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You Can’t Be All Things to All People, BUT……
Larger projects require your expertise, and almost always also require skills you don't have and don't offer. Doing your best is not a solution, but many technologists know exactly what to do.
Some of you may remember when the dates for Daylight Savings Time changed back in 2007. People marked the new dates on their calendars, but computers didn’t! There was no provision in the firmware or the operating system that anticipated such a major change. And Microsoft was very late telling its partners what to do about it. It didn’t require a major overhaul but was certainly not something most users would or could tackle by themselves.
At that time, I was managing a small practice on Long Island which had a large number of customers under contract. We immediately built a remediation engagement complete with pricing based on how many computers required adjustment, and we informed all our customers that we would schedule time to remediate their systems prior to the change with would take place on March 11.
Easier Said Than Done
As we sent engineers out to perform the first remediations we got a better idea of how much time it would actually take to perform each remediation.
Then we did the math and realized that we didn’t have sufficient personpower to get to every customer before the deadline. Our engineering team immediately set upon figuring out a way to do it faster. They were unsuccessful. It was what it was and would take as long as it would take.
Thanks to my participation in the International Association of Microsoft Partners (IAMCP) I knew of several smaller practices in the area that would not have the crushing challenge we faced. It seemed reasonable to me that they would have capable technical people available to perform remediation for some of our customers. So, I arranged to subcontract some of the projects to some of them. I had the advantage that these were friends I knew I could trust to perform the required process with quality, and not to even think of soliciting further business from my customers for their company.
A Successful Trip Through Time
Daylight Savings Time, that is!
Well before March 11 we had every customer who had contracted with us to remediate their systems all ready to handle the change when it came. In the final weeks of February we even had several dozen more clients ask to engage us for the required changes. We were even able to accommodate them!
There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from facing a big challenge with your customer base and joining together with them to successfully tackle it. Our entire technical team, and their new friends, celebrated their success, several admitting they never thought we could get it all done on time.
How DARE We!
Ownership at our company was, surprisingly, not so pleased.
“How DARE you send employees of competing companies into our clients!” cried the Chairman of the Board. “I’m going to hold YOU personally responsible when those customers leave us for the companies whose people YOU let in there!”
I immediately reminded him of the contract I had him approve that I used with every company that helped us out. It specifically stipulated that such “poaching” of either customers or our personnel would be tolerated, and it spelled out the serious penalties that would insue for anyone who violated these stipulations. It was air tight and proven by partners from all over the world.
“But you threw away some of the profitability by paying them to do work for OUR customers!” he followed.
I then pulled out the company’s income statement for the month of February.
The income statement clearly showed our earnings after EBIDTA. This was the highest earning month, the most profitable month the company had ever had. And it was the short month of February!
That quarter ending March 30 was also the most profitable quarter the company ever had.
The moral of this story is that partnering, even with your competition, is a very profitable strategy when you find yourself shorthanded, or asked to provide services you don’t perform.
Which brings us to the title of this month’s Evolving MSP. It’s an incomplete declaration!
You don’t want to be all things to all people, but you can provide all the services those people need!
There are some prerequisites.
If there’s one thing you must do before you ever subcontract anyone for anything, its that you must establish trust between your organizations. And document that trust in a rock-solid contract. But first you must valuate each partner:
· Can they perform the service as well as you would perform it if you had the skills?
· Do they share your commitment to a superior customer experience every time?
· Do they have a track record for reliability and excellence in their work?
· Do they have a reputation in the channel for being trustworthy?
· Are they credit-worthy? Do they keep their commitments?
· Do you get along well with them?
There are likely other criteria you’ll want to add, but these were the core of my vetting process. Fundamentally, there are people you know you can work with, and people who you would really prefer not to be interfacing with your customers or your own personnel. You must develop a keen ability to tell the difference.
Next you need to prepare for having personnel from other qualified companies visit your clients. How will they introduce themselves? What should they not share? Under what conditions should they notify you of a significant problem? How should they handle customers who approach them for additional work? Obviously, you want to create an experience that is comfortable for your customer, in which quality expectations can be kept as high as possible.
The Value of Community
I mentioned the IAMCP (iamcp.org) mainly because partnering is a core component of their culture, part of their DNA. All the members are your counterparts from all over the world, and these are the Microsoft Partners who “get it,” who understand the value of partnering and have made it a part of their management strategy, as I did.
There are also many other communities serving our industry. CompTIA, the Computer Technology Industry Association, (CompTIA.org) is probably the best known and most prominent. ASCIIGroup (ascii.com) has been serving our community for many, many years. A much newer group is the National Society of Information Technology Service Providers (NSITSP.org) that has grown very rapidly in a very short time and is already seeking a paid Executive Director. There are many others.
As you can tell, I’m a deep believer in the value of partnering, especially because it has saved my bacon many, many times as it did with the DST remediation. I count people I’ve partnered with amongst my closest friends. We’ve never violated each other’s trust.
The attitude of the Chairman at the company I was managing during the DST change was not unusual. Many, many members of our greater community share his total rejection of partnering because they’re afraid of poaching. I get that. I suggest you do what I didn’t, and should have.
Take your most senior executives to a meeting of one of the channel associations. Get them talking to their counterparts in the room. The most important element of successful partnering is friendship.