Those who have never utilized a managed service provider (MSP) are likely to be filled with trepidation about which provider to choose, how much they can trust that provider, or whether they should just try to run their IT environments internally. As they have no prior experience of MSP services, these prospective first-time MSP customers are filled with fear, uncertainty, and doubt.
New MSPs and those venturing into new services face similar circumstances. Running an MSP is far from easy. And it is impossible to know what is really involved until you take a deep breath and commit to a business plan and service delivery.
Here, then, are some tips from those that have made that commitment and lived to tell the tale. They offer key lessons learned on how to improve MSP success, and a host of other tips about billing and service practices that can help guarantee success. And some of that information also helps those shopping for MSP services to ask the right questions and choose the best MSP for their environments and needs.
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Add Security Capabilities Somehow
Whether an MSP has ventured into the managed security services provider (MSSP) field or not, there is no avoiding security safeguards and responsibilities these days in the MSP world.
Each MSP should put in place procedures to protect itself and its clients. After all, the downside of a breach can be catastrophic. Reputations can be ruined overnight. Those MSPs wishing to steer clear of security should partner with another MSSP to ensure itself and its clients data, systems, and infrastructure are fully protected.
“As MSPs are becoming an increasingly ripe target for ransomware, their data security practices and capabilities should be the data center manager’s number one area of focus,” said Don Boxley, CEO and Co-Founder of DH2i.
As the Kaseya breach showed last year, the far-reaching software supply chain means a lot of companies can get hit by a single hack, flowing from MSPs down to their clients. That makes third-party risk management a critical need for MSPs.
And if they venture into security services at all, incident response is the logical place to start, as most MSP clients don’t even have an incident recovery plan in place. If there’s ever a major problem, the first place they’ll call is their MSP, so having something, anything, in place is a good idea these days.
See the Best Incident Response Tools for MSPs and MSSPs
You Need Backup and Recovery
Security breaches happen. No matter the safeguards in place, all it takes is one inattentive user and the enterprise is put at risk. Phishing scammers constantly figure out new tactics to tempt users into an ill-advised click on an attachment or malicious URL. Therefore, as well as security safeguards, standard backup and recovery actions should be put in place, tested, and maintained. And that’s a critical protection against ransomware attacks too.
“MSPs need to be able to recover data in the event of a successful cyber attack,” said Surya Varanasi, CTO of StorCentric.
Become a Managed Services Broker
No MSP can become all things to all potential customers, and specializing in your strengths is sound advice that MSPs often hear.
Some MSPs stick rigidly to one specific service and turn away any business that doesn’t fit. But others see that as a waste of potential business. Some MSPs do very well with their specialty and augment it with advisory or brokerage services. They deliver their main line competently and then inform clients of the best services to deploy from other providers. Some package these up into integrated tool sets. Others act as an intermediary in negotiating fees, licensing, and other factors with other providers.
Over time, the MSP can establish relationships with other MSPs and help each other by cross-selling the services of their partners. Discounted rates tend to evolve from that practice, and close partnerships can lead to pre-arranged integrations available of services from multiple MSPs.
An MSP in specialized financial services known as Equity Methods, for example, partners with an MSP known as adryTech to provide infrastructure support as well as advisory services, such as which MSSPs to rely on to secure the systems of itself and its clients.
“Using an MSP allows us to tap into their experience of evaluating and managing other competing solutions, so we are not using unproven or difficult-to-manage technologies,” said Paul Leisey, CIO at Equity Methods.
Further reading: Financial Services MSP Shows Importance of Partnerships
Collaborate and Communicate
Some MSPs are great at collaborating with clients, and they’re good at communication in general. Others fall down in this department. It is vital to be able to listen, understand, and then provide the requested needs, said Adam Rusak, Managing Director of MSP adryTech.
He’s experienced first-hand what it is like to deal with MSPs that take too long to get back to you, don’t wish to go the extra mile on service, and stick rigidly to their primary duty with no leeway. Yes, there have to be boundaries, and clearly demarcated zones of responsibility. But that should not get in the way of a helpful attitude, a willingness to communicate, and an ability to collaborate. Giving a client just a little bit extra can create loyal customers.
Be Flexible on Billing Practices
MSPs don’t all bill in the same way. For some, it works to bill for every single call, request, or action. But that model may not work for all clients. Some clients want the comfort of a predictable monthly bill without the shock of a sudden surge in billing due to the latest flap.
But on the other side of the coin, there can be aversion to agreeing to a set rate. At times, an MSP can find themselves overwhelmed by an impossible workload from a new client.
It is a case of finding out what works for you and your clientele. For many, a stable monthly bill that covers everything is often workable. Those MSPs that try to micromanage every minute of service may find themselves mired in billing disputes rather than just providing good service to customers.
Stress Your Vertical Experience
Vertical experience is vital in selecting an MSP. Those experienced in one vertical understand the requirements, standards, compliance mandates, and laws of that sector. Those outside of it are likely to fall afoul of some of these requirements.
“When choosing, the MSP’s experience and knowledge about the unique standards and regulations for your particular industry should be examined,” said Boxley.
That’s important information for MSPs too. If there’s a niche you specialize in, that’s your number one place to look for customers.
Add Business Know-How to Technology Acumen
It is not uncommon for certain MSPs to be overly focused on technology and fail to translate technology into business value. It is critical to have at least some business acumen, because that must be employed to translate risk into business language. That, in turn, means spending a lot of time quantifying and qualifying something that doesn’t exist in the mind of decision makers.
Take security, for example. Few organizations care much about security until an incident happens. Regardless of all the headlines about ransomware and the average cost of a breach above $4 million, enterprises tend to avoid spending time or money on security, as they want to invest in areas that bring business value and forward strategic goals. It is essential, then, to translate security services and technology services from IT terminology into the language of business.
“It is important to demonstrate value through detailed reports,” said Michael Hanauer, Vice President of Managed XDR Sales & Marketing at Barracuda MSP. “Quarterly reporting is the minimum here, but monthly or weekly is ideal. The fact that nothing happened is a positive thing. Show them what you prevented.”
It’s not hard to demonstrate positive return on investment (ROI) with security services – a single incident alone could pay for the cost of the service.
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