Most MSPs are facing the commoditization trap. Competition is getting fierce, price pressure is constant, it’s hard to get in front of prospects and selling additional services like cyber security or IT consultation is tough.
There is one telltale sign each MSP should look for of declining client engagement which leads to the downward spiral of less connection, less stickiness (retention) and eventually less profitability.
In this blogpost we are going to learn about this telltale sign, how you can identify whether your MSP is affected and what to do to overcome the problem.
Ok that’s a shameless cliffhanger, but I really think you should check out this post!
How to identify the issue?
Identifying the issue is simple, but admitting it is hard.
Let's think about the last 10-20 client meetings and answer Yes or No to the following statements.
The meetings were about tactical discussions like project scoping, project updates, service management, contract renewals etc.
The meetings were held with office managers, IT directors or Operational Executives
The meetings covered technical aspects like backup, disaster recovery, tickets, service metrics and technology projects
The meetings were mainly initiated by an issue, a client request or a pressing technology problem (like windows 7 update)
The meetings were mainly based on a well-prepared presentation, documents, proposals etc.
If you answered ‘yes’ to 2 or more of these statements then the majority of your client meetings tend to be ad-hoc, tactical, technology-driven presentations with technology liaisons.
The next question is how many proactive, strategic, business-driven conversations you have with your client's executives.
The more strategic, business-oriented, interactive conversations you have with people who run organizations, the more relevant, sticky and high-value a business partner you are.
What is the ROOT problem?
The problem is that these meetings actually define the quality of your relationship with your clients. This seems to be a norm among the MSP community as (no wonder) your services are typically tactical (infrastructure, office, network) and technical (Information Technology) services. But regardless how awesome you are, how great your services are and how diligent your internal processes are, this defines your relationship as a basic IT service provider. That was great in the past but in the new commoditized market this becomes an issue.
Ok here is the short version: doing proactive, strategic, business driven conversations with business leaders will differentiate you and keep you relevant for years to come. That can lead you to expand your client base and transform you from a basic IT service provider to a high-value business partner.
Why Strategic Client meetings help?
Strategic Client Meetings are going to help you get the right audience, have the right conversations and make your clients more competitive with your help. You will be able to redefine what technology can do for them and how you can help reach their business goals.
Engage Executives - How to provide the value your executives are looking for.
Generate More Revenue - How to design exciting project opportunities and close them quickly.
Do More in Less Time - How to prepare, run and manage high-value business meetings
I. What makes a client meeting strategic?
Some people think that “strategic meeting” is just a buzzword and there are no clear boundaries or definitions that make a client meeting more strategic. Let’s dive into three aspects to start building your own.
1. Strategic Agenda with Strategic Roles
The agenda of these meetings is strategic, not tactical. The topics are their business goals, challenges, what makes them different, why they’re better than their competition and in-house hurdles to execution of their strategy. These topics can be covered only with the people in their organization involved on these levels full time. You need the individual leading the organization.
Don’t assume just because the individual you’re meeting with is the president you’ll have a strategic conversation. For small businesses the president wears many hats. They might be responsible for the technology part of the business. If this is the case your meeting agenda might still be tactical and the conversation will be not strategic.
2. Strategic Client Segments
You are running a tech organization so of course you can’t have only strategic conversations. You have to have some tactical dialogue with your clients as well. However, without a policy of how to allocate finite resources - like people who can deliver strategic conversations - to myriad clients based on their size, you can find you’re overspending on small clients who offer less revenue opportunity. It’s crucial to calculate a “client engagement budget” for all client segments. Then you can balance how much time you spend for tactical and strategic conversations. For example, you can allow an “A Client” with $5,000 MRR up to 60 hours of engagement a year but a “C Client” with $1,000 MRR justifies only 12 hours a year. (We use the 5% MRR formula to calculate client engagement budget).
3. Strategic Client Playbooks
Once you know how much time you can spend on a given client segment you can create a strategic playbook for each client. Like your “A Client” with 60 hours annually can have an annual strategy planning workshop (2x4 hours) some business-related cyber security, compliance or application audits (3x4 hours a year) and solid QBRs with multiple people (3x6 hours). You can put it into a playbook, plan the meetings and execute with scalability. However the playbook for a “C Client” might be a light annual strategy workshop to create a roadmap and have basic QBRs to execute the plan.
These three steps lay the foundation for consistently effective and proactive meetings.
