The Managed Services Provider Blog

April 14, 2012  12:45 PM

New Kid on the block, and he’s taking clients

mspprophet Darren James Profile: mspprophet

The word on the street is there are more and more companies calling on your customers than ever before. With the public buzz about cloud technology, everyone is selling some solution. No longer can you assume your trusted advisor position is safe.

An MSP I consult lost a client last week because someone else showed up and did a free audit and exposed that the MSP had not done updates on most of the computers. Since he had sold them on managed services, they had a right to expect updates done. Hence, the customer left him for the new guy on the block. I have heard this a few times lately, so something is happening.

Make sure you do what you say is the first lesson. The second is make no mistake, there are people knocking on your clients doors every day. Understanding what your client needs and supplying that is the best way to insure your trusted advisor status. I see a lot of churn in the next 2 years. The advanced offerings and superior service is raising the bar for all of us. So dust off that thinking cap, and raise the bar in your organization.

Start creating some buzz about excellence and integrity. Maybe a bonus plan for any positive feedback from clients. Oh ya, maybe even send out the dreaded SURVEY!

I can be reached at

April 5, 2012  9:12 AM

The history of managed services

mspprophet Darren James Profile: mspprophet

Although the idea of a single price maintenance plan has been around as long as home heating systems, it wasn’t until the mid-nineties that it found its way into IT. When large enterprises started to embrace the JIT, or “just in time” methods of cost control, it naturally would end up affecting the IT department. Jack Welch was at General Electric, and the push to use technology to increase efficiencies was top priority. Lean manufacturing became the standard and the IT department got hit too. Long gone was, the days of open budgets with 10 guys in sneakers writing code all day. We now had to produce “just in time” technology, hence “outsourcing” became a simple way to keep the bean counters happy.

So when the dotcom crash happened we had all these corporate managers newly trained in lean IT, who were now unemployed. And Ta Da! Like daisies in the spring we had a new breed of IT support company with new ways to service the SMB market. It took about 4 years to start seeing the needed tools to create an MSP. Imagine using remote desktop every night to gather information on 200 machines, or more. Some network management tools were there, just not for multiple domains and locations. It was a struggle to be sure.

Today you can outsource every bit of the support and just drive around as the trusted advisor, never even touching a pc, with a decent margin. I personally enjoy the smiles when you’ve just increased an owners profit from using a solution you designed. That’s what I take to the bank. Whatever your version of managed services is, it truly is a great business to be in.

I can be reached at

April 4, 2012  8:51 AM

What’s the risk?

mspprophet Darren James Profile: mspprophet

As a managed service provider you have the benefit of recurring revenue. With that benefit comes certain areas you must be mindful of. Getting staff, locating clients and creating workflows are the basics. There is another area which seldom comes up, managing the risk.

We first get a client on board and based on certain things we set the price for that customer. One of the things that happens after awhile is the pc’s and servers start aging. Software starts to get added, patches get applied and little by little the support calls increase. It’s usually not noticed and if you don’t watch for it you will get “support creep”. It’s kind of like project creep, but it happens to the environments.

The best way to control this is to assign a risk mitigation officer in the company. They will have to have historical data to work with so make sure you track everything. You do that anyway right? If you do not have a PSA or RMM in place to support finding the metrics needed, use a simple excel spreadsheet to track all calls and activity.

Support creep will eat away your margins and you will not know why. Handling the creep from happening can be anything from proactive cleaning to having clients replace their pc’s every year. You probably won’t get the second, but you can dream about it. If you are large enough, hiring a full time risk mitigation officer is a quick ROI.

I can be reached at

March 31, 2012  5:59 PM

Who’s getting the message

mspprophet Darren James Profile: mspprophet

In your message monitoring system, you will generally be sending out alerts to mobile device users via text messaging when an error occurs. As mentioned above, it’s easy to send out a text message through email software, and the assumption here is that all your on-call resources are reachable through text messages on their mobile phones. However, there are a number of management issues you should consider as you configure your notification system. Among these issues are:

• Who are your responders? Do you have a list of defined responders who will be responsible for ensuring all issues are resolved? What compensation are you offering them for responding to off-hours system issues? What procedure will they follow when they receive an alert? What happens if the off-hours responder doesn’t receive the alert because of mobile device issues, such as a dead battery, out of cell phone range, etc.?

