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How MSPs can rewire their post-pandemic growth strategies

Firms running out of room for growth might be better off exploring options with existing customers

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We all outsource what we need - not just in business, but in our daily lives too. We must also decide on the number of projects we outsource, making increasingly subtle choices about how much responsibility we give to others.

Let’s take dinner. We all have a choice at the end of a busy day to cook something from fresh ingredients, chuck a ready-made meal in the microwave, or order something in. New businesses have sprung up in recent years, finding a middle ground with preselected recipes and exact ingredients delivered to your door; you can enjoy a home-cooked meal, but finding the recipe and shopping are outsourced.

These services aren’t cheap, so why let someone else do what you could do yourself? We’re often time-poor, and not everyone has the expertise or talent to be a good (or even mediocre) chef, so why not let an expert take over? Managed services providers (MSPs) operate similarly, acting as outsourced IT departments. As experts, MSPs should be posing these questions to their customers, even those who seem to be doing fine with their own internal IT departments.

What’s next after surviving 2020?

For most MSPs, 2020 was a mixed bag. With remote working practically mandated, there was a sudden and immediate need for businesses to embrace technologies they once resisted. Even those that were flexible were caught unawares, and many needed upgrades to existing infrastructure to meet the demands of remote workers quickly. The need for many to work remotely led to a need for people to enable it. Businesses needed to know their employees were able to work efficiently and securely from home, and that any issues they experienced were resolved quickly.

Smart MSPs worked with their customers to provide the best possible service and picked up new business from those faced with sudden changes. Even businesses with internal IT teams struggled and turned to outside help. Canny MSPs now have new contracts in place for this new reality.

Other routes to increasing sales have been closed off. There are no longer in-person events to meet people in your target vertical or location, nor are there any on-site visits, meaning fewer opportunities to discuss where customers may need additional help. Referrals are also likely much quieter than in the past. Many businesses, too, are tightening their belts if they haven’t already gone under.

After the initial rush to move online, MSPs may find growth difficult. New leads may be scarce, simply because those who needed IT support to work remotely will now have it. Businesses that want, but lack, that level of base support may be few and far between. So where do MSPs look for growth? It might be wise for them to look at their current customer base.

Forging a new path to growth

If MSPs can no longer sell the same services to new customers, new approaches are needed. Customers with internal IT departments may have had specific needs for enhanced support at a difficult time, but there’s no reason this can’t be expanded once your value’s been proven. As an augmented services provider to these teams, you now have keen insight into new areas, so you can support and help manage their environment and users more efficiently. 

Internal IT departments only have to deal with problems a few times. Setting up new laptops for use, responding to alerts and backing up might be performed manually because the IT team had the luxury of time. Having no pressing need for automation may no longer be the case. MSPs can help here by deploying their systems, and by automating manual tasks, the internal IT department can be freed up for more demanding tasks and high-value project work. 

Teams also need to be of appropriate size before they can start offering 24/7 support. Even offering minimal support outside business hours isn’t straightforward. Businesses may be global in scope but not in scale. Establishing a few satellite offices could be all that’s needed to make increased support hours an absolute must. If IT can’t provide this, MSPs can step in either to take over completely or to supplement support where needed. If MSPs cannot yet offer this level of support, they should be looking to create international partnerships that will make it possible.

Scaling the IT department is also an area in which MSPs can offer their services. Businesses enjoying growth at the moment are rare, and they’re likely to be nervous that it’ll be short-lived. They might also be wary of investing in the permanent infrastructure to support growth, leaving the internal IT department struggling to cope with a recent expansion in operations. IT teams will need support to augment critical services, and MSPs can help to fill this gap until businesses feel secure enough to invest in the necessary infrastructure. They may even decide a temporary MSP contract should become permanent.

What has home-cooking got to do with MSPs?

Even businesses currently thriving are understandably nervous. Even if everything is fine right now, the road out of the pandemic is uncertain, and economies are contractive. The UK, for example, recorded its biggest fall in GDP in three centuries in 2020. They’re reluctant to spend, although it doesn’t mean MSPs can’t grow. Instead, they need to look for smart ways to support their customers. 

Like the new home cooking providers, this might mean looking for new ways of working that meet the internal IT departments halfway. Working with them in new ways can help to drive efficiency and make savings down the line.

David Weeks is senior director for partner enablement with N-able

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