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MSPs working through Covid challenges

The pandemic has given managed service players several challenges, but most are in a strong enough position to come through the crisis stronger

The Covid-19 coronavirus has shaken up the world and forced many of the plans that were laid down for 2020 to be accelerated or revised.

For managed service providers (MSPs) the good news is that this is a chance to prove value and deepen customer relationships. The problem though is doing that in a crowded market where restrictions have made it harder to stand out.

Last month, BitTitan commissioned research into how the most successful MSPs were generating revenue. Grady Gausman, product marketing and analyst relations manager at the cloud automation specialist, shares some of the insights in a Q&A.

What is your advice to those MSPs trying to stand out from their competition right now?

These are certainly challenging times, but from what we’ve seen during this pandemic, MSPs can play a vital role in helping companies maintain business continuity and adapt to new realities. Many companies are in need of implementing a plan for large-scale remote operations, and for that they’re turning to MSPs.

It’s critical for partners to continue focusing on providing their clients with the best service offering they can. What can help differentiate partners today is being proactive in addressing the challenges of those working or learning from home long term. Partners that are able to empathise with their customer base and understand the unique challenges facing them are in a better position to design technology solutions that support operations during this tough time.

Our partners are placing strategic bets on services, security and software, all of which are moving to the cloud. Some of the most profitable services from MSPs are software-as-a-service [SaaS], networking, cyber security and business continuity. These services have only grown in importance since people began working remotely on a large scale. Continue to prioritise these in your organisation’s service offerings.

How can they prepare their customers and themselves for the new normal?

By thinking long term rather than the next 30 to 60 days. We’ve come to realise – at least in the US – that these remote learning and working scenarios aren’t going away tomorrow. Hence the changes a business makes to adapt in this new world need to be sustainable for months or years, rather than a quick fix to get them close to “normal”.

Digital adoption and technological investment are key to creating a sustainable business and making remote operations more effective. Having the right cloud tools in place is vitally important. Cloud-based solutions can enable enhanced collaboration and engagement among a dispersed staff. Because technology will play a large role in enabling a remote workforce, it opens a new category of software to emerge around the organisation, engagement and development of employees.

What sort of skills and services have really been standout over the past few months?

Enabling clients to mobilise a remote work plan for increased collaboration and engagement while working from home. Deployment and training for applications like Microsoft Teams, which enables companies to stay connected and continue operations, has been of the utmost importance. Providing training helps users, who may not have prior experience with these applications, feel comfortable using them.

Security also remains a top concern as systems, hardware and people move out of the office and into their homes. Endpoint protection continues to be one of the most in-demand security services, particularly for the SME [small to medium-sized enterprise] segment that seems to be more vulnerable to attacks. MSPs must have a security story around all their product offerings and continually increase their total offerings and education in this area.

Is it still better to be very good at one thing or is there a risk of losing customers if you cannot offer a wide portfolio of services?

I think the answer lies somewhere in between. You must first be an expert at what you do – whether it’s SaaS, networks and infrastructure, cyber security or another field – and let that expertise broaden into adjacent business areas. We continue to see MSPs be successful with a vertical focus, too. They’re able to understand specific application needs and challenges for a healthcare company or an educational institution, and they speak the same language as their customer, which builds trust and confidence in that partnership.

The best MSPs will continue to adapt as the needs of their customers change – and spot these changes in advance. Today it is remote work enablement. Tomorrow it may be cloud governance and management as businesses and users get comfortable with new systems but need help to cope with information and application sprawl.

Did the survey contain any surprises for you?

Many of these findings reflect a shift that has been happening in the partner community for years. These include a transition from project-based work to a recurring revenue model, which has benefited from the rise of SaaS solutions like Microsoft 365, and a focus on selling and delivering higher-margin services

Questions around spending revealed MSPs of all sizes continue to prioritise investments in technical skills and solution or services development, but still limit funds for marketing and sales efforts while encountering challenges with their new business pipeline.

This leads to one surprise, which was that partners in this survey seem to want vendors to step further into relationships with their users, particularly early in the relationship. First, MSPs continue to see technology vendors as an important source for leads. Both small and large partners in the survey would like to see their vendors improve lead generation and/or quality and provide them with more assistance around pre-sales efforts such as training, support and co-selling.

This is a good trend to keep in mind as a software vendor. While it may increase the overall cost of the sale, there are tangible ways here to strengthen relationships with partners by meeting them more than halfway, which could lead to additional business.

Do you think MSPs are well-positioned to come through the Covid crisis?

For the majority of partners, yes. These are unprecedented times, but the need for managed services is greater than it ever has been. MSPs will be integral to helping many companies leverage the technologies they need to keep their business running.

Being in the cloud helps companies become more flexible and scale their businesses accordingly to meet market needs and customer needs, especially during a pandemic. MSPs can help their customers navigate this difficult time through technology and services to strengthen businesses and guide them toward future growth.

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