Define Your Business Relationship With Clients
I always looked at my relationship with my clients as more of a partnership than a technical service. I prided myself on never using a one-size-fits-all mentality. Every client was different, special. And it was up to me to let them know they were special. I recommended technology that would help clients grow, that would ease their work experience in as unobtrusive a way as possible. While we all use a keyboard every day, the rest of the tech should lift them up rather than get in their way.
And that made the transition to MSP easier. For some clients, the MSP model did not make sense, while for others it was perfect. Divining this meant that I had to explain (sometimes in painful detail) to each client what was involved with each of my business offerings, the MSRP for each product/service, and why these products were preferred over competing products.
Reseller or MSP?
Basically, I was every company’s sales representative. It was exhausting. It was the reason I wasn’t a VAR (value-added reseller). So I changed my tactic a bit. Instead of talking to clients about individual products, I talked with them about genres: security services, business apps, databases, storage, etc. For clients who wanted to remain ad-hoc (“We’re fine, we don’t need much support”) or who thought a stable monthly bill was too much of a commitment, I laid out for them what those services were going to cost if “purchased separately”. Then I added on the cost of reactive service, project work, the inevitable emergency call when their internal “expert” hit a brick wall, and the fact that MSP clients get priority service (an SLA is an important component of successful MSPs).
Obviously, what passes as MSP for one consulting firm does not pass as such for another. We are as different from each other as we can be. Some will only include their MDM or cloud directory services in their contracts, others will include service on workstations but not servers, and others will include computers but not mobile devices. How you structure your MSP offerings is up to you.
If you’re in that indecisive period of growth where you get to choose whether to remain an ad hoc (some call it: reactive) service provider, a VAR, or an MSP, here are some things to ask yourself:
- How much do I like bookkeeping? Likewise, do I own the tools to help me make these tasks easier?
- How good are my project management skills? (some Ticketing/Professional Services Applications work best if you have ITIL-level knowledge)
- Do I know (or have access to staff who know) scripting languages?
- Do I know (or have access to staff who know) automation strategies?
- Will my current clients be willing to move to an MSP model?
- Have I written a business plan?
- Do I have marketing skills or do I have a marketing partner?
- Do I have a lawyer?
- Do I have an accountant?
Spreadsheets and Contracts
I grew to have a love/hate relationship with spreadsheets as I was making some of these critical decisions. I also grew to have a love/hate relationship with my attorney but, really, who doesn’t? So I set up a spreadsheet to compare scenarios. It contained the following information:
- Tool names
- Per-user cost
- Per-user MSRP
- Number of Users
- Estimated hours to be used. I based this figure off historical data where possible but for new customers I had to pull together averages of similar office setups.
From these figures I was able to set up scenarios and what-if analyses. I used these analytics to derive an offering that was beneficial to my clients and still allowed me to have a reasonable profit. With these figures in hand, I worked with my attorney to draw up a proper MSP contract.
My MSP contract was the all-inclusive model. For $<highdollar> per month, the client got all the service they could want. My support was nearly all remote (I was #WFH long before Covid sent us all to our home offices), which meant I could work when it suited me best and was in the best interest of my clients. Onsites were included. Phone support? Included. Email support? Included. Project work? No, not included. Travel time? Included with a time/distance limitation. Parking? Not included (Chicago is a very expensive place to park).
Customers Want (Limited) Choices
And, yet, there were still clients who could not see the value. So, I went back to my spreadsheet and did some additional what-if analyses. I used the information from these scenarios to draw up a comparison matrix for my clients.
You know how sometimes you just want to do something completely out of the ordinary for your kids to reward them for being awesome? Like, say, taking them to Toys R Us (back when it was a thing) and letting them pick out any toy they wanted? You’ve seen how that works: that child having a complete meltdown in the aisle? Yeah, that was my son. And the truth is, it was my fault. I was inexperienced at the nuance of choice and didn’t realize that giving him complete freedom to choose would be so overwhelming.
Likewise, as adults, we can be so overwhelmed with choices that we simply have a meltdown. We don’t lie down on the floor, crying and stomping our feet – well, not usually anyhow – but we melt down in our own special ways. Maybe we snap at our partner or we shoot off an angry email. Maybe we make a poor decision or maybe we do absolutely nothing. It’s because we have too many choices.
The surest way to get a client to stay with the status quo is to give them too many options. So, don’t do that. Make it super easy for them to do business with you.
Offer them one of two or three options. For example:
- Reactive service at an estimated “x” hours at $yyy over the course of the year.
- MSP-lite: all-inclusive but a limit of “y” hours of technical support. This was generally good for those small businesses of 10 or under.
- MSP-complete: all inclusive, no limit on technical support with the understanding that they would perform reasonable, initial diagnostics before submitting a ticket. In other words, they wouldn’t call me to change mouse batteries or before they did the obligatory restart of the computer.
For the most part, my clients chose either the reactive service (they loved a good gamble) or the MSP-complete. And in all but one case, nobody abused connotative “unlimited” tech support. At around 3 months before the end of the term (they were always multi-year contracts), the client and I would sit down and re-evaluate. I had their actual usage statistics so I was able to show them all the work I had done in the background, all the time spent on tickets, and all the services they used. They were able to understand that their workforce was happier with their technology and more productive with their work because of all the service and monitoring that was happening in the background.
Great Clients Come From Great Relationships
Clients appreciate good tech skills from their IT Admins. But what they appreciate more is great service, effective communication, and superb understanding of their business. Spend time getting to know your clients and you’ll have more success when it’s time to close that sale. Great service is a product of caring about the client’s success as much as you care about your own company’s success. Becoming part of the client’s success creates goodwill, which translates into your success.