business aspect: reporting, management systems, applications, budget, vendor management and so on.)
If you use a base $150 hourly rate it could reach $2.000 service price per month or $40/user. Your MSP contract simply does not have the space for that.
Further you do not have the necessary processes or approach for that, and you can’t afford that much time, so you under-deliver on your promise of virtual CIO. This damages the concept and the possible future of the service.
Again, if you are not able to create the viable budget for the monthly recurring service fee and communicate the value, either you do not profit or don’t sell the service.
#update - there is a formula now for calculating profitability regarding virtual CIO services, the services and service delivery processes, as well.
Mistake #3. Not using a framework to develop the system
The vast majority of the Managed Service Providers we’ve been able to talk to do not use any framework for their virtual-CIO-related activities, so they don't have a system in place to successfully deliver them. Instead they operate as "consultants" or arm’s length managerial resources for infrastructure-like projects.
This means they are not able to implement a standardized IT management structure with proper plans, documents or databases that align services across the IT ecosystem. Nor are they able to streamline communication of the duties, tasks, deliverables and responsibilities of the virtual CIO correctly. This makes it hard to achieve the expectations of the client for the role.
#update - a complete structure is ready for the various vCIO activities like Planning, Project Management, Education or Execution. The closed loop vCIO cycles have been completed with Annual, Quarterly, Monthly and Weekly cycles.
Mistake #4. Not attracting the right audience
Demand generation needs to target the right audience. The virtual CIO job is best suited for companies with 50-150 office workers. If the MSP wants to target a 20-30 or even a ten-seat client, there will likely come a painful realization of the lack of interest and of financial background. Those in higher tiers are left to figure out some system for managing IT. We can go there, but with coaching and support, as a complement the CIO or the IT manager.
#update - content and tools to qualify visitors are now available, like graders, ebooks
Mistake #5. The wrong content
The partner of the virtual CIO is not an office manager, not the CFO or COO. The partner of the virtual CIO is the president/director/CEO - the top-level manager of the company. We know that placing this role that high is a challenge for the average technology-oriented service provider, like most Managed Service Providerss, but it needs to be there.
Most CEOs are not interested in backups, new MS Office versions or the cloud in general. They spend their time on increasing cash flow, boosting sales, organizing their companies, servicing their clients, and developing their management team. The MSP’s marketing content has to reflect those perspectives and turn those opportunities into solutions supported by IT.
This content has to be consistent across the website, emails, blogs, calls-to-action, in lead-nurturing drip email campaigns, in LinkedIn and other social media communications and in marketing collaterals: ebooks, guides and whitepapers.
#update - business related content is available in different formats like graders, ebooks, emails to quickly put business content to the MSP website. (even a complete Weebly based canned MSP 2.0 website is available now for early adopters)
Mistake #6. No clearly defined buyer’s journey
The buyer's journey covers the process that a prospect follows, from the first access of content to becoming and remaining a client. While a lot of MSPs have a decent website with a blog most of these blogs lack a call to action - no next-steps for the prospective customer, such as a downloadable e-book on the relevant topic.
These websites talk about available services instead of highlighting vision, possibilities and opportunities. The sales meetings are wired not to serve the clients and create instant value, but to "qualify" the techs - a focus on our opportunities instead of theirs.
The lack of a well designed buyer's journey will fail to attract the right prospect (the CEOs) to the website and assure them they will find the kind of service that will focus on their opportunities. The content needs to attract, engage and interest the right prospect with the wide scope on the business - make them eager to initiate contact and get a demo or have a meeting with the MSP.
#update - various lead magnets have been developed to convert visitors to leads
Mistake #7. Not using consultative sales
Consultative sales is all about selling solutions. In solution selling our approach is not geared toward what to sell to the client. Instead we have a process to ask the thought-provoking questions that reveal overlooked opportunities and potential benefits. It is a process of discovery, of business opportunities where the MSP's solutions can help achieve their vision.
Virtual CIO is not a boxed product so it doesn’t have a standard price. Deep understanding of a customer's business is required before the solutions can be presented. Selling without context and understanding will put the virtual CIO in a very ineffective position, making it difficult to manage expectations.