• Do you have a responder rotation? If you have more than one off-hours responder, do you have a published schedule for who’s on duty each night? Is your software set up to follow the schedule and only send to the on-call person or does everyone get the alerts regardless of whether they are on duty that night or not? How do you handle vacations or business travel when the scheduled off-hours responder may not be available?

• Do the responders have mobile devices they can carry with them and is your company handling the cost of the mobile device? If you’re requiring people to drop everything and answer a call, do they at least have the required company equipment to do the job? Are they aware that they will have to answer the call whenever they are on duty?

• Do you have a call tree? If the off-hours responder can’t resolve the issue, what escalation procedure should he follow and who should he call? Have you defined your subject matter experts (SMEs) who need to resolve certain types of issues, such as ERP system errors, hardware errors, Web site errors, etc.? What happens if the designated SME isn’t available? A negotiated and published call tree can alleviate many of these issues.

In my experience, these issues can be just as tricky as the software configuration. You need to carefully define your call trees and ensure that everyone knows what needs to done in case of a problem. Nobody likes to be on-call during off-hours, so proceed carefully and make sure your responders are taken care of in some way, shape, or form for their trouble.

March 28, 2012  4:43 PM

Surveying the Damage

mspprophet Darren James Profile: mspprophet

We want to know, but we don’t want to know. It’s hard to hear criticism. I mean, who do they think they, are criticizing our hard work. I was so scared of reading our first survey I think I walked about an hour to relax before I sat down to absorb the “state of the union”.

This goes in line with being a good listener. Although asking a client to be honest face to face doesn’t always get to the truth. Would you want to upset the guy who was in charge of your data? So that’s why we did anonymous surveys so our clients could express their true thoughts and advice without fear of their email server going down. Create a web page with the ability to do a quick survey anonymously.

I would never retaliate, but you get the idea. People’s nature is to be nice, unless you’re related. Getting anonymous reviews of your business is a great source for nipping any issues in the bud before they get big. Simple questions about your performance and questions about what they would like are good things to ask. Keep the questions politically correct. Don’t get personal such as, “Does Johnny the tech show up on time?” In general do not ask questions that might seem as though you don’t know what you are doing, or that you don’t know what’s going on. Don’t ask if their systems are running ok!

Remember, every day someone is calling your client wanting to know if they are happy with their computer services. You should be way ahead of the game so their only answer to sales calls like that, are “yes we are happy, goodbye”

I can be reached at

March 27, 2012  10:52 AM

How to have an Amazing Business

mspprophet Darren James Profile: mspprophet

It wasn’t until my fourth year that I stumbled upon the formula. I said stumbled, because for the longest time I thought I would find success in the technology I offered. I got into this business because I believed in the power that technology could transform business as we know it. But, technology only goes so far. If we remember the old “garbage in, garbage out”, we may have a chance at grasping what really creates a transformative environment.

You can break down your business into 4 categories of influence.

• Technology
• People
• Process
• Strategy

Only one of these has the ability to transform. The others are static in their application. Yes, people are the resource that will transform your business and create amazing results. If you were to ask a client what is it that you do for him, he would give you an answer that contains the human activity. He would not say, “The email server that you keep running”. Most likely he would say “You’re responsive to our needs”.

So how can you have customers beating down your door? You hire people who bring the amazing with them. They think outside the box a lot. They are always asking questions. They have some chaos going on. They seem odd at times. They will question what you do and tell you all about another way to do it. THESE are the transformative ones.

By using the other 3 areas to affect outcomes you can guide and create the context in which this transformative power operates. Your strategy must be known by all. It is the glue for all you do. Your processes become your expectations of desired outcomes, and your technology is how you put substance to the whole deal. The great part of all this, is that amazing people want and need the structure of the other three to feel good about what they do, because otherwise it’s just chaos.

I didn’t answer the direct question on purpose. I can’t give you a step by step procedure to have CEO’s calling you. It wouldn’t work for you like it did for me. All I can say is look towards your own source of transformative thinking and ask away. You’ll get there once you know where to look.

I can be reached at

March 26, 2012  11:07 AM

How to break up with your clients

mspprophet Darren James Profile: mspprophet

So you’re the top guy. Everyone is starting to come to you for technology advice and solutions. Seems there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done. The truth is there isn’t, and if you’re going to grow, you must learn to move out of the puppy love into more mature relationships. Sure it feels good to be wanted, it’s what we all strive for, but if you can’t take it to the next level you will be the self-employed, not the business owner.

