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5 Ways to Improve Your MSP Service Level Agreement (SLA)

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5 Ways to Improve Your MSP Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

SLAs are the foundation of your MSP business. They are essential to building strong client relationships and must be clear, reasonable and well-constructed.

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MSPradio Episode 10: Growing Your Business and Retaining Clients - Tips from 2 MSP Experts

Posted June 19, 2014by Nate Teplow

Episode-10-growing-business-and-retaining-clients

Running an MSP is a tough job. There are many different components you have to juggle, and two areas where many MSPs struggle is finding ways to grow their business, while also retaining and increasing revenues from their current clients.

On this week's episode of MSPradio, we chat with two MSP experts, both of whom are speakers at Navigate 2014. Bryan Gilliom is a former MSP and now an MSP coach, with over 20 years of experience running and working with MSPs. He joins us to discuss some effective strategies for growing your MSP business. We'll also hear from Joy Beland, also known as the LA IT Girl, who has been helping her clients find IT success since 1998 and will discuss how she uses regular business reviews to retain her clients and uncover new revenue opportunities.

 

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Episode Transcription:

Nate:                       Hey Paul!

Welcome back everyone to MSP radio. I am your host Nate Teplow. Got a great program lined up for you all today. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with two managed services professionals both of them have extensive experience in the MSP industry so I will be playing those two recordings for you today. Just before we get into them, I just want to let everyone know that we are officially a podcast. So go to iTunes, subscribe to our podcast, you will get episodes straight to your iTunes account. We also have it available for android users using the Stitcher app. If you search for Stitcher in the android marketplace and then search for MSP radio all one word, you can find us there and subscribe and get our episodes straight to your smartphone.

Last I just want to remind everyone to follow us on Twitter and tweet about the show. Use the handle @follow Continuum and the #MSP radio. We love hearing what you guys have to say and looking forward to seeing your tweets.

So first up is a recording I did with Bryan Gilliom. He recently was in our office here in Boston and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sit down with him and record this segment. He’s a former MSP, he is now a MSP business coach and will actually be speaking at our first ever user conference called Navigate 2014. So we are going to cut to the segment I did with Brian. He’s going to discuss about how to run an efficient successful MSP business and also give you a sneak peek about his talk at Navigate.

We’ve got the great episode lined up for you all today. Just before we get into it I just wanted to remind everyone to follow us on Twitter. Our handle is @follow Continuum. We are very active on Twitter. We do a lot of great tweeting and collecting some content for you there and would also love to hear what you all have to say about the radio show. If you use the #MSP radio we will be looking out for those tweets and love hearing what everyone has to say.

Alright. So I am sitting here with Bryan Gilliom. He’s a former MSP. He took his own MSP practice from a 0 to 4,000,000 in recurring revenue. He’s got 20 years’ experience running an MSP and right now he’s actually got his own practice coaching MSP’s on how to kind of market themselves, how to ramp up their sales and really experience some growth as an MSP. So Bryan, thanks for joining me today.

Bryan:                     Thanks Nate, thanks for having me in.

Nate:                       Yeah, absolutely. So before you kind of get into a little more content here, just wanted to mention that you will actually be speaking at Navigate 2014 which is our first ever user conference in September. So did you want to give us as a little intro, a little hint at what you will be talking about?

Bryan:                     Sure, so I recently did a program with Continuum on conversion but I am really kind of excited. This talk at Navigate is going to be on the subject of really delivering a compelling quarterly or annual business review with a business seminar. And what the six questions are that you absolutely must ask in that to be successful and how to use that as a tool to really catapult your growth and really build an unbreakable relationship with your client which is really important given all of the competitors that are knocking on your clients’ door these days.

Nate:                       Yeah, now they are very useful in showing the value you actually deliver to a business as an MSP. It’s something we have talked about a lot.

Bryan:                     I think for me, the other key is, it’s not just telling the business owner what you’ve done, which is what other people do in that session. It’s actually really getting an understanding of that business, what that business owner plans to do themselves and becoming part of their planning process so that role of virtual CIO becomes real; not just saying you are a virtual CIO but doing the job that a CIO would do in a traditional management team of helping plan the technology infrastructure and how technology can accelerate their business goals.

