Three things I learned working for an MSP

I wanted to start my first blog for SolarWinds MSP by introducing myself as the new N-central automation nerd. I’m looking forward to working with you on all things SolarWinds® N-central® and automation. I’m also looking forward to working with our automation team, including Head Automation Nerd Marc-Andre Tanguay and my counterpart, RMM Automation Nerd Lewis Pope, who is coming on board in March.

I’d like to take the opportunity in this first post to share some real-life MSP experience, because I believe there’s some secret sauce to how managed services providers (MSPs) operate and there are some key areas I see our partners excelling at. I’ll cover these areas more in-depth in future posts.

Customer experience monitoring: It’s more than a check box

All MSPs understand that gauging your customers’ happiness with your performance is the quintessential part of understanding if you’re going to keep them for the long term. But how are you doing this today? The four questions to ask yourself are:

  • Do you have an account manager who can work with your customers day in and day out and perform monthly meetings?
  • Do you have quarterly business reviews with your customers to talk through your technology offering? Are you discussing the challenges that are present for them and how your stack of technologies can help address any of those gaps? Digital transformation and modernization efforts should be a clear focus. Digital transformation isn’t a light switch, it’s an evolution.
  • Are you relying on your vCIO to communicate the business value of your business to their business? (Do you even offer vCIO services?) How is the vCIO mapping the customer budget to your combined technology goals? Do you have a customer roadmap in place?
  • Most importantly, what data points and analytics are you capturing to score your performance with your customers? As the old business adage goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

What I have seen first-hand from successful MSPs is that they have a laser sharp focus around customer experience, and they adopt technologies and business outcomes that match their customers’ goals.

A first step to take is to establish a way to get data from your customers. If you’re not already doing this, send customer surveys on closed or resolved tickets to understand the customer experience from a support interaction level. You can send these surveys through your PSA or IT service management solution, which allows the end users you support to give a quick temperature check along with some feedback which is critical to knowing if your team members are supporting your customers effectively.

Map your technology stack to your customers’

If you’re one of the lucky MSPs out there that ensures your entire tech stack is implemented as part of your fully managed onboarding, that’s great. However, from my experience, there will always be outliers. Most MSPs will have an a la carte or proactive program that does not have all their products when they onboard their customers.

If this is the case and your customer isn’t using your endpoint detection and response (EDR) or antivirus (AV) solutions for example, ask yourself what the justification for that is. What are the actionable items? If they are under license agreement with a third party, when does that expire? How are you tracking this today?

Perhaps a better question here is, have you implemented a technology like a data mart or something similar for tracking?

A data mart lists all your go-to-market technologies and vendors and matches them against each of your customers. This is important because your sales team needs to understand which customers have which technologies, so they can position and plug the gaps within your existing customers’ technology stacks. It’s also an invaluable tool for helping you understanding which products your customers have (or may have had as the years pass) so you can see which customers you can upgrade to newer technology.

On top of this, from an operational and finance perspective, this quickly allows you to gain insight into what your customers pay for and provides the entire team with a concrete understanding of your pricing and profitability. It also shows how much technology you accumulate over the years.

Technician sales: The direct-to-tech model

I won’t be able to fully do this subject justice in my first blog but one thing I’ve seen some small to medium-sized MSPs setup is the direct-to-tech model. When I visited Rocky Mountain Tech Team in Boulder, Colorado about five years ago I witnessed this cool setup. They had executed their vision of technicians being all things to their customers. Techs were assigned to several customers and served multiple roles including vCIO, account manager, technician, etc.

I’m going to explain this in detail in a future blog, including an explanation of a commission structure, sales enablement, and the training tasks you can allocate to ensure all your technicians, including the service manager, have a key role to play in ensuring customer success.

Technicians typically don’t want anything to do with sales, and they don’t have to with this model. The key is listening to your customers, finding issues before your customers do, and forming a plan of action. Technicians don’t have to do sales but they definitely have to give the right insight to the people who will. The best sales engineering involves ensuring your technology works, the customer receives excellent service, and there is someone to problem solve any issue.

I look forward to discussing these and other topics in future posts.


 Jason Murphy is the N-central Automation Nerd at SolarWinds MSP. You can follow him on Twitter at @ncentral_nerd or on reddit at u/ncentral_nerd.