Selling IT Managed Services – A Guide to Getting Started

Selling IT Managed Services – A Guide to Getting Started
If you are running one of the traditional "break-it and fix-it" shops, you may have begun to wonder how you could get into the much more lucrative business of selling IT managed services. You know that your client's would be much more productive if instead of reacting to a problem you could anticipate it and present the solution. That is, in a nutshell, what selling IT managed services really offers. It sounds like a reasonable proposition to you for your customers. The problem is always finding the best way to introduce it to them.

Don't Fix It if It Isn't Broken
That title pretty much sums up most clients response to the idea of offering preventative services to an IT customer. Your customers are comfortable with the current situation. You know what I mean, the one where they call you at any hour night or day to come and take care of their IT emergency. Preventative care might look good on paper, but convincing a client who is happy with the status quo is another matter. They simply don't see any reason to change. So how do you convince them otherwise?

It's Their Business
The first thing you need to do is let go of all the jargon. You clients aren't impressed that you can deliver patch management and anti-spywear or Softwear as a Service (SAAS). They care about whether this new offer will make their company run better and help them achieve better margins. When you can show them how it does, you will have their support. Always think in terms of your client's needs, and not the bells and whistles that impress you about providing this service.

Give Them the Best
If someone offered the best service that money could buy, you would want that, wouldn't you? Well, so do your customers. When putting your package together, think of what they need and then make sure that what you offer is the highest quality for delivering what they need. Consider not only the technology but also the process and people needed to make this the best possible solution. When you make this your company's approach to offering this service, and let them know it is, you will find your clients will get on board with confidence.

Offer a Fair Price
You will be tempted to try and offer this service to current clients for a price close to what they pay now. But to do this you will need to cut corners, lower your expectations on quality. This does no one any good, least of all your clients. Offer them a fair price, and show them what they get for it. What you are giving them is technology support that is high quality and gives them everything they need. It is up to you to explain that to them, not up to your client to figure it out. But once they do understand your explanation, they will learn the value of what you offer.

Believe in What You Offer
Your clients won't believe in a service that you don't feel is up to par. You sales force should believe in it as well. In fact, selling this service should be their priority, above selling firewalls or servers. When they make selling your service contracts their priority, so will you. To be successful you need to approach offering managed services as your prime service.

A big part of this is to also believe in change. It is part of the world of technology, and the bedrock upon which your managed services are based. Life changes, technology changes and the services that support them do too. When your clients have signed on to your managed services account they have the peace of mind that comes with knowing they will stay one step ahead of that change. When you offer them that peace of mind, the rest will fall in place.

Selling IT Managed Services with EzPSA
Obviously, here at EzPSA we feel that our own IT managed services is the one to use for all your client needs. We spent several years designing this PSA to work specifically for IT businesses. After years of looking for the right solution, I decided the only way he could get what I wanted for his clients was to design it himself. Luckily, with a background as a software architect and systems engineer, this was not as crazy as it sounds. In fact, it was such a successful design that we now offer it to others. Come by our site, check out what we have to offer and let us know your needs. We can help you to create the perfect solution for your clients, and get you into the world of the MSP today.

IT Marketing – Using MailChimp Successfully

IT Marketing – Using MailChimp Successfully
You have an IT business that needs IT marketing. You know how to deliver good customer service, but you need marketing to keep it healthy. The only problem is; what's the best tool? For many owners of small IT service businesses, deciding on how to market your business can be bewildering. But all you really want to do is keep your business top of mind when it comes to your customers and potential clients. Social media helps with this, as does a regular blog on your website. But even with all the changes on the web, the most effective way to stay on top of your client's call list remains email marketing. A weekly or monthly newsletter with a service such as MailChimp can be easy to do and the most cost effective method of direct business to business marketing.

MailChimp's IT Marketing Basics
If you have a list of 2,000 or less subscribers, you can use Mailchimp for your IT marketing for free. This basic service will allow you to send out 12,000 emails a month, although this version does not include any autoresponders. If you have ever used these as part of an email marketing campaign, you will know that they are a valuable add-on. But for anyone just getting into the idea of doing a monthly or weekly email marketing campaign, this free service is a great way to test the waters and learn by doing.