Nate:                       Definitely, definitely. Cool so you spent a lot of time with MSP’s obviously, you are an MSP coach with a ton of experience. What do you think is the biggest mistake that MSP’s are making these days?

Bryan:                     I think the biggest mistake is that people still believe they are in the technology business. And the reality is as MSP’s, we are in the risk business. Technology is a tool that we use to manage risk but what our clients really are hiring us to do is to take away a nasty scary risk that they have right now in their business and take responsibility for it. So anything we are doing that is not basically serving that concept and serving that conversation with the client is taking away from our ability to be successful and profitable.

Nate:                       Yeah, definitely. And what sorts of risks are these that business owners are looking to eliminate? I mean, there is security, there is leveraging the right technologies and losing data, things like that?

Bryan:                     Yeah. I mean there is compliance risks obviously which is one of the ones a lot of people focus on. There is data loss which is a risk. There is downtime productivity loss. There is a possibility that they are going to miss an important technology shift; that they are going to not know when the time is they should go to the cloud. Talk back to the quarterly and annual and business review. Even that is somewhat of a risk meeting if it’s done right. Because what your business owner is worrying about is should I be in the cloud? Should I be doing these things? Is my business going to be behind if I don’t?

Nate:                       Yeah, yeah definitely.

Bryan:                     So that’s kind of stretching the example of a little bit but even there, what you are really doing is helping the business owner mitigate a strategic risk of making the wrong decisions around IT.

Nate:                       So Bryan, we were just talking a bit before the show and you mentioned that a lot of MSP’s, they say the competitive differentiation is that they are a good advisor to their client and everyone is saying that, that’s not really a differentiation. So what are some ways an MSP can really differentiate themselves from their competition and use that to grow their business?

Bryan:                     So one way is to look inwards at yourself and what the DNA of your organization is. What are you uniquely good at? Maybe is that you have done 10 projects in particular industry and so you have a depth of industry knowledge that nobody else has. Maybe it’s that you have some team members that have some really strong expertise. As strange as it might sound, one of the examples we talk about in my program is; let’s say you have somebody on staff who is a great web designer. Include a free website in all of your services. That way you force your competitors to reproduce that in a more expensive way and you are basically fighting on ground that is conducive to you and not conducive to your competitors so one way is to look for your own unique DNA.

Another way is to get really, really clear about what your value is to your clients, really know who your ideal client is. So you can’t be everything to everybody. So are you going to be really, really good in a particular industry, a particular size client in a particular family owned or multilocation and get really, really good at that and craft your marketing message, craft your services, craft all those things to appeal to what keeps those people up at night.

Nate:                       Definitely. And what are some marketing things you can do around this? I mean I think a testimonial is great and you want to be able to broadcast this differentiation to other people. So what are some things you can do from a marketing standpoint to speak to them?

Bryan:                     So I think right in line with what we are doing right here, what I see often times in testimonials is you see a dry little sentence or two and somebody has to kind of beg their clients to please send me an email testimony and they say, “Well write something and send it to me and I would put my name on it.” Get one of these teleconference bridges for $10 a month that can record, call up your client and interview them. Just ask them, “What made you choose me?” “What are we doing really, really well?” and that kind of thing. You can always go in with audio editor or something and you can create an audio testimonial and you can basically pull some sentences out of it for your text.

Better yet, take your iPhone, take that kind of thing and go to your customer’s office and do the same thing on video. It won’t look like you did it in a studio but that’s one of those cases where sometimes in today’s selfy world and that kind of thing, there is a certain amount of unprofessional video that comes across to people as being more authentic and so I wouldn’t recommend it for all your business promotions and that kind of thing but for testimonials, as long as its reasonably well lit and reasonably well done, being a little bit kind of impromptu actually makes it seem more authentic rather than less authentic.

Nate:                       Yeah definitely. I think, like you said it adds a personal touch, a face to the name rather than just a dry quote something on their website from a testimonial.

Bryan:                     And is a lot harder. I hate to say but I think a lot of our prospects believe that we just make up the majority of the testimonials on our website. It’s much harder for somebody to not believe something’s true if they can hear the person’s voice or they can see the person’s face. You can’t fake that. It could be your sister but the authenticity factor is much, much higher than it is if you just have some sentences on there, especially as we often times do and have “Bob. B”.

