What’s the difference between a successful MSP and a very successful MSP? While it might seem like technology must have something to do with it, quite often the answer is far more human and interpersonal.
It’s far too easy to forget that an IT business isn’t just about the IT -- and that the business component is very reliant on communication. From generating new leads, to closing deals, all the way to serving and retaining clients, you have to talk the right talk.
Communication is essential when developing the customer experience (CX) for your clients. All those touch points add up, and those interactions weigh more heavily on perception of your brand than product or pricing.
In this article, we’ll look at how a managed service provider (MSP) should be communicating value through all stages of the customer journey -- including after the agreement is signed.
Effective client communication for MSPs
We’ve worked with hundreds of MSPs, and in the process we’ve had the pleasure of getting to know many of them. We’ve learned about their successes, their innovations, and their challenges.
One struggle that comes up quite often is the question of not only how but when to talk to prospects and clients. Many MSP owners wear multiple hats and don’t have a lot of time to spare, so they let communications fall by the wayside almost out of necessity. At that point, the question of “when to communicate” gets answered with an unfortunate “only when I have to”.
But what opportunities are being lost when communication isn’t given due consideration? Are you missing out on new business? Referrals? Are your clients losing sight of why they hired you in the first place?
For many MSPs, regular communication with clients comes from ticket fulfillments, service calls, and maybe the occasional check-in. These are important touchpoints from a technical standpoint, but it’s important to remember that these are also opportunities to build your relationship and communicate the value you’re providing.
Long term communication and strategic conversations
Most MSPs are already conducting quarterly business reviews (QBRs) with their clients. These check-ins happen (you guessed it) four times a year and give the MSP a chance to go over their performance, refine their strategic plan, and suggest new avenues of innovation. These reviews usually take the form of a meeting and involve key stakeholders in the client’s organization.
For an MSP, the QBR can be an important way to engage with clients on a more strategic level every quarter, but it’s not just a good time to suggest new services or projects. When reviewing your MSP’s performance over the previous months, it’s wise to remind the client of how you’ve had a positive impact on their business.
This may mean reporting on cybersecurity activity (potential breaches that you’ve helped prevent), productivity gains, or cost savings. If you don’t have a method of tracking these metrics, you can devise a scorecard based on known costs, risks, etc.
The typical QBR discussion will then progress to current and proposed strategic initiatives, any roadblocks or challenges, and changes in the IT world that could affect them (such as upcoming regulations). Try to avoid discussing day-to-day topics, minor details, or anything else that is better handled through tactical service calls.
Communication loses all of its potency if it’s not backed up with action and reinforced through diligent follow-up. Becoming a true trusted advisor to clients means staying top of mind and close to hand when needed. Continue proving value by addressing problems quickly, and fostering that strategic relationship.
For example, any potential opportunities or concerns revealed during the QBR should be pursued after the meeting is over. You will still need those multiple touch points to cultivate a positive CX and keep your proposed innovations at the front of the clients’ mind.
Likewise if you’ve promised to take action around any concerns or challenges the client is facing. It goes without saying that an MSP should never make promises that they can’t (or won’t) follow through on. If you’ve agreed to a resolution, pursue that resolution relentlessly and always strive to overdeliver.
Communicating value as an MSP
When it comes to communicating value -- especially in a marketing sense -- there are a few terms that come to mind for most managed service providers.
The most commonly uttered phrase in that category will probably be “pain points”. In short, these are the challenges and stressors faced by your prospect or ideal client. The idea is to communicate value by addressing those pain points.
If you’re struggling with X, we can help you by Y.
The challenge here is that some of the most commonly-used pain points in the IT channel are not fully fleshed out. Remember that great communication comes from empathy and truly understanding your audience.
In this case, that means leveraging pain points that are really relevant to your prospect. These should be pains they experience day-to-day. Challenges that they face on a regular basis. Most importantly, the most effective pain points are emotional.
When you understand the simplicity behind that, it’s easy to see why something like cybersecurity marketing can be so difficult. It requires the added step of creating the pain before the pain even needs to be addressed.
What strong MSP marketers understand is that it’s far more effective to address the real, tangible pains that the client is already experiencing. This is where an intimate knowledge of that target consumer is like gold -- if you know what similar clients have struggled with, you can better communicate the solutions that resonate with that audience.
