Building a Managed IT Services Organization in the Office Equipment Industry

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Sep 15, 2020

Interview with Bill McLaughlin from Atlantic

I had the opportunity to connect with Bill McLaughlin, Chief Technology Officer at Atlantic Tomorrow’s Office. I have always been extremely impressed with their managed service division. With everything going on in 2020, we’ve been getting a lot of questions at Collabrance from office equipment dealers on getting into managed services, and whether it makes sense to build, buy or partner with someone like Collabrance, a Master MSP, to help them get up and running. To help you make the best decision for your business, we interviewed Bill in to share his experience building a managed services division, and provide recommendations to the office equipment industry.

What are your three biggest drivers for success?

I believe first and foremost are people. You have to hire the right people, and you have to have them in the right role. Equally important, you have to empower them to be successful. Second, keeping things simple and making sure others understand what the goal or mission is on how they can execute is critical to success. Finally, you have to have a process. The managed IT business is complex, and you really have to have process around everything you do – starting with the frontline from sales, all the way to the back end, an operational perspective. There literally has to be a process for everything to be consistent and successful in a high-level service delivery.

How did Atlantic make the decision to build your own managed IT in house? What were some of the pros and cons?

When I started at Atlantic there was a bit of a foundation, but I would say it wasn’t managed IT; it was more reactive, it was a break-fix model. We had some IT talent, we had customers who needed some IT help. When I came on board we were like, “How do we take this break-fix work, and turn it into a managed IT business, more proactive and leveraging different technologies?” Back then, 10-12 years ago there were no Master MSPs, so it wasn’t an option to outsource. Building a managed IT division was really the only option we had at that time.

What were some of the different types of changes to your processes, and your approach you had to make getting into managed IT services and selling a complete offering?

You can’t become complacent. Getting involved in different types of best practices groups and peer groups has helped a lot because you always want to look at the organizations who are bigger and arguably sometimes better than you are doing.

We failed a lot in the beginning building our own managed IT services division and we were good at it, but we also were very good at learning from our mistakes so the process is constantly changing.

Putting egos aside and understanding what you are doing today may not work tomorrow, and being open to change is extremely important. Make sure the teams understands it, and make sure that the team embraces it. You have to have the right technology and the right partners.

How long did it take until you felt like you had the right partners, the right people, and the processes to really get your managed IT engine operating?

I would say 36-48 months into building our managed IT division, we felt like we had something – a foundation. From year three on, we really started bringing in a good management team, and great engineers. We had a good foundation about 36 months into it, and from that point on, the growth really started to take place, the synergy started to take place, the team really started to work well together.

How has Atlantic evolved your managed services offering to accommodate your customer’s cybersecurity needs, and how do you see the IT Channel evolving as a whole?

Cybersecurity is the number one priority and will continue to be – you have to pay very close attention to this. You have to make sure you have people who are invested in security, who are constantly getting educated, and staying as close to the forefront as possible. We’ve encouraged individuals within Atlantic to get various types of trainings and certifications. We have also created a cybersecurity committee to focus on different types of technology available. Cybersecurity is a priority for everybody and with some of the new laws being passed, as an MSP you have to make sure what you are selling to your customers, you are doing internally so you can check off all the appropriate boxes from a compliance standpoint.

You need the right eyes and ears constantly on cybersecurity, and effective tools to deliver managed security services you are promising your customers.

I tell everybody, you have to be careful when you say you are doing “all the right things,” so therefore it can’t happen to you. You have make sure people understand it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when something is going to happen – no matter what type of security protocols you have in place. Cybercriminals are open to evolution and they’re very good at it. I mean, they gamify it and they’ll always find something ahead of the curve. So the reality is not only making sure you have the right tools to mitigate your risk, but more importantly, when something does happen, you have the ability to recover from it without too much collateral damage. You have to focus on security first and foremost.

What kind of advice or recommendations do you have for office equipment dealers who are looking to get into managed IT services?

