The category of “Master Managed Service Provider (MSP)” in the IT Channel has become a bigger and a more diverse category, and the list of organizations who fit the title of Master MSP is growing. It’s a big decision for an MSP to outsource, so how do you pick the right company? To help you avoid a bad fit, here are some things to look for when evaluating the extension of your team with a Master MSP.
This is critically more important to weigh when picking a Master MSP than when deciding which firewall vendor to use. Concerning a firewall vendor, your primary need should be whether you’ll be able to pick up the phone and call your rep to get an issue resolved, as well as the quality of the product itself. In relation, your customer doesn’t deal with the people of your firewall company, they interact with a product.
When picking a Master MSP, that organization and its people are the first impression of your organization when a user calls the Help Desk.
You owe it to you and your customers to visit the Master MSP’s NOC and Help Desk. You need to sit in the Help Desk area and listen to how they talk to the end user. Does the level of professionalism meet or exceed what you do today? How will their Help Desk customer service impact your reputation? Who owns the customer? When and how often will the Master MSP be directly or indirectly involved?
Merriam Webster says trust is “one in which confidence is placed.” I think visiting your Master MSP and meeting people on the team can help you build confidence. But to really have confidence yourself, you need to have first-hand experience.
I think confidence gets built when you experience high-quality delivery over a long period of time. I also think confidence is bolstered when something goes wrong and both parties experience how problems/conflicts are resolved.
I think confidence can be strengthened under both scenarios. You need to ask for references. More importantly, you need to call those references and ask about both the good and the bad.
Nothing causes frustration faster than when expectations are not met. Both parties should be extremely thorough and transparent when evaluating your options. Not all Master MSP’s have the same target customer. You really need to be open about what you are trying to accomplish as an organization with an outsource option. Based on what you are looking to accomplish, a Master MSP should help you understand how they align with your goals.
You need to have a good understanding of the financial strength of the company and its ownership structure. You are potentially making a long-term strategic decision. You must have the confidence your Master MSP is in it for the long haul and their plans for the future.
Like any business, the longer you have done something, hopefully the more efficient you have become. MSPs know how much time it takes to write scripts for your RMM tool, but the more you do those tasks, the more efficient you become every day. Ask about how your Master MSP has increased efficiencies (i.e. Ticket Escalation Process; SLAs; Partner Notifications, etc.) over time and their focus on continual improvement.
Also, an interesting subset of this topic is “what is the Master MSP heritage”? Meaning, how did you grow up? Often you see an MSP create some secret sauce and then realize how beneficial it could be to other MSPs in the channel. I look at IT Glue as a brilliant example of this. Chris Day runs a great MSP, and he created an internal product for his own business but decided to sell that product to other MSPs under the name of IT Glue. Selling to Managed Services to end users is very different from selling to MSPs. I have seen it done well with companies like IT Glue, but I have also seen it done poorly. Just make sure you pick a Master MSP with a long track record of selling through the channel.
I love Mike Tyson’s quote “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. I liken this to my version of Mike’s quote “everything sounds good in the sales pitch, and then the first end user goes live”. Your Master MSP has many KPIs that have been tracked for years. Make sure they review those numbers with you and ensure you validate those numbers with the references you call before you sign up with any Master MSP.
KPI examples to ask about and what they mean/how they are defined:
I have seen wide variance on Master MSP terms of contract. I have seen month-to-month commitments all the way to required multi-year commitment. In my opinion, I am not sure how you commit to someone for even a one-year lock in with a part of your business that is so critical. If anyone requires more than a month-to-month commit I would strongly push back.
I see a wide variance on this topic and it is really a part of #3 above when I talk about alignment. Master MSPs take very different positions on this topic. No one is right or wrong on this topic, it is purely a matter of strategic positioning. If you do a good job of laying out what goals you are trying to accomplish the technology tool set piece will become a deal killed issue or no issue at all. Hear out the various reasons why Master MSPs take the approach to tool set that they do.
Security is top of mind for Master MSPs, MSPs and end users. Ask about security measures, history including data incidents/breaches, and what it means to you. Also, evaluate the managed security services that can be offered to protect your customers. Are the tools the MSP is using in alignment with what your end users need? The lack of or wrong type of security can make or break your customer’s company.
Another thing to consider if you sign with a Master MSP is who owns the customer and assumes the ownership of the customers’ security risks? Without knowing who is liable for security damages, you could be walking into a potential nightmare.
Many MSPs and Master MSPs have numerous layers of staff. Will you be going through one person for all of your needs or is there a team? What if you want to talk to the Vice President or General Manager of the company, can you? When you have questions or want to talk to leadership, how accessible are they to you when you need them? Are they willing to travel to your location, are they involved in QBRs, are they participating in discussions with your team? Access to other leaders can add value to your team in several ways.
In summary, there is plenty of business for all of us in the Master MSP space. My goal for this blog is to make sure you find one that fits you best. I hope I helped equip you with things to consider and can use in evaluating Master MSPs to enable you and your business to scale and grow to the heights you aspire.
Greg VanDeWalker, Senior Vice President of IT Channel and Services, is responsible for the strategic vision and performance of Collabrance and the GreatAmerica IT and Unified Communication Financing business units. Greg has consistently been recognized for his leadership in the IT channel. Most recently, he was named a ENX Difference Maker 2017. He was also honored by CRN in 2016-2018 as Channel Chief, and was named on the "100 People You Don't Know But Should" list in 2015. Greg has also served as Chair of the inaugural Managed Print Services Community of CompTIA, and has helped various advisory boards in the IT, Telephony and Office Equipment channels.