IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

Differentiating Your IT Services Practice

Whether you offer managed services or services in the cloud, the key to success in a competitive market is differentiating your IT services and standing out from the crowd. By James E. Gaskin

Whether you offer managed services or services in the cloud, the key to success in a competitive market is standing out from the crowd.

Every other managed service provider you compete with for business can already do what you do: monitor networks and devices, patch server and workstation software, and remotely control devices to save drive time. When a prospect talks to you and three other IT service firms, how do you compete? If you say “price,” good luck with that.

“Everybody expects the basic stuff,” says Alex Rogers, CEO of Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) provider CharTec LLC and managed services firm ARRC Technology, in Bakersfield, Calif. “You have to take it to another level. You have to be a full-blown IT partner for your clients and pretend you’re the IT guy on the payroll.”

One way to do that is to provide more. “We take a general contractor mentality with our clients,” says Rogers. “That means we solve all their problems, no matter what they are. If the phone is broken, we get it fixed. Copier down? We got it. Need to renew the domain name? We get on it.”

Many times, this approach falls under the “vendor management” heading. Even when you can’t fix, say, the copier, you manage the copier relationship for the customer—you become the single point of contact for all technology issues. “It used to be different guys took care of different things,” says Rogers. “Now the modern MSP does it all.” Rogers cites surveillance and VoIP as examples of services that are a natural fit for MSPs, because they are IT based.

Serving the customer in this way has another benefit. “It helps close the back door on competitors coming into our clients,” says Rogers. “If some company calls us because their MSP doesn’t do Voice over IP, our salesperson will make a pitch to take over all their business.” Rogers refuses to let that happen with his clients, so he adopts the contractor approach and manages vendor relationships for the customer as part of his MSP package.

Beyond the Scope
Sometimes, what a customer needs is far beyond the reach of their network. “Good partners should address new technologies that can help their customers, like cloud solutions, before their customers bring it up,” says Grant Thompson, founding partner and solutions architect of MG Technology Group LLC, in Bainbridge Island, Wash. “You may be looking at bidding a project for on-premise work, but you may want to bring up the cloud and discuss why that does or doesn’t make sense for your customer.”

In addition to doing consulting and integration work, MG Technologies is a cloud services provider that sells through a partner channel across the United States and Canada. Customers may be looking at buying a new small business server to handle email, and ask their reseller, “What about that cloud thing?” says Thompson. “Could we be doing that with our email?”

And that puts the IT provider behind the eight ball. “We’ve seen end users start signing up for our free trials because their IT partner is not up to speed,” says Thompson. “When their IT partner gets on the defensive, they may start looking for a new provider.” While end users are not yet approaching cloud providers in droves, the number continues to grow.

“Last year, a client had a Microsoft Small Business Server 2008 upgrade proposal turned in, but went back to their customer and said the cloud might be better for their needs,” says Thompson. “They pulled the proposal and redid it with a hybrid on-premise and cloud solution. The client spent about the same amount of money, but that included more training and upgrades on Microsoft Office. The IT shop profit was higher because there were more services, and less hardware and software, in the final solution."

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About the Author

James E. Gaskin's picture

JAMES E. GASKIN is a ChannelPro contributing editor and former reseller based in Dallas.

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