Getting Started
Luckily it is easy to get started with this type of IT marketing. All you need to do is go to their website and set up an account with a login and password, like you would on any other account. Because of anti-spam laws you must provide a user name and a physical address that will appear on all material that MailChimp sends out. Since a mailing address MUST appear on the bottom of each mailing piece, you may want to consider getting a post office box address if you don't have one already.

Building Your Mail Lists
Of course, all of this depends on your company already having accumulated a mailing list that has been culled carefully. I do not recommend using paid mailing lists as they often have old or unusable email address. They also frequently have a large percentage of names that will "opt out" when you first send them your mailing. The important thing for effective IT marketing is to make sure that the names on your email lists are of people who want this mailing from you. Since building that email list is the first step, it is important to be sure that your list is complete. The first time you use it, MailChimp will require that they respond with a request to receive your mailings, so be sure that list is of good prospects who want your information. As you move forward, you will add to this list by letting people know they can sign up for your newsletter. MailChimp will provide a way to do this in three ways:

  1. They will create your own URL that can be inserted in Facebook or Twitter posts, or added to the pages. 
  2. If you want to insert a link to a signup page, they can provide HTML code for this link. 
  3. If you want to let readers know on your website or blog in the sidebar that they can subscribe, MailChimp can also provide HTML code for this.

Building Your Newsletter
Now that you have setup your mailing list and created the places where people can sign-up, you are ready to create your first marketing piece. On MailChimp you will see a central dashboard that allows you to do easy designs using templates, based on what you are sending out. Everything from simple postcards that are reminders to get their system updated to monthly newsletters that tell your customers the latest software offerings can be designed here. One of the best features in MailChimp is that they always have a way for you to ask how to do a step. You begin by naming a "campaign".

Once that is done, you choose the template you want to use. When you look through them you will see plenty of options. If you have never done this before, you might want to start with a simple two column layout. I always write up my text in Word and then paste it into the format. You can preview at any time to see how it looks and even send yourself a test email. Once you have created one you are happy with, you simply add it to the mailing queue. You can even set up several campaigns that will be sent out at different times.

Getting Your Reports
Of course, one of the reasons to use MailChimp instead of simply sending out an email is the reports. It will tell you how many have been opened and how many clicks the piece of mail received. This is all great IT marketing information to tell you if your attention line is effective or if the information you sent was of interest to your readers. You will get "bounce rates" (how many emails were returned for wrong addresses), who has unsubscribed and even if someone has filed a complaint about getting the mailing. You don't want too many of the last type, as it can get you booted out of MailChimp if they happen too often. But these reports will give you plenty of information to fine tune that mailing list until you are finally sending out newsletters and information to people who enjoy and look forward to your emails. As you can see, getting your own IT email marketing started up is easy when you use template driven software like MailChimp. Even something as simple as a monthly update to your clients or a postcard reminder if you haven't heard from them in a while can be useful. Now you are ready to start your own email marketing campaign and get those customers and potential clients loving you and the emails you send!

Tips for Creating Flat Rate IT Plans

Tips for Creating Flat Rate IT Plans
One of the most important tools in any IT service businesses toolbox is their flat rate IT plan. Your clients depend upon you to solve those pesky IT service problems and they love it when you can offer them a solution that allows them to allocate a set sum for the service and forget about it. That is until they need you. But the trick with these offers is that you need to make sure it includes enough to make your client feel that this is a good idea without giving away the store.

After all, the idea behind offering your clients a flat rate IT service plan is to create a steady income stream for your business while keeping your clients happy so they renew each year. In the best of all possible worlds everyone wins. But that is true only if you take the time to craft a flat rate IT plan that serves both of you well.

Defining the User of the Service
Of course the core of each IT service plan is how many users it will cover. Not long ago this was a pretty straight-forward definition. Most users had one computer and it had Windows on it. Now you will probably see each user has three devices: a computer, a tablet and a phone, and these could easily be on shared networks or they may even remote desktop from home some of the time. They could have a variety of applications on each device and the networks can mean creating a dominoes effect if making changes to just one of them. If this sounds complex you got that one right. This means that you need to clearly define just how many devices each "user" has in your agreement.