II. Examples of Strategic Client Meetings
The other common mistake we see among MSPs is to dump every type of discussion into a QBR: contract renewals, technical assessments, updates, technology landscape or standard stack adoption, all to be covered in one 90 minute meeting. Preparing huge presentations will lead to rushing through the process. Let’s check out three very good examples of distributing disparate topics to different meetings to establish the strategic layer for the clients.
1. Strategic Workshops
Strategic workshops are delivered typically once a year. This is a highly business-focused conversation with specific topics you can perform with a whiteboard. Encourage brainstorming around their business. A typical exercise can be a SWOT analysis, industry analysis or simply a summary of their goals and where they’re heading. For many smaller MSPs these meetings are driven by the owner of the MSP, and is still scalable as meeting with a client from the executive level once a year is still worth it. Business owner to business owner conversation is more about high-level topics anyways. The workshop format helps bring about predictable outcomes and materials that can be used for building their business, like IT roadmaps.
2. Strategic Audits
There are many topics of discussion that can give measurable outcomes. The health of their infrastructure (IT Technology Health Audit), the utilization of the complete Office 365 suite (Office Productivity Audit), the state of their cyber security practices (NIST Cyber Security Audit) and so on. These audits, done in advance, are based on a scoring mechanism and the meeting is where you’ll be validating the facts, educating the client and generating actionable roadmaps to fix problems and unlock opportunities. These Audits can be distributed over the year as “themes of the quarter” and so on. This provides a positive client engagement pulse with executives based on facts.
3. Strategic QBRs
Here is the payoff. Once you have Strategic Workshops with business topics and you do Audits which translate technical issues to business language, you have a solid case of business context for your IT projects. Your Strategic QBRs can be wrapped around the execution of the strategy. Now your tactical components actually have context as well. Talking about the Disaster Recovery plans, and backups and cloud migration is no longer out of the blue. Now the Quarterly Business Review (QBRs) get the legitimacy of business sense so executives can see the progress and understand the big picture. Further, talking with a technical liaison is easier if the “order” comes from the top and there’s not and insulation layer between you and the executives.
These Strategic Conversations lead to strategic decisions and strategic engagements.
III. Outcomes of Strategic Meetings
The main goal of these strategic meetings is to become more of a high-value business partner. The decisions you help them make are higher level and more specifically attentive to their business goals. Often you are just a concierge of those decisions and your MSP will execute the project. However, as these projects are technical by nature you can still manage them. Let’s see what outcomes you can expect to govern your high level engagement.
1. Strategic Roadmaps
A strategic roadmap is simply the execution plan of the IT strategy. You have identified the strategy with 2 or 3 major initiatives throughout the year and created a breakdown of projects that need to be completed in order to achieve the goals. The roadmaps need clear, strong approval of intent from the executive level. This is going to be a great framework to wrap the year’s activities around. The projects should be outlined if not scoped. Create project outlines defining the cause, vision and expected outcomes of the projects in 2-3 sentences. These are not project scopes yet. The goal here is to have specific initiatives and lists of typical action items to lead to success.
2. STRATEGIC BUDGETS
The trick of these roadmaps is that these projects have to be approved and many details will be forthcoming as the projects get scoped out. As the client’s perception clarifies, they might be getting hungrier for more and expand the project budgets. In order to keep things real and see whether the intent will lead to project approvals it is great to have an overall high level budget estimation for the Roadmap. If you know the project outlines you can “guesstimate” the time and effort behind the project as an assumption. The budget is going to give a reality check to the client about their capabilities and you can sort out the “nice to have” projects without putting so much time into scoping and planning. This also achieves great alignment with the client. Once the budget is approved then approving an individual project will be a breeze as long as they’re within your estimates.
3. Strategic Services
Besides managing your project incomes, strategic meetings have the power to actually make your current and new services profitable too. For example, many MSPs have trouble upgrading clients to separate, add-on cyber security services. The need is obvious, but the services are expensive to deliver and explaining the need for an updated security plan is harder without the strategic components. However, if the strategic plan has a cyber security audit, cyber security issues move from a tactical level - “they need more services” - to a strategic level - “cyber security is a strategic level risk.” The “$35 per user” additional cyber security add-on will be accepted more readily. The process is less salesy and it puts the responsibility on their end to make the call, or live with the potential consequences.
The strategic meetings deliver more strategic decisions and this transforms you into a high-value strategic partner.
Running an MSP is hard. There are many issues about service delivery, hiring people and growth. Establishing strategic relationships with clients and prospects makes everything easier: better control of the client, higher quality conversations, more visible value, and obvious differentiation. Every forward-looking MSP is getting more strategic, the question is how quickly can they make the transition.