Benefits of value communication as an MSP
It’s important to remember that pain and fear are not the only -- and generally not the best -- ways of communicating value. An MSP doesn’t have to be the rescuer or savior to be valuable.
Many consumers are looking for positive results rather than solutions to problems. It’s best to try to touch on both possibilities by not only mentioning pain points but highlighting the benefits that come from hiring your MSP.
The mindset here is one of “what do they want?” rather than “where do they hurt?” Evaluate your audience to determine their aspirations and goals and the payout can be immense. There’s huge perceived value in being something desirable rather than a necessity that’s begrudgingly purchased to avoid compliance problems or downtime.
This leads us back to the importance of communication and the customer experience. One of the key places an MSP can build themselves up is in the way they relate to their customer base. This is where brand identity -- a largely misunderstood concept -- becomes a game changing business development tool.
A managed IT service provider that doesn’t stand apart in some way will have a very hard time rising above the perception of being a commodity. This means that “good customer service” isn’t enough. It takes creativity and an injection of personality to really put a shine on your communications
Emerging MSP talking points in 2023
The best pain points (and talking points) are specific to your audience, but there are a few things on the horizon that could make for effective value communication in the year ahead:
- Growing use of A.I. and Machine Learning in certain sectors. Some industries, such as retail and healthcare, will likely need help from MSPs in adopting the latest tools.
- The Strengthening American CyberSecurity Act of 2022 is an upcoming concern for certain sectors. It could be time to discuss preparations for these regulations with clients who are in or related to critical infrastructure.
- The FTC Safeguards Rule applies to financial institutions and brings new requirements in the data security and privacy realm.
- Possible increases in data center costs could lead to micro-migrations away from cloud and back toward local hardware, especially for smaller businesses. This is very dependent both on the unfolding economic situation and the actual use case.
How poor communication costs an MSP clients
Now that we’ve talked about what to do, it’s only fair to take a look at what not to do. All told, ineffective communication is responsible for more client turnover than any other mistake an MSP can make. As we all know, even technical problems are exacerbated when communication breaks down.
So what are the major pitfalls to avoid?
It’s all too common that there’s a disconnect between a client’s experience and the expectations set during the sales process. Avoid this by being authentic and genuine during the “courting process” of getting the agreement. Never exaggerate your level of expertise or capabilities.
Service-level agreements (SLAs) are promises that the managed service provider makes to their clients. Any breach of the SLA is, in reality, a breach of trust and can put the client/provider relationship on a very bad road. Make sure your targets are transparent and attainable, and that you’re never put in a situation where you’re forced to underdeliver.
Poor customer service
This goes without saying, and most MSPs don’t need to be reminded that customer service sits at the heart of their business. Unfortunately, poor customer service is never a deliberate error and usually results from being overwhelmed or not using the right tools to manage workloads. Even the best MSPs can run into situations where a star employee quits or they have to put too many fires out at once and things get out of hand. In these cases, more communication is generally more effective -- even though it can feel like it’s just more work piled on your plate.
This can be both an internal problem and one that affects your solution stack. One of the reasons many veteran MSPs have steered away from ala carte or tiered offerings is because the consumer can become confused about what their agreement does and doesn’t include.
(We’ve all heard of the case where a client experiences a cyberattack incident and blames the MSP because of the “I thought you were taking care of that” assumption.)
Simplifying and consolidating your solution stack and your offering can help avoid countless headaches in the future.
And then there’s the issue of your own tools standing in the way of your success. Too many tools, especially when they don’t integrate properly, create more work and more chances for miscommunication. It’s when balls get dropped that MSPs experience the biggest hits to their value perception.
Improve communications and value with NinjaOne
On that last point, a feature-rich tool like NinjaOne can be a boon to delivering value. Managed service providers who minimize their labor costs while overdelivering on customer experience are able to devote more time and energy to discovering their hidden value and communicating those benefits to their clients and prospects.
NinjaOne helps your MSP reach that level by putting a vast array of resources and tools behind a single pane of glass for easy management of clients -- whether you’re handling ten endpoints or ten thousand. From RMM to security, it’s a platform that works with your goals, not against them.
Not a Ninja partner yet? We’ve still got plenty of resources available to help your MSP succeed in 2023! Visit our blog for MSP resources and helpful guides, sign up for Bento to get important guidance in your inbox, and attend our Live Chats for one-on-one discussions with channel experts.
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