Nate:                       Yeah, no, that’s very generic. But I think it comes down to the point that people still like doing business with people and sure, with remote monitoring and web, the Internet and being able to connect over the web, it distances personal relationships sometimes but when it comes down to it, people still like that authenticity and that person-to-person connection.

Bryan:                     That’s right and I think one of the things that people underestimate is the business that we are in is built on trust and confidence. Back to the risk thing; If I am going to give you control of a risk of something that could put my business out of business or could really hurt my business, I have to absolutely trust you and have confidence that you are going to take care of that because the only thing worse than having the risk of myself is to pay you to take over the risk and then you not handle it. So it’s part of what’s really of course building that know, like and trust factor and you want to build it with prospects, you want to maintaining with your clients and testimonials like that are one aspect of it; the way you treat your clients, the way your employees interact with them, whether or not you do exactly what you say you are going to do every time from the first moment you interact with the client from a prospecting standpoint all the way through the relationship.

Nate:                       Definitely. So one other thing we touched on before the word recording here was about technician utilization. What are some ways you can really use your technicians in the best way? I think that is something you had mentioned to me that you don’t want to bog them down with the bunch of menial tasks. So what as an MSP owner can I do to better utilize my technicians?

Bryan:                     So as an MSP owner, one of the highest and best things, and I know my experience, a lot of MSP owners that I have talked to and some of my clients, when you look around, the person who often times has the tightest relationship with the client is the engineer. They trust them more, they don’t see them as salespeople, they see them as more honest. And we all have some people we have to keep locked in the backroom but hopefully in the MSP business we are surrounding ourselves with people that are good business interaction people that can talk to business owners, can talk to the client.

So if that great person who has the relationship with the client is sitting in a room somewhere behind his glowing screen installing patches, they are not bringing you that much value. That’s something that you can have, is one of Continuums of value propositions. Is that you can have somebody else do that so that you free up that engineer who has the relationship to be out there in front of the customer. And I was telling you previously, we would tell our technical account manager, our most senior people that are on the team of managing or infrastructure service client, “If you don’t have anything else that only you can do, go buy a box of doughnuts and go shake hands and go ask people how things are going hand help with the secretary fix a little thing on her machine that is getting on her nerves that she would never open a ticket for” because that’s what’s going to build that relationship, not being in the back room.

If the server goes down and it’s the horrible situation that needs your best guide or your best girl, great! Bring them in, put them on the job. But don’t have them doing things that you can get done some other way and burning that time and energy that is best spent some other way.

Nate:                       Yeah definitely. And I think that for the technicians too and you mentioned to me that MSP’s are having trouble retaining the talent that they have and if I am a technician I would rather be working to solve business problems, not sitting in a backroom patching devices and fixing servers and whatnot.

Bryan:                     I think certainly if you have the right person on your team and the right people that you are going to need for the next five years to be successful as an MSP, then that person should prefer to be out in front of clients and interacting and seeing new things and that kind of thing, not sitting in a backroom doing repetitive work.

Nate:                       Yeah, definitely, definitely. Well Bryan, it was great having you here in our office and thanks for joining me here on MSP radio and we are excited to see you at Navigate this fall in Boston.

Bryan:                     Absolutely Nate I look forward to it. And if your listeners are interested in learning more about what I am doing, they can go to www.it.growmyMSP.com.

Nate:                       Great, sounds good, well thanks Brian!

Bryan:                     Thank you!

Nate:                       Great! So back here live on MSP radio. You just heard a segment with Bryan Gilliom. He is a former MSP, now MSP coach; awesome guy, really knowledgeable about the industry. He has been very successful as an MSP and come see him at Navigate. If you want to learn more about Bryan, speak with him, talk to him about his new coaching practice, come to Navigate 2014. You can learn more at www.continuum.net/navigate.

We are going to take a quick commercial break here.

Coming up next is an interview I did with Joy Beland also known as the L.A IT girl. She’s going to talk about performing regular business reviews for your clients and how they contribute to your success as an MSP. So we we’ll see you all in a few minutes.

Paul:                        Alright, let’s set up our second interview here.

Nate:                       So the next segment here is with Joy Beland. She is also known as the L.A. IT girl. She is also a speaker at Navigate; so another reason to come to Navigate 2014.