The Changing Population of Printers
It used to be that an office had one central printer that everyone used. But since that walk of ten feet to the printer was soon seen as unproductive work time, everyone went to personal printers. Some offices still have a central photocopier/printer for each department, but no matter what they have you can be assured that the printers will need to be part of the service package and will probably become one of your biggest headaches. Be sure to note how many printers are included and if remote users have a printer, count on that adding to your service time.

Including the Basics
There are a few things that you will probably always want to include specifically in any kind of flat rate IT service plan. You should be sure to itemize these in the agreement so there is no question regarding what is and isn't included from the beginning.

Here is what you will often see included in a service plan:

  • Unlimited Helpdesk access during standard business hours (define charges for after hours and define what you consider standard business hours) 
  • Proactive monitoring, issue resolution and management of the servers and desktops (you might include a mobile and/or tablet per person, see above for why) 
  • Management of all the 3rd party vendors 
  • Patch management (Microsoft, Java, firmware, 3rd party) 
  • Backup monitoring and recovery testing 
  • Business reviews at a regular basis, we suggest quarterly at a minimum 
  • Monthly reporting in writing 
  • Service Level Agreement 

Defining Services versus Projects
Your flat rate IT service plan should not be covering anything that looks or smells like a project. Of course, this means that you will need to define what a project is in order to make them an exemption for the plan. Day to day caretaking is service, but if they are adding machines, installing new software or if what they request will take more than four hours, this is a project. Projects are always charged separately from the service plan. Also, remember that a service plan is a plan that provides service, so always clearly state that the cost of software, parts, freight and licensing is above and beyond what is covered in your service plan. What you are providing is expertise and labor.

Righting Wrongs – Acts of God and the Repairman
Sometimes something happens to your clients system that is just plain out of your control. It can be a flood that wipes out their hardware. It can be the copier repairman that made a mistake and fried their printer. Whatever the reason, if it is a third party and out of your control, then this is not covered by your agreement and it should say so in it. You can have provisions for your service to act as a project manager to ensure that everything is restored correctly, but then it is a project and billed separately.

You are Not a Mover
If the owner decides to get the latest and greatest computer system, you will of course be helping to install and setup that computer. Your expertise may even guide them on what to choose. With the pace of new technology this could easily happen more than once a year. However, you are not obliged to participate in the common office practice of computer Russian roulette when computers get swapped out down the line, based on seniority. Many service agreements will include one move per person per year, and this is a good idea. It may also prompt your client to plan these kinds of moves so that only one takes place each year. Of course, moving into a new building takes planning and is always considered a project and not part of the service agreement.

The Importance of Training
There is some debate about whether to include training as part of the service agreement. Most clients will want to be able to take care of the basics themselves, so training them initially is a great way to look good and give your clients full value. You could include a basic initial training for anything installed, and create a leave-behind document that helps them to do some of the troubleshooting themselves. In the long run, training the client means running out to service problems less often, so everyone wins.

Defining a Smart Flat Rate IT Service Plan
Offering your clients a flat rate IT plan can be a big boon to your business, if it is designed right. Offer too much on the plan and you will find you are not making a profit. No one wants that. But if you offer too little it won't be of value to your clients and so they won't be interested. The bottom line is that you know your clients and what they need. Some need lots of hand-holding but little actual innovation, others love tech, want to learn for themselves. Keeping their needs in mind while drafting the plan, using these basic guidelines as a starting point, can mean creating a flat rate IT service plan everyone is happy to implement.

Growing Your MSP Business – The Role of Salespeople

Growing Your MSP Business – The Role of Salespeople
Do salespeople help grow MSP businesses? For anyone who is considering the best route to growing the managed service provider or MSP side of your IT business, the answer may be yes. A salesperson can be an important part of your growth plan. At New Zealand Computer Solutions this kind of thinking had been largely set aside. Like many IT businesses, we always considered our techs to be the best initial contact for our future customers. But we recently did a three month experiment bringing in an outside salesperson and found the experience was well worth the time, effort and cost. In fact, we will probably do it again in the future. Along the way we learned a few lessons about effectively making use of a salesperson to get the best value for your investment.

