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MSP tip: Be a guide, not a salesperson

Managed service providers can build a more successful business by simply solving existing problems for customers and hosting IT discussion groups.

It seems most services today are sold as a package. Phone plans bundle with high-speed Internet access, television...

services, equipment insurance, and hollandaise sauce.  And shaving razors  are available with quintuple-blade cartridges, foaming solution, heated handle, and non-slip stickers!

This phenomenon occurs within IT managed services as well. “We offer a complete managed service package that includes e-mail, antivirus, desktop management, directory services, dilithium crystals, immigration services, collaboration software, and privacy filters for your laptop screens.”

But  these encounters aren’t necessarily your best bet.  Either the customer buys in without needing or understanding all the extras and ultimately resents the MSP because of the cost, or the customer just says, “No.”

Guiding customers to solutions
Don’t try to boil the ocean – you can’t try to tackle the customer’s entire IT situation all in one go. Sure, you’re there to sell your services – but in a way, you’re also proposing to become the customer’s outsourced CTO. So as that customer’s CTO, what does the customer need most urgently?

Maybe they’re grappling with e-mail and considering adopting a cloud solution. Focus on getting that problem solved. Maybe the right answer for them is to use your outsourced e-mail service. You can explain why and outline the pricing. Once  the email is all set, let them know that you’ll be checking back regularly to see how it’s going.

Then earn their next piece of business. Check in with them every month or so, not only to see how things are going with your service, but to see what other IT challenges they’re having. And let them know that you aren’t the solution to every IT challenge they face. “Hey, you’re considering buying a new antivirus solution? Don’t blame you – we’ve had some troubles with the one you’re using, too. Here’s the one we’re using right now, and honestly it won’t be that hard for you to set it up yourself. Sure, we can do it, but you probably could, too.”

Look for the next win in the customer’s environment – not your next win, but their next win. “I notice that you’ve got some pretty old machines, here. Do you have some time to sit down and tell me what’s been the most frustrating thing about them? I’m guessing there’s an upgrade in the future, and maybe we can help you build it in a way that will avoid some of the hassles you’ve had in the past.” Look at what your other customers struggled with before you came along, and see if there’s a common thread.

Engage customers in discussions, not sales meetings
Turn common threads into a community service. Every quarter, host an “IT Owners’ Group” meeting,  bringing business owners together to discuss their IT challenges. Invite a mix of current customers, and potential customers who aren’t in your Rolodex, yet. Make it very clear that this won’t be a sales pitch – just business owners sharing their approaches and solutions to common problems.

Pick a theme for each meeting, such as collaboration, messaging, etc., and listen to the discussions. Pick out the problems, and as everyone is breaking up to go home, ask some of them if they’d mind discussing their particular situations with you in more detail at some later date. Whether they become a customer or not isn’t the only potential value the relationship could have: Use the connection for market research. What outsourced solution would they consider? What would it have to cost? Maybe you don’t offer that today, but if you start hearing the same answers from different people, you’ll know what you should be offering in the future. Just as you can help guide your customers, they can help guide you as well. Just take it one step at a time.

Don Jones is a Senior Partner and Principal Technologist at Concentrated Technology. You can contact him through their 

This was last published in January 2012

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