From The Editor | June 6, 2010

ASCII Summit: Is Your Managed Services Business Efficient Enough?


By Gennifer Biggs, security, storage and managed services editor

The ASCII Reseller Success Summit in Chicago, held June 3, closed with panel discussion about running your managed services practice more efficiently. Now, first, let me tell you, it may have been the most entertaining panel of the day (that includes mine, where we tackled the topic of cloud computing). The panel included Amy Hodge, part of the ConnectWise Community team; Jan Spring, VP of channel development for eFolder; and Rick Qui, SMB program manager for Netenrich, which is known for being the global NOC behind Ingram Micro's Seismic offerings. ASCII member moderator Randy Wear, owner of Decisions Systems Plus, had his hands full with the spirited debate over how MSPs are getting (or not) more efficient and what they can do besides refine their business processes to better serve their customers, and therefore grow their IT business.

With so many tools available today to drive efficiency, it seems inevitable that we as a workforce are more efficient. Among those tools? Mobile devices like BlackBerrys and iPhones, laptops, Software-as-a-Service, delivery models built in the cloud, and highly sophisticated reports and Web portals that deliver all the information an MSP needs at the touch of a button. The catch, says Spring, is being smart about those tools. "We are getting more efficient but these guys need to use the tools well and use the right tools," she stressed.

The effect of that efficiency? "We are watching partners move from talking to IT directors about printers and antivirus to talking to CEOs about business intelligence, data mining, business strategies," says Qui. "They are more efficient, so have more time to have this deeper, more intimate conversations with their clients. And that should drive revenue." Despite that efficiency-driven ability to drill down with customers, the panel agrees not everyone is taking advantage of labor-saving, time-saving efficiency tools to build stronger, more profitable managed services practices.

Two keys to growth, says Hodge, are building profits and new customers acquisition. To do that, MSPs must learn to use efficiency-driving tools that help them track and bill accurately, including building SLAs that are true to cost. MSPs must also understand that there are tools to help keep the new customers they find and attract. "It is about more than just getting customers, it is about keeping them," says Hodge. "And keeping them means keeping them satisfied, and how do you know that? How do you measure that?"

The answer: Stay personal with quarterly business reviews, and find a way to measure your customers' satisfaction. Spring recommends the little touches – doughnuts when you stop to visit a customer, little email reminders and checkups (which you can automate through any PSA tool), and other touch points with your customers. Qui says the next step is about measuring satisfaction, and that can be done using the data you have as an MSP – customer surveys pushed out through your PSA, ticket times and resolution statistics, etc. – to make sure you are accomplishing your outcomes. "You want to make sure you are meeting your SLAs, you are closing those tickets, that you are delivering the service you say you are," says Qui. And if you find a common hurdle to doing that – let your vendors know, they are interested in more efficiency and better outcomes as much as you are.