Vendor Support of MSPs: Why It’s Important & How to Do It

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Trade shows and industry events are major recruitment venues for vendors looking to expand their partner networks. They send teams to these shows who work the floor, wine, dine, and sign up new partners by the score. They invest heavily in after-hours parties and hospitality suites to lure as many partners are possible. However, almost all of the onboarding effort sits at the front end, which can prematurely ruin the relationship.

The Problem: Vendors Don’t Always Nurture MSPs

As soon as the vendor reps return to the office, things tend to stall. Vendors wonder what happened to all of those enthusiastic new partners they recruited at the event and where the new leads are. Managed service providers (MSPs) struggle along, wondering when their new vendors are going to get in touch and help them get these new services up and running.

Channel firms tend to be small companies. Their people are engrossed in the delivery of services to customers. They don’t have a lot of time to institute new initiatives or to discover the best way to maximize the benefits of a new relationship. The reality is it’s largely up to the vendor to make that new relationship work.

“When you onboard a new employee, you put a lot of effort into that person,” said Sean Lardo, chief evangelist for Connectwise. “The channel demands that exact experience. If you don’t onboard in the same way and get them into production quickly, you lose their interest and could be losing a valuable producer.”

How Vendors Can Solidify a New Partnership

After vendors connect with new MSPs at an event and start to build a relationship, they must reach out immediately, showcase their quality customer support, ask key questions, and be willing to change for their new and existing partners.

Reach out to new partners

The smart vendors don’t wait. They reach out. But, that takes organization in the form of follow-up mechanisms and organizational workflows. One example is not for resale (NFR) programs. Vendors give these to channel partners for testing and educational purposes. The understanding is that the channel partner will not resell those products.

Cisco is one company that uses NFR extensively. It believes that partners who purchase and use NFR hardware and software grow faster than those that don’t.

“The strongest partners are those who utilize the solution providers’ NFR programs and use these tools in their own shop,” said Matt Scully, channel chief at Redstor. “This enables the MSP techs to be subject matter experts on the solutions and feel comfortable when implementing them and selling the tools to prospects. MSPs that feel comfortable with their solution tools tend to sell more of them.”

Combine technical excellence with good support

Vendors that lack well-thought-out follow-up mechanisms to new and existing partners tend to focus only on the low-hanging fruit. This might take the form of working more closely with former employees who began their own MSP startup and are already familiar with the company and its technology or focusing only on MSPs that bring in the big numbers. This isn’t an effective way to go about it, and it can make vendors less competitive in the market.

Small MSPs used to be largely ignored within the partner networks of big vendors, but those vendors have now realized they need to energize their entire partner networks and help each MSP to prosper.

“Now you have solution providers going back to the drawing board and coming up with innovative ways to stand out, and this can be from both a technology perspective but also from a partner program,” said Scully. “The vendors that can provide best-in-class technology and a strong supporting partner program will be most attractive to the MSP.”

Ask questions

It’s up to the vendor to have the people and processes in place to be able to find out from each partner what they really need to help them sell more services.

“Vendors need to engage with their channel to determine how to cement that relationship and make it work,” said Whitehat Virtual Technologies CEO Val King. “The resellers know what they need and want; just ask them.”

Vendors commonly assume they know what their partners need, but this can result in expensive, unused programs. When vendors design programs to provide all partners with certain materials or training, but those things are only relevant to a subset of the overall partner network, vendors’ bottom lines suffer.

Think about the diversity that must exist across any vendor’s partner relationships. They are spread across different regions and countries. They work in different verticals. Some consist of hundreds of staff; others have five employees.

There is a big difference between a large MSP team providing cybersecurity services to federal government agencies and a group of half a dozen techies servicing dentists in one small town. There’s no way they each need and want the same things from their vendors.

Be willing to change

In charge of channel activities for Cisco, Michelle McBain agreed that it’s vital to listen to partner pain points. But, just as important is implementing changes and adding programs that improve partner outcomes. Cisco, for example, conducts monthly internal meetings to figure out how to best respond to partner issues with concrete changes.

“We work internally and externally on our program improvement plan to ensure that our solutions are driven with the right approach for partners and to help fill in their gaps,” said McBain. “We as vendors can’t say we care and then not demonstrate it in our actions.”

Bottom Line: Vendor Support of MSPs

When vendors find a new MSP to partner with, it’s up to them to solidify that relationship and help the MSP to thrive. Vendors who take the time to follow up quickly, provide great support, ask the right questions, and remain willing to adapt to their partners’ needs tend to have more successful partners, which ultimately helps them to be more competitive against other vendors.