Paul:                        How did you get the L.A. IT got to come to Boston?

Nate:                       You know what? It’s the magic of Skype. The world is very small now with technology. But it was a great opportunity to speak with her and chat at a little bit about her talk at Navigate. She is going to be talking there about performing business reviews with your clients and we will be discussing that on the segment we are about to play for you. So tune in right now for my brief interview with Joy Beland.

Hey everyone, it’s Nate Teplow your host of MSP radio. I’ve got the great guest on the line here. Her name is Joy Beland also known as the L.A. IT girl. She has been in the IT services industry since 1998 mainly supporting educational institutions, some nonprofits and a small to medium-size businesses helping them to accomplish their IT goals.

So Joy, welcomed MSP radio!

Joy:                           Thanks so much Nate, thanks for having me.

Nate:                       Yeah, absolutely. It’s great to have you on the show and I know you have been a longtime partner of Continuum and I also wanted to mention that you will be speaking at Navigate 2014 which is our first ever user conference and do you mind giving us a quick preview of what you will be speaking about at the conference so we can get a little sneak peek?

Joy:                           Well sure! I am actually a big fan of the best practices for our businesses and as an MSP myself, the one that I like to focus on is the periodic business review with my clients. So I like to share with the other MSP’s what’s working for me and how I built up my system and see what kind of feedback I get from other partners seeing I am a really big fan of sharing this information.

Nate:                       Yeah definitely. It’s a big topic for MSP’s, it’s something we’ve written about a lot and I think we will make a great speaking point at our conference.

One other thing about Navigate what’s the thing you are most excited for about event in September?

Joy:                           I would say definitely networking with other MSP’s using the Continuum tools. These conferences are usually the most beneficial thing for me, the breakout sessions are awesome but really meeting other MSP’s that are hands-on, have their own business doing exactly what I do using the same tools and seeing how they use them differently, is a big part of the take away that I get from these conferences.

Nate:                       Yeah, definitely. Our events team has been hard at work putting together a really great agenda for the event and one of the things they’ve focused on is really building in a lot of networking time between kind of Nelly events and in between sessions and everything. We know that’s a big sticking point for our partners so there will be lots of networking and lots of great things to look forward to at Navigate 2014.

Joy:                           I think one of the best things about these conferences by the way is how everybody just comes together from all over the world. It’s really outstanding to me how fast the community has grown and how much information we share amongst each other rather than acting as competitors and instead helping everybody up in the industry.

Nate:                       Yeah, I think MSP’s are very inclined to collaborate and share ideas more so than maybe some other industries out there.

Joy:                           I would agree.

Nate:                       That’s great, so I’m really looking forward to that at our user conference. So I wanted to dive a little bit deeper into your topic at Navigate. You mentioned that you’ll be speaking about performing these business reviews. If I am kind of new to this, can you give me a quick synopsis of what a business review is and how it will help me as an MSP?

Joy:                           Well certainly! A business review is a recap on a periodic basis on three essential items. Number one, how are we performing as your MSP? Sitting down and having that honest conversation with your client, getting their feedback and going over what your performance has been. The second is what’s going on with their business that we should be aware of. Because without sitting in front of the client, really having that rapport where you are the trusted advisor, you don’t know about the future growth and things that you can be more involved in to help them and it’s a great opportunity to have that conversation.

The third thing is presenting them with a 12 month [20:44 roling] budget and for me that’s a huge thing. If my clients know a whole year in advance what the big expenses are coming down the pipe for upgrades, server replacements and moving things to the cloud, it just becomes part of their normal planning rather than a surprise check that they have to write. And it’s a much more comfortable conversation and a much more professional relationship.

Nate:                       Yeah, definitely. It’s good as a business owner to have a heads up as to what expenses you can expect rather than just dumping it on them when it comes time.

Joy:                           Yeah. And then they become a partner with you in planning for that growth.

Nate:                       Yeah, absolutely. So who is in charge of doing this? Is this something that you do as the MSP owner? Is it something that your technicians should be doing or should the clients get involved in performing these?