The clients are used to you being their trusted advisor. They want to talk to you. They want to see you. They want to tell you about their business. That is the monster you created. Now you must teach them that you are a company. This is a slow methodical process that should have a plan to it. Each situation is different. For some, they already view you as a business and have no problem with talking to Joe the engineer. Others will fight all the way.

You may find some clients, especially the first clients you acquired, will never want to deal with the company. You might just have to fire them and make a plan to replace them with new clients that are sold on your company not you. Do not keep those 3 clients who refuse to accept your new way of life they will only slow you down. Not everyone wants to grow up with you. Growing up is never easy, in business or life, but it’s pretty much the same.

I can be reached at

March 23, 2012  2:05 PM

Growing your MSP, people wise

mspprophet Darren James Profile: mspprophet

Most of us have the technology part down pretty good. What can cause problems is when we hire people to help us. As we grow our business, learning how to manage and put people to task, is a learned skill and the first step, is knowing how we spend our week.

Write down what you do on a daily basis. Whether its billing, tech, or marketing, we have to get an idea of what we want to delegate. Once you figure out how much time you spend on each, you can make a plan to replace you in those hours, to free you up to do more. If you spend 25 hours doing tech work, then make a plan to replace you.

If it’s too complicated then make procedures to follow. You can’t replace you, unless you have a way to replicate what you do. If you create step by step procedures for the person to follow, it will be easier to put someone in your place. If you can’t make it something you can teach someone else to do, you will never grow your business. You will just be self employed and always running from here to there with long hours.

Imagine the professional race car driver. If he spent all his time fixing the race car, he would never be able to practice driving. He would always be doing everything and nothing really well. That’s why you must focus on what you do well and hire others to make the team. Being the best requires you to focus on your core skills. Hiring others is just part of filling in the team.

Now when you hire others, you don’t get all that time back. You have to anticipate some time for managing. So if you hired a tech and he took 25 hours away, you will have about 20 of those as available time to do more. Perhaps you will now do more tech work. That’s really all it takes to build your business. Add some passion and tenacity to the plan and you will next have to worry about going public with the whole thing, good luck.

I can be reached at

March 21, 2012  7:01 PM

A product worth mention

mspprophet Darren James Profile: mspprophet

Normally you have the same things packaged by different companies. I can heat my home with media packages from product manufacturers. This one stood out to me because of what it means to ALL possible clients.

Iosafe sells fireproof and waterproof NAS boxes for the SMB market. This is wonderful. Even though offsite backups are available, have you ever done a restore from offsite? Well, depending on the data amount, it can be 48 hours. I didn’t have too many clients that could be down for 2 days and not lose big dollars.

Placing one of these in a secure place, hidden from everyone, would provide restoration from theft, fire or other localized disasters. Now I would still store data offsite, and I would use this local storage as my first response in restoring the client if the office was still usable. I would also use this for hardware failure.

Overall this device is a little godsend in filling the gap between offsite issues and quick restores. I like it!

March 20, 2012  7:23 PM

The one job you can’t delegate

mspprophet Darren James Profile: mspprophet

This realization only comes with experience. I spent many hours building business processes to automate a successful marketing strategy. Still, I spent half of my time focused on it. Now the benefit of automating is that things didn’t fall apart if I had something else to work on.

Marketing your MSP with the right tools and maintaining that edge is the secret to potential clients calling you, not you calling them. Imagine having business professionals call you, looking for that “thing you do”. And once you figure out that formula, it requires your constant attention if you want to have those calls keep coming.

Now I’m not saying the day to day administration of marketing can’t be handled by staff. Hopefully you can build processes that are teachable and repeatable. What needs your attention will be the content of the plan and personally reaching out to those business professionals. Chances are it will be the CEO or CFO who wants to talk about what you can do for them. Your job is to do what you do best, sing loudly.

Client service managers can do the follow up. Your job is to secure the trust and open the door to servicing and revenue. I touched each potential client first, laid the groundwork for trust, then handed it over to the sales team. Their job was to tell the client what was needed after an analysis and team discussion. Once I hit the magic formula, there was never a week I didn’t have a handful of potential CEO’s to talk to. The rest they say is green pastures, dollar green.

I can be reached

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