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Six Takeaways for MSPs from IT Nation 2015

I just finished a long, but super week in Orlando, participating in the HTG and IT Nation events. I had the pleasure of participating in one lunch learn, one partner panel, and one vendor panel, while getting to attend and listen to numerous breakouts and mainstage presentations. Moreover, I got to visit with scores of eFolder partners and friends over the course of the week.

It is time for everyone in the IT Nation to compile your notes, find the nuggets and make your plan of attack.

Here my six takeaways for MSPs:

1.    Integration is key

Whether you are a vendor or an MSP, we should all try to emulate ConnectWise. They are innovative and unique in so many ways. On Thursday’s mainstage event, CEO Arnie Bellini accomplished two major goals. First, he unveiled the not-so-well-kept secret of the “New ConnectWise,” bringing together ConnectWise, LabTech, Quosal, and ScreenConnect into one company.

Just as importantly, the ConnectWise product leaders were invited on stage to unveil the newest features, capabilities, and integrations in ConnectWise 2016.1. While they were showing beta versions of the product onstage, the benefits of even deeper product integration became obvious. Roars of applause from the audience greeted each demo and announcement. For MSPs, the question is, how are you making deep integration a part of your product strategy? Do the different components of your managed service offering link together in unique ways to improve the levels of satisfaction and productivity at your clients? Does your PSA system help your client co-manage their IT? Do your file sync and BDR offerings integrate seamlessly with your PSA tools? Are you helping clients migrate to the cloud, by integrating legacy infrastructure with cloud applications? Product innovation at the MSP level is a big opportunity for many ConnectWise partners. The value comes from bringing disparate vendor and proprietary solutions together in unique and tightly integrated combinations for the client.
2.    Automation is everything

I participated in one partner panel and one vendor panel, both around backup and disaster recovery. Nearly everyone in the audience was obsessed with labor costs and their business continuity practices. People complained about complex and time consuming migrations; labor intensive BDR testing to meet SLAs; and the hassles around billing and administration. Labor costs are the leaky bucket in the MSP business model. Unbillable time spent reacting to and fixing unreliable software and services can quickly sap the profit in the model. Automation is vital to controlling costs and cutting down on tech time on routine tasks. You can never be too automated. Some questions to consider: does your BDR solution do automated Boot VM screen shot verification? Is your BDR solution deeply integrated with ConnectWise? Can you simply and easily upgrade BDR appliances or new hardware with an appliance master image, without tons of expertise and time investments? Automation is hugely important to partners that want to reach best-in-class profitability.

3.    Business continuity is critical for clients

In an always on economy, clients will pay big bucks for uptime and resiliency. However, business continuity has long been only affordable to larger enterprises or only the most sophisticated small businesses. Fortunately, software advancements, virtualization technology, and the cloud have now made business continuity affordable for even the smallest businesses. This is a huge opportunity for MSPs, but driving 100% client adoption requires careful vendor selection, attention to fit and affordability, and high levels of integration and automation.

4.    Education is the most powerful marketing tool

One of the most popular breakouts at IT Nation was “Speak SMB Security: How YOU Can Be a Security Thought Leader,” sponsored by OpenDNS. My friend Dima Kumets hosted the discussion and presentation. Dima is a big draw, since he always brings his A game. But I think at a deeper level, MSP business owners understand that education is the best way to market to clients and prospects. You have to teach and coach, before you can preach and practice. The best way to attract prospective clients is to educate them on how to solve some of their pressing technology and productivity problems without necessarily having to sell them anything. The OpenDNS breakout, which won an award at IT Nation, taught MSP owners how to be thought leaders themselves and how to use simple, local, and grassroots tactics to build an audience for your thought leadership.
5.    Real leaders are vulnerable

Most business owners pretend to be invincible. Nearly everyone in a position of leadership has invariably thought at one time or another that personal vulnerability will be exploited by your enemies. Marcus Lemonis, the creator and producer of “The Profit” television show, did a superb job of challenging the audience to be vulnerable and authentic with their staffs. In fact, he went totally off script during his keynote address on Friday, challenging business owners to humanize their approach. He did so by first humbling himself by sharing some of the toughest challenges he faced early in life, including being molested and struggling with obesity and depression. If ConnectWise CEO Arnie Bellini seemed a bit surprised with the course of the conversation on stage, he confirmed it Saturday morning at the IT Nation golf tournament, as he related how Lemonis refused in advance to discuss the details of his talk. Instead of a scripted talk about “product, process, or profits,” core themes for the conference, we were treated to an at times uncomfortable, yet rewarding dialog about personal vulnerability, leadership, and the value of the people in your business. Leaders need to break down barriers with their staffs by being more vulnerable, humble, and ultimately more authentic. Accountability is a two-way street and to unlock the full potential of your people, your staff needs to be able to relate to a real human being at the top.

6.    People make the ultimate difference

As Peter Drucker said, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” There is no better time to observe the culture of ConnectWise than during IT Nation. The smiling faces. The military like precision on everything. The countless small details executed flawlessly. The passion for putting on an excellent show, which ultimately serves the partner attendees, their education, and their success. This is the culture of ConnectWise. And it is the people who make it happen. Every MSP looking to build something great, something that is lasting and enduring, should focus on culture and people, before strategy and process. It is never too late to double down on culture. There are many ways to get started. For instance, you can formalize your mission, vision, and values. You can “operationalize” your values by weaving them into your client marketing messages. You can have the tough conversations with the “cultural villains” in your organization and manage them out. The list goes on. One can always debate who has the best product. But this much is clear, ConnectWise certainly has the strongest and most partner focused culture. And there are many lessons in that.

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Reader Comments (1)

Marcus' 3 P's are People, Product and Process, not “product, process, or profits,” as listed in #5 above.

November 16, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRyan Huettner

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