Joy:                           Well definitely the client. I like to have the owner of the business and if there is a IT director available at that client then I would want them present as well. But for my shop, I am us fairly small shop. I just have to technicians working with me and as the owner I want to be the one meeting with the client myself. I think in a larger MSP, mostly the have the account managers doing this type of periodic review. For me it’s really hands-on. I am a small enough shop that my relationship with the client is the primary contact that they have and important to driving conversation.

Nate:                       Yeah, definitely. How do you think this has helped you as an MSP? How has it helped you with your clients doing these business reviews?

Joy:                           Oh my gosh! I would say that it has integrated me in their staff as a member of their staff. One of the examples I can give is if we are having a hard time developing a solution for a certain staff member at a client’s office and I include them in a conversation to the periodic business review to have them have an open conversation about what to their challenges are in front of the business owner and with me validating what the circumstances are; but that type of relationship and conversation isn’t, and believe it or not, in the IT with our clients. And I become an advocate for the staff members and the staff members become advocates for me. So it is super important to be integrated into the family of the client in that way if you will.

Nate:                       Yeah, absolutely. To be an important tool in their success you’ve got to integrate like you said, into their business. And I think another thing that MSP’s struggle with sometimes is am a they get a little too remote and there is a lot of things you can do remotely with RMM software and being able to manage things on your end but you still want to put your face in front of the client and show that integral part of their success that you are as their MSP partner.

Joy:                           That’s exactly right! And it’s amazing how many things you can get out of the client when it’s just you and the client one-on-one without your technicians being there and knowing that the technicians might be listening or reading the notes on the service ticket. It’s really important to have that candid feedback.

Nate:                       Yeah, absolutely. Give me one characteristic that should be included in every successful business review.

Joy:                           A successful business review which find [23:54 inaudible] are, I walk away with at least one project; developing their plans and the growth in the next 12 months, those conversations. A successful review is going to be not just saying, “You know what, we have been talking about this for a few months, the time is coming up. But I actually have a quote with me for what’s going to be happening in the next quarter. I find also have a whole quarter’s worth of purchases in advance when I am walking out the door. That’s successful. That’s when your client is trusting you and just moving forward on a regular basis.

Nate:                       That’s great, it’s not just to show your clients that you care about them and you are there to meet with them and understand the business goals but also for you as a sales opportunity to walk away with some project work.

Joy:                           Absolutely.

Nate:                       Yeah, that’s great. So on the flip side of that, what’s the one thing that I should never do if I am doing a business review?

Joy:                           Well I think getting too technical. It’s harder when you are a small shop to walk in and make sure you are presenting yourself as a professional trusted advisor sometimes. In the beginning when I was doing this I used to not mind calling the [24:55 inaudible] desk and fixing a computer, doing some work on the server here and there and I realized I had to separate my technician hat from my business owner hat.

Nate:                       Yeah.

Joy:                           And so what you should never do is walk in and be technical and repair things. This should be a business meeting and you should be a trusted advisor in that role.

Nate:                       Yeah, definitely. So one last question for you here, what’s the best way to get started if I realize the importance of performing these reviews, how do I get started in doing it?

Joy:                           Well, setting up a meeting and doing it in a professional way. I send an email with an invitation and an agenda attached for what the plan on discussing. I send it a month in advance. So how you present it so that it is not a sales meeting rather a review of your performance and your technology needs is super important. And so just getting that first one on the books and preparing for it properly.

Nate:                       Great! That sounds awesome! Well Joy, thank you for joining me here today on MSP radio. I think you provided a great high-level overview and we can’t wait to hear more about what you have to say about business reviews at our user conference. I can’t wait to see you there as well in person.

Joy:                           Me too, thank you so much for the opportunity Nate.

Nate:                       All right, back here live at MSP radio. We hope you all enjoy the segment I did with joy and previously the segment we played where I spoke with Bryan Gilliom. They are both very fabulous partners of ours. They are very knowledgeable about the industry and they are both reasons to come to Navigate 2014.

So thank you all for tuning in to MSP radio and we hope to see you all next week!

Nate Teplow is a Sr. Product Marketing Manager at Continuum, currently managing the company's RMM marketing initiatives. Nate's experience spans inbound marketing, content strategy, marketing communications and B2B lead generation. A proud Miami Hurricane alumni, Nate enjoys staying active, traveling to new places and performing A/B tests.

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