If you’re not willing to make the investments in the technology you need; if you’re not willing to make the investment in the people you need so technology doesn’t become irrelevant, you probably don’t have the appetite for it.

Managed IT isn’t something you can be half-baked in today – you are all in, or you’re not. It’s not something you can go out and test to see if it’s for your business or not.

You have to make an investment, you have make sure the key stakeholders, the owner has to be bought in, there needs to be a real business plan. There’s enough technology providers who are doing it and doing it well, and there’s enough of us who’ve had plenty of failures, and I would highly encourage those who are looking to get into managed IT, or even those who are in the infantile stages, join a peer group. If you can learn some of the lessons from others mistakes so you can avoid pitfalls, that’s great. It will save you time, it will save you money, it will save the relationship with the customer.

You don’t have to go and build everything overnight, but with Master MSPs, there’s a lot of things they can provide to help you gain the expertise and technology faster. If you look at the one thing office equipment dealers do better than most in any technology driven type of business, is sales, right? We are sales machines, we know how to build a sales factory.

So if you work with a Master MSP to let them do the heavy lifting on the back end, that enables you focus on selling – and you have a lot of opportunities.

Hiring a good managed IT rep is very difficult because the reality is a managed IT sale process is longer – really more of a 60-90 day window. You have to have a different type of persistence in a managed IT rep. If you can have a little bit of discipline and a little bit of patience understanding it’s a longer sales cycle, and the process is different, you can be extremely successful growing with managed IT services.

What is one thing in sales you see other MSPs do that you think is crazy?

That’s easy. What I see a lot of other MSPs do is they are not persistent like they should be, right? They think they are annoying or are bothering the customer. I mean if we get a deal to close in 60-90 days, we’re happy, we’re all over it. It’s a sales process, constant contact and communication with the client. The persistence is second to none, period. So I think it’s crazy how MSPs don’t always ask for the order, or they kinda sit and wait for it. They really don’t know how to go in for the kill. And while you do need to have patience, you still need to know how to close.

If you can get your imaging sales reps and IT sales reps singing off the same sheet of music and working together, you’ve got an advantage over a lot of the other organizations out in the managed services industry.

What one action item do you want listeners to take away from this and implement in the next 2 weeks to help them figure out which direction they should go when it comes to managed IT services?

It’s simple. Join a peer group, right? Ask every question you could possibly think of. Address your fears, address your concerns, ask about budget, ask about people, ask about process. We live in a different world, but if you can, go do a site visit. Go see the operation. Spend time with the people who have built something and have been successful in doing it and make sure you have a business plan if you are going to do it. There are so many managed services resources out there. Ask questions, get involved with peer groups, go listen, go learn, develop a plan and have that plan vetted out. That’s what I would do. Don’t wing it.

Can a Master MSP help you?

Learn more about your opportunities to outsource with a Master MSP like Collabrance who work with office equipment dealers to help grow their business faster with managed IT services.

Download Collabrance Catalog of Services

About Bill

Bill McLaughlin, CTO at Atlantic, has been in the tech space since 2001 serving in various different roles – sales, operations, marketing, business development, and been fortunate to work with some really good companies and some really good people who have helped paved the way. Click here to connect with Bill on LinkedIn!

Category: Business Practices

About The Author

Hannah O'Donnell

Hannah O'Donnell, Director of Sales, is responsible for building the strategic vision for sales and marketing while providing business planning, education, training, and sales assistance to partners. She is also responsible for originating new partnerships for Collabrance. She was recognized as one of Women of the Channel by CRN, a brand of The Channel Company in 2019 and 2020. Hannah started at Collabrance in 2013 as a Strategic Business Advisor. In 2014, Hannah was nominated by her peers and won Rookie of the Year, and in 2015 became a member of the 100% Sales Achievement Club at GreatAmerica. Hannah earned her business degree in Marketing and Management Information Systems from the University of Iowa.