As we have been talking with hundreds of Managed Services around the world we have been able to identify several common beliefs, and even myths shaping their thoughts.
The biggest problem here is that these beliefs were valid in the past. The times when the MSP model founded and spread across the world, these concepts were helping people to sell and execute services. However as the market went forward with the tectonic shift of consumerization, cloud, mobile and the overall maturity of IT, these beliefs are no longer valid.
Myth #1: Offering vCIO as an add on to the Managed Services
Offering the vCIO service inside the Managed Services package was a natural step in trying to get back in the boardroom. It was more important to the service provider to show that, despite everything being done remotely, they’re working hard and proving it with ticket counts and reports.
It made the vCIO more an “IT infrastructure manager” role rather than a “IT executive” role. It led to three problems.
- First, the vCIO capacity of the contract does not scale with the size of the organization like other MSP 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, because it was a reactive rather than a proactive step from the MSP standpoint, it was more sales effort to differentiate the commoditized IT infrastructure services. There were no real processes behind the services and deliverables, no real value proposition, expectations were set inconsistently across the customer base, and the result was delivery not meeting expectations.
- Third, 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" don’t 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.
Myth #2: Everything is packaged all in
When the MSP packages were designed in the middle 2000’s the value proposition of the MSP package was “keep the lights on”. The value proposition reflected the basic Helpdesk, desktop and server management. It was fairly easy to deliver, not so complex, and had well defined boundaries to the service.
If you see a competitive offering nowadays it’s full of IT Security, Application management, Advisory (vCIO) services managing hybrid complex modern environments with legacy stuff. The value proposition is no longer what it used to be. But as we package more and more goodies into the offering somehow the boundaries and value proposition have been lost.
We had only one iPhone model back in 2007 with one size, one colour and one storage. Now we all know of three different sizes, four different colours and countless storage options available. Even Apple, usually offering as few models as possible, had to follow the customer requirements as the market got commoditized.
Many MSPs are now unbundling their current services to different logical products, as well as bundling them to service offerings which are standardized, but give the client a choice other than buying or not buying the offering.
Myth #3: Value is in the “stuff” not in the consultation
In the good old days when an Exchange Server project was $20,000 or more, MSPs across the globe added “consultation” hours for free as pre sales activity to make sure the clients were going to buy the initiatives. Then as vendors pushed more and more high value network devices, backup and disaster recovery tools and virtualization, the “free advice” become the norm as everybody was making money on the devices and projects and not the consultation.
Now the landscape has changed dramatically. SaaS brought the idea for clients to transfer all IT expenditure to Operational Expenses rather than investing capital on buying software or hardware. The other trend - Cloud - has brought the customer community the democratization of software packages. They can buy the biggest corporate software package in the world called Salesforce.com (you make sure understand it is way no longer a CRM only) and can start with $25 per month.
In this landscape the free advice does not make any financial sense because there are no big ticket projects to bury the acquisition costs.
The value is no longer on the applications but the consultation to select the applications, implement them and make sure it’s used and well integrated. The IT consultation has to be paid regardless of the solution size. It can be literally a $2000 project to help them select a $50 per month project management application.
The problem we are facing is simple and hard. People get used to paying lawyers $300 per hour for consultation but $0 for IT people. Going back and charging for something we did for free for years isn’t going to be easy.
Myth #4: My target prospects are the companies with IT problems
Before the MSP space got saturated the sales process was more straightforward: get a prospect with visible IT problems and pains, show them some network assessment of how bad theirs performs and how we can help, and the sales was done. Most MSPs didn’t even have any marketing or sales process - the hot prospects were just coming through referrals.
Now if a prospect has any real, visible IT pain we might see them as a huge opportunity. But think about the following: why was the prospect not able to solve this problem before?! Maybe they didn’t see the value in IT, didn’t want to pay for it, or their industry is stuck in the past? There’s a chance the company is not going to turn into a class-A client. The flipside is that these type of companies need the “basics only”. They will check the competition and price will be the most important factor.
The bad news is that the pond of companies with real visible IT problems is shrinking every day, while a growing competition is fishing on it.
However there’s now a growing number of clients who’ve been served by an MSP for years. They have no backup issues, they know that IT is an investment and they see the changes and the opportunities. They are implementing SaaS applications comfortably, and leverage technology in nearly every part of their business. They are a potential customer for new and innovative services. These clients we cannot reach with traditional marketing, sales and referral channels.
The future “A Class” clients of yours are already served by an MSP. Going head to head is not a good strategy because it leads to a price war. However addressing their IT 2.0 / MSP 2.0 problems and communicating more effectively can lead to establishing relationships with executives who are open for the next wave of IT services and know they’ll not get it from their current provider.
This is fishing in a growing pond where nobody is fishing now. Choose where you want to be.
Myth #5: Account management is a sales activity
As MSPs have been providing more complex services the account management activities become more and more important. It can be anything from regular client visits, helping the engineering team close project deals, escalating issues and upselling different services.The selection criteria for Account Managers is more sales, a clear motivation from the MSP perspective.
On the other hand, as we see the complexity of the client’s ecosystem rising the “IT Management Challenges” increase too. That means the client needs more managerial resources to maintain their complexity and be able to realize opportunities, recognize threats and stay competitive with technology.
Now our sales account manager meets with IT management demands from the client perspective. He does not have resources or services to enhance the business and manage the traditional MSP issues during a Quarterly Business Review. The client will be interested in the engagement with the Account Manager because he has pains he want to solve. Unfortunately the Account Manager has no resources to solve those problems and the engagement will decline.
That is why the Account Manager role should be called “Client Advisory” and should be switched from the sales role to a service role. The service has to be defined and tracked the same way as we do for engineers. They have to have annual, quarterly, and monthly activities with clients, creating IT strategies, developing software roadmaps, helping them select applications, and conducting basic training and business related reviews. These services can help the client (and eventually get more project orders as the result) and also open the door for higher level stand-alone vCIO services.
These beliefs were valid in the past. As we move into the post-Cloud era the foundations have been changed, so we have to change our approach and adapt. With Managed Services Platform we’re working hard to create tools and processes for the activities we need to stay competitive in this new Managed Service landscape.