What makes a great MSP? – how to go from good to great
We’ve highlighted the fact that good Managed Service Providers (MSPs) are well organised, with strong policies, procedures and governance. However, buyers may not want to engage with an organisation that is simply robotic and automated – after all we are talking about the delivery of customer service and the central contact point for most customers.

Left on their own, many MSPs would probably want to create a totally predictable and consistent organisation and set of services – that makes good business sense right? Well… maybe it does for them in terms of management, but the fact is that they are also selling and delivering an experience and this requires more…

  • More personal touch
  • More human interaction
  • More understanding of the nuances of customer’s business
  • More focus on customer goals and outcomes
  • More flexibility to meet changing customer needs
  • More transparency and sharing of information
  • More collaboration
  • So the missing element in what makes a great MSP – is customers! Customers make great MSPs.

    Let me explain…

    Obviously there is the issue of referral and advocacy – that’s a given, as most buyers require to speak to existing customers before selecting a vendor for the services. Its probably the most successful and useful form of diligence when buying anything – friends recommend plumbers or car mechanics, so too we need to ensure that other service buyers have had a good and successful experience with the proposed MSP.

    More than that however there are several aspects related to the buyer and receiver of the service that will help to determine the success of the contract and also to drive the vendor forward in their approach. Good IT service is a supply chain activity, so this must be a 2-way street, not simply one buyer dominating the contract and lashing a supplier like a Viking ship slave driver.

    Firstly the quality of the contract will depend heavily on the maturity of the customer (buyer)’s need, what they have procured and the level to which they will expect to engage in the collaboration. Too often the actual contract agreed is based on a relatively limited view of what is actually needed – e.g. some support services have limited SLAs based only on response times and % of resolutions, without a full set of resolution target or agreements with other parties (or the buyers 3rd level teams) on how escalated incidents will be responded to.

    The result of this is that someone somewhere has to pick up the extra pieces of work not specified in the contract – so the outsource ends up costing more or still overly relying on the internal organisation’s resources. Or worse still, everyone ends up arguing about who is responsible – that’s even if they can agree as to where the shortfall is and who is to blame for not identifying it in the sales process.

    Many contracts end up in this acrimony – often the vendor thinks they are doing a great job because they are meeting their contracted SLAs, whilst the customer is unhappy because this isn’t enough, although neither party appreciates or owns the fact that this was a major omission during negotiations.

    So all this can be avoided, if the buying organisation has a realistic and mature approach to the holistic service that is to be procured. This will give the MSP a much better chance of delivering a successful project and relationship, not just what’s written in the contract.

    As a consultant I often find myself advising buyers to take a much more holistic and service based approach to procurement, develop more commercial and negotiation skills and competencies. On the other hand I also recommend to vendors to be braver and to push back more during the sales and discovery phases of these projects.

    This can all save time, money and lots of antagonism and missed expectations later on – as well of course as providing the basis for solid long-term collaboration. It’s easy enough for someone like me on the outside to criticise this process – and I appreciate that buyers may not always have the full picture and that vendors have mortgages too…

    However often there are problems created unnecessarily that then drag on for years with these contracts – all of which could have been avoided and pre-empted through a more grown up, honest and transparent sales cycle.

    I do believe that both parties are responsible for their own success or failure and this requires synergy, so there needs to be more real co-operation and collaboration as early as possible in the sales lifecycle to achieve this. We need some good industry-level standards here to help buyers and sellers alike.

    Buyers need to accept that they need to do more and probably that they need a broader skill set to buy these services properly. MSP sellers need to push back and be braver if they want to get a better customer – and sometimes (more often!) they need to walk away from potentially toxic deals.

    Overall the relationship needs to be a good ‘culture fit’ between the parties, where positive exchange of information happens at appropriate levels and in a way that contributes to quality and improvement. The relationship must also include a balanced understanding on both sides of how this will deliver value to both organisations – there’s no point in a one-sided contract – that is short term thinking that ultimately unfolds into acrimony.

    All of which brings us to the other key element in a great MSP – culture.

    Ethics and approach are obviously important here, but also there is a need for good MSPs to have a culture of ongoing learning, improvement and transparency. MSP staff need to feel that they can make suggestions for improvement and that this will be listened to, appreciated and actioned.

    So the road to greatness for MSPs must include the expected levels of organisation, process and governance, plus enlightened, mature customers and of course great organisational culture.

    Culture of course is defined and delivered through people – often the real differentiator and ‘wow factor’ for many organisations. MSPs need to ensure that they have good systems for developing and keeping good people – and of course that they lead with them in promoting and selling their services.

    If you are buying and want to get a high quality service from an external partner – you need to ask ‘do these people fit? How can they help us to improve? Do we feel that we can work together with them on a partnership basis?

    MSPs that aspire to be great should similarly be asking themselves the same questions…

    About the Author

    Barclay Rae has extensive experience in ITSM, Service Desks, Service Catalogues, and CRM. He is a high profile industry consultant and business manager, with significant business, sales, project and operational delivery experience including:

    • Consulting and project management on over 500+ Service Management
    • Creation of ITSMGoodness – a practical approach for ITSM
    • Media input via ITSM TV and podcasts – also white papers and blogs
    • Commitment to service excellence and business success.
    • BRC clients include; Aggregate Industries, Lloyds Pharmacy, Nationwide, Thomson Reuters, Thomsons Solicitors, BP, RBS, Sony, Oxford University, United Nations.

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