How Many Clients are Too Many?
One of the first things we saw was that bigger isn't always better. If all we wanted was a larger client list; that was easy. But the real trick is to have a list of "A+"clients. You know the kind I mean. These are the clients who value your service, follow up on your advice and understand that good service takes intensive labour but is worth every penny. These are the kind of clients who work with you year round, instead of simply calling you when something breaks down. This kind of slow growth with the right client base can be achieved with the right salesperson, but they need to understand your priorities as well as your business.

Salespeople Can Open Doors
When we started in this business 10-15 years ago, the IT business was like the Wild West. It had plenty of cowboys offering service who might have had the tech skills, but no understanding of business needs or any real people skills. That has changed, but some of the problems they brought into the industry haven't gone away. We continue to see competitors who make basic mistakes when it comes to servicing their customers. In fact, if you read our earlier blog post about this, you will quickly see why our salespeople use this weakness as a way to open doors for us. Having someone who has these business and people skills on staff is a killer combination for your business when combined with your techs computer know-how.

The Work of Turning Prospects into Clients
Although we knew that this is a laborious process and can take a lot of time, we didn't always have the time we want for courting prospects. This is where having a salesperson to follow-up and keep the connection flowing can make a real difference. Some of our best clients have come from these long standing connections, as the prospect changes from someone you just met to a company whose problems you understand and can help them to solve. To do this, you need someone with real people skills who makes staying in touch part of their job description.

The Cost of Conversion
It is never cheap to convert a prospect into a client, but when they come to you via a recommendation you can at least lower the bar. We have found that audits are one of the best tools to show a prospective client why they may need to consider changing providers. Quite often when our salespeople meet with them and go over our audits these prospects are shocked to discover their current situation. Everything from backups being non-existent or set-up incorrectly to features in their current agreements being completely ignored. Some didn't read through their agreements and were bitter about paying for services they wrongly thought were part of the agreement. We found having a spokesperson that is knowledgeable but removed from the tech, such as a salesperson, during audit reports gave us new clients that started from a place of trust. Some of our best clients have come to us as a result of this type of preparation.

Paying Techs to do Tech Work
The bottom line, of course, is always profit. Some see a salesperson as someone who doesn't contribute to the bottom line because they aren't producing a product you can sell. But the reality is you want your highly skilled techs to be spending their time doing what you hired them to do. A salesperson on your team, even just a part-time person, can free them up for this. They can help you to manage growth at a rate you are comfortable with so you don't become the MSP that never has time to care for his customer base. They can be part of the reason you can grow your MSP business at a rate that increases profit without losing that customer service edge. In the end, everyone wins with this type of salesperson on your team.

Customer Service - What Clients Want From Their MSP

Customer Service - What Clients Want From Their MSP
Providing customer service means always being at the top of your game. It also means anticipating what your client needs and delivering it before they even knew they needed it. All too often we are so wrapped up in the tech side of providing our services that we forget the basics that all clients want and expect from any service provider. In the long run, being a great MSP means not only giving them great service but being there on top of their needs in all aspects, not just the technology. So while we may all dream of the latest and greatest technology to provide to our client base, these four basics will never go out of style.

Be a Great Communicator
For any customer service business it is all about communication, but not just any kind. As technology experts we have a tendency to talk in jargon amongst ourselves. However, that should never be how you communicate with your client. When you have gone into your client's site, make sure they know in clear language just what you did and how it helped. Give them enough detail so they can report to their manager and feel that they understood what you did. Make them look smart for hiring you and keep it that way with clear concise communication. Better yet – have weekly meetings to discuss your clients and how you can help them improve. Then report these findings back in a short weekly communication to them to show how proactive you are about their business.

