Many IT consultants and managed service providers try to position themselves at a competitive advantage to earn business either directly or via a channel partnership. In order to compete with the large IT corporations, channel partners typically combine complementary services that meet all of the prospective client’s RFP requirements.
They remain nimble in the solution development process often because of a relatively flat organizational decision structure. But true IT service partners not only merge their solutions in terms of scope and pricing, but align on the intangibles: shared vision, coherent strategy, and complementary cultures.
Is Your MSP a Business Partner or a Consultant?
A true partner brings a missing piece to the solution puzzle. It’s usually some combination of their own tools and technology, documented processes, the expertise of their personnel, or an established infrastructure or geographic presence to accommodate the service they provide. They have a vested interest in the alliance and what sort of long-term revenue opportunities combined efforts can generate. They have “skin in the game.”
On the other hand, consultants are typically brought in on a project basis to present unbiased assessments of various IT vendor offerings. This lack of bias coupled with industry experience is intended to offer an honest, critical analysis of the proposed solutions, garnering credibility and a high perceived value for the client that engaged them.
Such consultants serve the potential client’s best interests so long as they employ considerable due diligence and insight in their evaluation process, thoroughly documenting the pros and cons of each and presenting those findings along with their recommendations.
That consultative value diminishes significantly, however, when the analysis is limited to dropping proposals from companies A, B, and C and walking away.
While being detached from the vendor selection process definitely reinforces a lack of bias, the failure to convey the breadth of what’s being offered in each proposal and provide an in-depth comparison of the options does that client a disservice. In such instances, both the client and vendor would be better served if the consultant merely referred the former to the latter and mediated the discussion in a conference room.
Asking the Right Questions
Whatever your role, when qualifying any opportunity, it’s important to know what questions to ask as the answers will determine if the IT vendor’s solution is a good fit. In other words, does it make sense for the client to outsource Level 1 or Level 2 functions versus retaining them in-house?
If, for example, the potential client is looking solely for after-hours help desk support when contacts are barely trickling in, is a full-blown 24 x 7 solution a cost-effective alternative to paying the occasional overtime to an internal on-call resource?
Asking the right questions not only accurately scopes the solution and pricing during the development process, but saves the vendor and the prospective client valuable time on proposing services that are not a viable match for the requirements or the budget. When engaging a potential client for service desk support the right questions are as follows:
- How many total contacts (all emails, voice calls, voice mails, etc.) are handled per month?
- What’s the contact volume from hour to hour?
- What call tracking system is used if any?
- What types of problems generate the highest number of contacts to the service desk?
- What applications and operating systems are being supported?
- Are agents expected to work remotely or at your location?
- What is the average talk time or average handle time of each ticket?
- What are your defined service levels such as average speed to answer (ASA), abandon, resolution, and customer satisfaction rates?
- What are the language requirements and hours of support?
- How much documentation for all supported applications and systems is in place?
- What type of knowledge base is there (KBAs, troubleshooting documents, etc.) if any?
While some of the above questions also apply, when qualifying an opportunity for on-site Level 2 desktop support, additional relevant questions are:
- What sort of tasks are performed (IMACs, imaging, asset inventory and management, peripheral connectivity, etc.)?
- What are the core support hours for on-site teams?
- How do you define priorities and what are the response times to dispatch someone to the desktop?
- Are technicians dispatched to multiple locations? If so where are they?
- Is Executive or VIP “white glove” support required?
- Are the technicians expected to coordinate hardware or software resolutions with manufacturers, vendors, or Level 3 personnel?
From there, the solution is more a case of assigning the appropriate resources with the required skill sets to the location(s) covered. But more importantly, the goal in all of the above questions is engaging prospective clients in a dialogue that will determine how the scope for both Level 1 and Level 2 should be crafted, priced, and presented.
If maintaining all levels of expertise under one roof is not an option, partnering with a company that can convey as much in their line of questioning and follow-up communication is the next best thing. What are true partners for?