How to Stand Out in a Crowded MSP Market


By: Tarryn Giebelmann, IT Web

Businesses increasingly rely on technology to boost their productivity and better serve their customers. But, with so much choice out there, it’s hard to know which solutions will have the biggest impact on their operations, with the least amount of cost and effort. For the answer to those questions, they turn to managed service providers (MSPs).

The managed services market is expected to grow from $180.5 billion in 2018 to $282 billion by 2023. It’s a crowded space, with more and more MSPs and value-added resellers trying to be everything to everyone.

But, this is an unrealistic way to deliver value, says Gregg Lalle, senior VP of International Sales and Strategy at ConnectWise. “Selling is not getting easier, and simply selling a solution is no longer good enough. MSPs need to differentiate themselves by explaining exactly why they’re different from thousands of other MSPs,” he says.

Lalle suggests five solid answers to the question: “Why us?”

1. Our customers’ success is our success

Traditionally, an MSP would follow a long sales cycle when selling a solution. Once the contract was signed, the customer wouldn’t hear from the salesperson again, or at least until the contract was up for renewal.

“There was no way to know if the customer was using the solution, if they needed additional training, or if the solution was delivering the desired business outcome as to when it was sold,” says Lalle. “The MSP would assume that everything was going well and that the customer would renew the contract because they wanted to access the modifications and training, and they’d already made the initial investment.”

But, with cloud computing, MSPs can easily add new services, instantly upgrade and modify solutions, and provide free training. The cloud has also made it easier for customers to switch providers and solutions, based on their perceived value. Today, the reality is that the sale begins once the contract is signed.

“Customers want to feel like the MSP respects their business and is committed to helping them solve challenges and improve their operations. If they’re not getting that value from their current MSP, they can easily find it elsewhere.

“With contracts shifting to month-to-month models, MSPs have to prove every month that their customers are important and that they’re committed to their success. We might even see a shift to real-time, hour-by-hour, user-based billing, as more customers demand to be given what they want, when they want it, without being locked into lengthy contracts.”

Lalle says MSPs need a mindset shift. It’s no longer just about selling solutions. They now have to focus on implementation, adoption and ensuring the solutions achieve the desired business outcomes for the customer.

“They’ll have to start measuring and metering their own performance through new KPIs, so that they know what to do better to impress their customers every month.”

2. We invest in our technology experts

Having an experienced support team is great; having expert technicians is even better, says Lalle. “Investing in training has two benefits. It helps MSPs to solidify the technology they offer by having certified experts in those solutions. It also improves staff retention because it shows your team that you’re invested in their personal development by furthering their education and careers.”

Having technology experts within teams reassures customers that they’re dealing with sharper technicians and that the MSP is specific about the technology stack it offers, he adds. “We can’t expect customers to be tech experts. They rely on us to guide them in their implementation, use, and outcomes of the tools we claim to know inside-out. We’re no longer just solution providers, we’re partners in their success, we’re business advisors.”

For Lalle, training must align with the business’s own strategy, as well as the individual’s interests. “If you provide backup and disaster recovery services and you want to branch into security, it’s no use upskilling someone who has no interest in security. They’re not going to be energised to sell that product. There’s also no point upskilling someone who’s interested in mobility if that’s not a service you offer.”

He advises MSPs to formulate growth plans with each of their technicians, outlining what skills they want to develop. They should be given an opportunity to get a different certification or degree at least once a year, he says.

3. We have deep vertical expertise in the market we serve

Thousands of MSPs serve the healthcare industry, but few provide specific services to outpatient centres serving fewer than 100 people.

“A lot of MSPs are verticalised in one industry. While this is a form of differentiation, because you can speak their language and you understand the industry better than most, few MSPs are going deeper to serve niche pockets within their vertical industries,” says Lalle.

“One way to become truly specialised is to understand the issues in that specific market. Then, start educating yourself deeply, becoming an expert in the laws and standards that govern that market. When a customer is looking for an expert in outpatient centres serving fewer than 100 people, they’ll choose you, not the large MSP that services hospitals in general.”

4. We’re deliberate about the tools we use

This has little to do with the solutions that MSPs sell, and everything to do with the solutions they use to run their own businesses. MSPs should embrace automation and reduce the number of solutions, while aiming for a 360-degree overview of their business.

“Do you have an all-inclusive system that wraps up everything, from marketing, to sales, to delivery, support, and billing? Can you see how many tickets have been issued and how many still need to be resolved? Are you using your systems to reduce the number of tickets you issue? Or are you logging into different systems for each of these functions?”

With everything in one place, Lalle says MSPs will soon identify relevant workflows, patterns and outputs, and can figure out where their inefficiencies lie. “MSPs need to start measuring and metering themselves against best-in-class customer service scores and service desks. They need a baseline measure of where they are today and how they can get better in future. These are moving targets that should be constantly reviewed.”

5. We’re deliberate about the tools we use choose

In the past, managed security providers could get away with offering malware and endpoint security. Now, customers expect these services to be bundled into broader security offerings.

It might not be possible for an MSP to offer protection across the entire security landscape, which is why Lalle calls them MSPs-plus. “They offer the basics, plus something else. Malware and endpoint security are table stakes now. Customers want and need to move up the security stack. They want services like network scans, intrusion detection, and penetration testing; they want and need the next level of security.”

Importantly, MSPs must believe in, and ideally use, the solutions they offer. “Hackers are increasingly targeting MSPs because they know that MSPs handle sensitive customer data. Yet, it’s a classic case of ‘the cobbler’s children have no shoes’. Managed security providers often lack in the security space; they’re telling customers what they should do to protect their businesses, but their own houses aren’t protected.”

There’s no greater testimonial for a solution than an MSP that uses it in its own business. For the customer, it demonstrates confidence and trust, especially when the MSP deeply understands the solution and can explain how it works in simple terms.

The MSP space is becoming increasingly competitive and customers are confused by both the technology and their options. Those that can clearly demonstrate their differentiator will have a better chance of rising to the top of the stack (pun intended).