Take Ownership of the Problem
Life isn't perfect and problems will crop up. When they do, don't get caught up in the blame game between you and the vendors. Just man up and solve the problem. Own that problem like a junk yard dog and his favourite bone, and your clients will sing your praises. Never ignore a problem because it will not only not go away but it will simply become a snarly mess that is even harder to overcome. Pounce on it the moment it rears it's ugly head and worry it down until it is resolved. Clients respect this and will feel bragging rights about the MSP they have that never stops until a problem is solved.

Always Be Honest
Be like a Boy Scout and make honesty your company policy. If you take pride in the job then it will be easy to own up to problems, only promise what you can deliver and always deliver when you say you will. Never lie and tell your client what you think they want to hear when you can't do it. If they ask for something you can't deliver, let them know and why. Everyone hates being lied to and your client will feel cheated if you do, no matter what the provocation.

Be A Trusted Adviser
The world of technology is still like the Wild West sometimes, and your clients count on you to be their native guide through it. Use your specialized knowledge and passion for technology to help them be on top of their game in their industry, whatever that is. Your relationship with your clients should be a type of partnership, where they can always trust you to help them find a solution. If they need something outside of your scope of expertise, you probably know someone else who can help. Lend them a hand, network amongst your peers and always be open to new relationships with vendors that may be helpful to your clients.

It's All About the Basics
While we all want to sell the latest and greatest to our clients, the bottom line is that great customer service is about doing what you know is right. Giving good service by communicating clearly, acting honestly and always thinking of what you are doing in terms of what your client needs is always the best approach. When you incorporate these attitudes into all aspects of your MSP business, you can't help but give superior customer service. In the end, that is all any of your clients truly want from you.

Utilizing Service Management Software for Change

Utilizing Service Management Software for Change
Work is changing and nowhere is that more evident than in the use of cloud based service management software in the IT Service Industry. Today the reality is that remote work is becoming the rule instead of the exception, with cloud technology making it easier than ever before. While your own company is struggling to cope with these changes, your clients are too. So how do we all use these changes in service management software to make our companies more efficient, keep our customers comfortable with the new reality and at the same time not lose our most valuable asset, our employees, to the competition because of changes in the work environment?

Keeping Your Employees
One of the key aspects of these changes is that the workforce is becoming more fluid. A recent survey by Computer Weekly showed that in the last 12 months at least a third of the technology workforce had changed jobs. Clients build personal relationships with key personnel and so if your clients see a constant change of who they interact with in your company, they will see it as a sign that you are not thriving as a business. But how do you keep your best workers happy?

While almost three quarters of those surveyed said they felt the best way to move up in their job was to move to another employer, having innovative and challenging work was still the best way to keep them with their present company. In fact while the majority of those interviewed said they were happy with their job, 80% admitted they were looking around anyway. If you want to keep the best and brightest working at your company, you need to give them interesting challenging work.

Women in Technology
While women are still vastly under-represented in the technology sector, that is changing. This is a good thing since more women are moving into the decision making levels at many companies and this is especially true in technology companies. As more women move into these important roles, having a company that is well represented by both genders can be a winning strategy.

Remote Work and The Cloud
Another aspect that is gaining a bigger foothold in all businesses but especially in the IT service sector is the emergence of a remote workforce. The development of service management software has made it easier than ever to have your field techs out of the office and working remotely on an almost permanent basis. Dell recently announced their goal of having half their workforce working remotely by 2020, and that is just the beginning. But while you are making these changes, be sure that your employees aren't left feeling excluded and neglected. Here are four important aspects to watch for:

  • Work Environment – Make sure it is safe by walking through the process with them. Talk about having the right equipment, acting safely and that they are setup properly in their remote environment for a safe workplace. 

  • Insurance – If you have employees who work from home, know that their home insurance does not cover a home office. You can have your own insurance company include them in the coverage. 

  • Security – Sensitive documents that have client information on them may be shredded at the office, but what happens at your employee's home office? Discuss with them to be sure they understand that the same level of security needs to be done at home.

  • The Right Tools – Don't count on your employees to come up with the tools they need from home. The right computers, the right tech equipment even simple office supplies should be covered from the office, not their home. Just as in your own office, making sure they have the right service management software will ensure the job is done right for your clients as well. 

