IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

How Do You Know What Each Client Needs?

I got a great question from Chris M:

Just finished your book, it was a really good read. I’m new to owning my own MSP business, worked for another MSP for 7 years and knew I could offer so much more if I started on my own.

 

One question I have for you is. How do you gauge what each customer really needs? When they call you, who are you actually talking to? An IT director that knows what they need, or just a regular non-technical business owner that is completely lost?

 

What series of questions do you go through with them in order to gauge what they actually need?

Thanks for the question, Chris!

I'm going to break this down into two parts:
1) How do you determine what each client needs?
2) Who are you actually talking to?
#1 also covers the question about what we ask and which questions we use.
Of course my answer only reflect my experience, but that experience includes 23 years of owning IT businesses and working with other managed service providers. With only minor exceptions, my managed service experience is with companies with 10-150 endpoints. 
How do you determine what each client needs?
My favorite way to determine what a client needs is to perform a network assessment. See my blog posts on the 68-point checklist. You'll need to update it and customize it to fit your business. Basically, this is a combination of questions you ask the client and investigation you do at the server.
Normally, clients call you in for a reason. Sometimes, you're doing outbound sales calls. But even then, the clients who say "Yes. Come talk to me." have a reason for saying yes. A great opening question is simply, Why am I here?
Computers are a bit like cars (or air conditioners, or plumbing): There are the problems the client knows about and the problems they don't know about. You get called in to address the problems they know about. It is your job to give them a bigger picture and look for the problems they don't know about.
A great car example is a scheduled oil change. As long as we're here, let's go ahead and do that 68-point inspection for free. Why? Because most of the time there's a legitimate need for other services. I recently bought new brakes when I went in for an oil change.
My old sales pitch essentially amounted to this: It's great to have me come in and do a 68-point checkup. But it's even better if we monitor everything on that checklist every month. The items on that checklist really represent the health of your network. Keeping it healthy will maximize your uptime and keep your business humming along.
And here's the beauty of managed service RMM tools: Once I stopped doing all those checks manually and have 67 of them done automatically every minute of every day, I make more money! I charge the same amount, but I pay $1.50 per month for monitoring instead of spending labor running those checks. And now that's my sales pitch.
Also see notes on my quarterly roadmap meetings with clients.
Bottom line: Between what the client tells us and what we find while poking around, we have a very good idea about the health of the network. Then we make a list of all the things they could do to fix it. If there are a lot, we divide it into Critical (e.g, replace firewall, backup not working), Important (e.g., replace old workstations, begin patch management), "Nice to have" (e.g., all copies of Office on the same version, new workgroup printer).
In general, you want to have conversations about these things, not just poke around and hand them a quote. Engage them in a discussion.
Which brings us to . . .
Who are you actually talking to?
This depends on the client. In a perfect world, you will never talk to someone unless they have spending authority. In small companies (25 and under, generally), that's the owner. In a few cases, the person in charge of bringing you in may have some spending authority. For example, they might be able to spend up to $1,000 without getting approval. But they can't sign ongoing service contracts.
So, the owner really needs to be involved with small companies. Everyone else can say whatever they want, but they can't sign a deal.
Which is not to say that you should ignore the person who may become your primary contact. You want that person to love you and recommend you to the owner. The primary contact may not be able to say yes, but she can easily say NO!
With larger companies, you will probably start with the person in charge of operations or even IT. They might even have larger spending authority, including the power to  sign contracts. How do you know?
Ask.
Crazy, I know. But just ask. You have no way of knowing what the internal politics looks like. So just be very honest that you need a decision maker in the room when you present your quote. This is easier than you think.
After you spend an hour or so running that 68-point checkup, you take lots of notes. And you make an appointment to come back and talk about it. And you tell them that you need the decision maker in the room when you come back for that meeting.
If you get to the presentation and that person is not there, you tell them you need to reschedule. For some people, this sounds very hard. But look at it realistically: If the decision maker isn't there, you have a room filled with people who can stop a deal, but no one who can say YES. So you really haven't lost anything if you walk away.
With very few exceptions, no one at the client's office will understand technology or the implications of your proposal well enough to translate your presentation to the owner/decision maker. Even if they love you, they do not have the ability to make this translation.
So you need to get the business owner in the room. And then you need to learn to talk without ANY computer jargon whatsoever. You can talk about generic things like "a backup strategy," but don't get into the details of BDR onsite vs. disc-to-disc-to-cloud. You have to work really hard on descriptions and analogies that make sense without getting mired in techno-babble.
Think about your experience at conferences. What are the worst vendor presentations? Menu option, menu option, feature, feature, feature. And the best? Well, they talk about how you're going to make money providing better to support to your clients.
Business owner to business owner, you need to figure out how to describe why your proposal really is their best solution. Some people will get it and some won't. But the more people you talk to, the better you'll get. And the more you listen and determine how owners respond, the deals you'll close.
Congratulations on your new business. Send me an email when you sign your first managed service contract.
:-)

About the Author

Karl W. Palachuk, is a technology consultant, author, speaker, trainer, and coach. He is the author of fifteen books. He has built several successful businesses, including two managed services companies. His books include Managed Services in a Month and The Network Documentation Workbook. Karl is a frequent trainer and speaker in the SMB Community. His popular blog can be found at SmallBizThoughts.com. He has more than twenty years experience as an I.T. professional and serves on advisory panels for several hardware and software companies.

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