This method is slower and takes more time, but necessary for engaging the client and crafting the offering within their business context. However exploiting business opportunities, and supporting them with technology solutions will mean more and higher value sales.
#update - consultative sales questionnaires, scoring, reports, targets, benchmarks and help are available for making the consultative sales easier
Mistake #8. Not selling the vision with stories
The virtual CIO's purpose is to make the client’s business more competitive in its marketplace, with the use of technology, to drive more revenue, cut costs and maximize the business continuity.
These general terms have to be in the context of the client and industry; we cannot really engage the client without selling the vision of competitiveness: being a better company, producing more revenue, and surpassing their competitors.
To sell the vision we have to craft compelling stories that grab the imagination of the CEOs.
#update - storytelling process for the first meeting with presentation slides have been created to help telling stories
Mistake #9. Not confronting reality with numbers
The reality of the situation - the hard data on the current state of business maturity, people, systems and numbers - sets the tension of the proposition. This tension helps make the buying decision.
The “score” needs to be readily attained and easy to understand in order to be compelling. That is why a business IT questionnaire that measures a company’s competitiveness with IT is a must. Without this, even if the vision is clearly defined, there are no quantifiable parameters to achieving it.
Imagine having a vision to run a marathon: a good start would be a full physical assessment. Make clear how hard you have to train, the time frame and the resources you’ll need to accomplish your goal.
#update - graders & new questionnaires are ready to get real with prospects and clients
Mistake #10. Not using vCIO tools like automation or collaboration
Most IT companies are trying to use their existing PSA solutions like Connectwise or Autotask to manage their virtual CIO activities. It just doesn’t work, period. Again, the MSP 2.0 virtual CIO does not just focus on infrastructure. The virtual CIO has to manage people, processes and systems while communicating with the team, vendors and customers.
Most virtual CIOs do not have an integrated approach to managing all their activities in one place, or a system in which they can store all the IT management-related documents, memos, projects, databases, plans, budgets, and so on. Missing an integrated platform wastes a lot of valuable time for the virtual CIO.
#update - Basecamp integration is ready to collaborate with clients & vendors
Mistake #11. No clear differentiation between onging and project activities
Just as maintenance teams are separate from project teams because of different utilizations, focus, experience, etc., so should be the virtual CIO team.
One virtual CIO needs to manage the core virtual CIO cycles, like yearly planning, quarterly activities, monthly follow-ups, reports, weekly meetings, and so on.
An average virtual CIO could manage 10-18 clients, depending on the complexity of that focus. Another virtual CIO has to manage the individual projects separately. It needs a different personality, different skills, tools and different daily and weekly routines.
#update - separated process for ongoing vCIO s ervices and Project based vCIO services are available with templates and Basecamp workspaces
Mistake #12. IT-related service instead of business-related service
In a quarterly session, discussion should include questions about the client's cash flow, marketing initiatives, sales performance, internal projects, and competitor's moves first.
Then it can become a session with reports on the execution of the IT strategy, the quarterly plan, and the plans for the next quarter. It should not be focused on the technology roadmap or IT-related issues, problems, and challenges. It has to be focused on the business, processes, numbers, and business terms.
This can be difficult - there are so many cool IT projects an MSP can propose to a customer - however the conversation needs to remain about the business benefits and business accomplishments.
A successful CRM project is a great example. It highlights the improvements on sales collaboration, alignment, processes and results, instead of talking about the features of the technology solution.
#update - application related services (like Implmenting Slack) are available and also Business Modeling and other cool business focused workshops
Please check for these possible flaws in your practices. To improve on those, we strongly suggest signing up for the MSP 2.0 Quickstarter Tools. It has the tools to market and deliver the virtual CIO role right. If you would like to know more about the modern vCIO approach, let’s check this page.
#update - thanks for the contributors, our team and all clients to put this all together. A year ago it was just the mistakes, now the MSP 2.0 community can prevent those mistakes! Thanks guys!