  • Schedule Team Time – Don't leave it to chance. Have regularly scheduled times for the entire team to get together, even if remotely through applications. A weekly meeting will keep everyone on the same page and help remote workers not feel disconnected. At the same time, be sure to check in on an informal basis with all your remote workers regularly to keep communication open. 

  • Training – This is such a big part of keeping technology based businesses like ours current, so don't leave your remote workers out of the loop. If you are bringing in new equipment, show them how to use it too. It is all about being inclusive across the board. 

  • Service Management Software – With desktop remote applications like the EzPSA dashboard, your workforce stays on top of everything your clients need, whether they are in the office at their remote home office or out in the field. 

The cloud has given us some incredible tools to stay connected in ways we never imagined. With remote work becoming more common than ever, using service management software like the EzPSA dashboard can make remote workers connected, secure and best of all efficient. And while you are planning your next office party don't forget to invite your remote workers as well as your clients. It's a brave new world and with some preparation, awareness and utilizing service management software to keep us connected, we are all counting on being a part of it.

When Things Go Wrong – Lessons in Customer Support

When Things Go Wrong – Lessons in Customer Support
We all like to think that our business has a great relationship with our customers. We value our customers and they know it. We strive to do our best, own up when we don't achieve what we set out to do and be honest with our customers so they feel they are valued and received good service. But sometimes things happen. If for any reason someone in your organization has managed to alienate a customer or potential customer, do you know what to do to handle the situation correctly? The right tone in a letter can make the difference. Research has shown that when a complaint is resolved in the customer's favor, 70% of them will return as a customer. Even if you don't bring them back to the fold, you may convince them to not bad mouth your business across the web. But first, you need to know what should and shouldn't be in that all important letter.

Always Apologize First
You letter should start and end with an apology. It is the least you can say, and it should make it clear that you take responsibility for the matter. Here is an example of what JetBlue had to say recently in a letter regarding a major service mishap:

"Last week was the worst operational week in JetBlues seven year history...Words cannot express how truly sorry we are."

Always begin with that apology and the rest of the letter will be much easier to write.

Empathize and Acknowledge Their Pain
You must acknowledge that whatever else, your customer has been put in a bad situation. This is vital to the possibility of re-establishing a rapport with this customer. The first step to rebuilding the trust you have lost is to acknowledge the situation you have put that customer in. Something along the lines of

"I realize how frustrating it must have been to not have our software work for you as you intended."

Always keep in mind that you want to express an ability to understand and appreciate that this incident has caused problems for them that you intend to fix.

Give the Customer an Explanation of What Happened
This is often overlooked. When you take the time to explain to the customer where things went wrong, instead of just throwing your hands in the air mentally, they will begin down the path to trusting you again. It can be as simple as saying,

"Thank you for advising us about (xx). Customers who let us know when things aren't right are always appreciated. Here is what we think went wrong...

When a customer sees that you have taken the time to find out what went wrong, they will see that you are actually listening to them.

Solve the Problem
If you can, you should propose what can be done to solve the problem immediately. If it will take a number of steps, explain each step to the customer so that they know what they should expect and what will happen next. It can be as simple as offering to replace software that didn't work with one that will or perhaps offering to not only resolve the problem but offer an incentive to return such as a discount for the next time they use your service.

Thank Them for Their Business and Invite Them Back
Always end your letter on a positive note. Thank them for their patience or end with an apology that turns into an invitation to continue the relationship. Here is the end of the letter from JetBlue that we referenced earlier:

"You deserved better – a lot better – from us last week and we let you down. Nothing is more important than regaining your trust and all of us here hope you will give us the opportunity once again to welcome you on-board..."

Admitting it was your fault and then opening the door for them to return is always the best policy. Ending with this means it is the last thing they remember from the letter and will have the most lasting impression on them.

Plan Ahead
Things happen in any business that we can't foresee or control. That is why you should have a written guide for handling all complaints, of any nature. When you plan ahead on how to respond it will save you from sending out an embarrassing letter that responds emotionally to an already difficult situation. Follow these five steps and you will find you just may be able to save that vital relationship with a valued customer when the next complaint hits your desk.