It’s possiblythe most fundamental question channel pros can ask themselves: Why should SMBs choose me as their technology partner over the many other firms in my area? Deep technical expertise? Everyone claims that. Outstanding customer service? Ditto. Lower prices? If that’s the best you can do, get used to squeaking by on razor-thin margins, if you make any money at all.
Successful IT providers rely on a more powerful set of differentiators to separate themselves from competitors. Here’s a sampling of the most effective ones.
Make Yourself Visible
Being a technology know-it-all may not set you apart from other channel pros, but writing the technology know-it-all column for a local newspaper or hosting a technology know-it-all talk show for a local radio station will. Positioning yourself as the IT authority in your geography increases the likelihood that business owners in need of technology services will place their first call to you.
Don’t give up if editors and station managers don’t return your calls either. “There’s a thousand ways that you can become an expert in your community,” says author, consultant, and former managed service provider Karl Palachuk. If writing for the newspaper isn’t an option try contributing to newsletters or volunteering to do “lunch and learn” talks for local civic organizations. Anything that provides you a public forum for displaying your IT expertise will give you an edge on the competition.
Mouth Closed, Ears Open
Calling attention to yourself is important; knowing when not to do so is critical as well. Lots of channel pros spend the bulk of their first meeting with a potential client describing their capabilities, certifications, and service offerings. Wiser ones prove they’re different by letting their clients do the talking instead.
“You’re not there to talk about you,” says Peter Busam, founder and owner of Equilibrium Consulting LLC, a management advisory firm for SMB channel partners based in Voorhees, N.J. “You’re there to listen to them.” Focusing your first meeting with new customers on their goals, requirements, and challenges rather than your qualifications will make a memorable and differentiating first impression.
Dress for Success
Best-in-class MSPs command best-in-class rates, and part of persuading customers that you’re best in class is looking the part. Too many MSPs show up for client meetings in a golf shirt and khakis, Palachuk says. Dressing up a little more gives you an extra air of gravitas and provides visual evidence that you’re more professional than other firms.
Share Your Business Acumen
Most of the time, IT people and businesspeople speak different tongues. Channel pros fluent in both languages can serve their clients in ways others can’t, according to Michael Klein, president of Albertson, N.Y.-based solution provider Computer Directions Inc.
For example, doctors and lawyers often lack the financial know-how to make sense of the reports they get from their accounting system. Klein, who holds MBAs in both finance and marketing, meets regularly with such clients to help them sift through accounting data for actionable insights. “That’s our stickiness,” he says. “We’re providing that value-add that most computer firms aren’t doing right now.”