Steve Clark, Sales Director at Datto, draws on his own experience at Calyx Managed Services to explain what makes a successful vendor-MSP relationship
Often, relationships between technology vendors and MSPs are almost entirely transactional. They follow the traditional vendor-buyer approach and, as a result, MSPs are missing out on the opportunity to develop strong, strategic partnerships with carefully selected vendors that can help them develop and strengthen their business.
To make the most of a vendor partnership, there needs to be a proper two-way conversation. Yes, vendors must listen to the MSPs they serve to find out what products, services and support their partners really want. But equally, MSPs should make sure they engage proactively with their chosen vendors’ account teams to ask for the right tools, price promotions and bundles that will help them better service their clients, unlock new opportunities and gain that all-important competitive edge.
Focus your attention
As with everything in business, the key is to have a strategic plan in place. Rather than relying on a high number of relatively loose supplier-buyer connections, it is much wiser for an MSP to choose a handful of vendors that are the right fit for their market that they can grow with strategically.
The first step is to define your own marketplace. Are you an MSP who serves only a certain geographic region or size of business? Do you specialise in servicing clients in a particular vertical sector, such as retail or healthcare? Do your strengths lie in security, mobile working or cloud migration? Make a clear decision on which market you actually want to (and can) service and commit to becoming the best MSP in that space.
Then, find the right vendor – one with tools and products tailored to you and your clients’ needs and a strong infrastructure to support you. When you have strict service level agreements (SLAs) with your customers, you want to know your vendor will back you up.
Pick carefully. If you are already working with a large and diverse number of vendors, don’t be afraid to review this list and whittle it down to a handful. Focusing your partnerships on a select few may actually propel your business forward. Dealing with one vendor that covers several of your requirements, rather than juggling several specialised providers in a complex multi-vendor solution, will ultimately reduce the time you need to spend on managing your vendor relationships.
Agree on your business goals
Next, discuss your business strategy with your chosen vendors and work on a joint plan for mutual growth and success. What marketing support can they give you as a key partner? What lead generation activities do they carry out themselves that help your cause? What collateral, pricing and programmes do you need from them to grow your client base and increase sales? At the end of the day, you are the customer, so spell out what you need from your suppliers.
Consider how your chosen vendors engage with each other. They may list each other as technology partners on their websites, but what does that mean? Probe a bit deeper to make sure it’s not just a partnership on paper but one that allows real technology integration. If you work closely with a pool of vendors that have developed strong bonds, you will know there is a dependable ecosystem to support you. See if there is an active role you can take in driving that ecosystem forward.
Request tailored education and training
A partnership approach is important when it comes to a vendor’s education offering too. Don’t be content with generic whitepapers or product training that only tells you what you already know. You will want to become an expert in the technology and services you sell. Ultimately, your vendor wants you to be as self-sufficient as possible, so be clear about the training and information you need and make sure it is specific to your market. You will invest time to acquire the right knowledge, and the vendor should too.
A good training programme should also help you attract, develop and retain strong talent. Seek out vendors that foster regular knowledge transfer, not just via classroom-based training but also via webinars, regular updates and interactive sessions. This will encourage your employees to use the resources available to them and provide clear paths for how to progress their careers.
Vendor support in times of the pandemic
Finally, don’t be shy to ask your vendor partners how they can help you navigate the current Coronavirus crisis. They may be able to offer more flexible payment plans, better discounts or longer payment terms, all of which can help with cash flow. They may also be able to share valuable advice on managing remote staff, claiming payments and many other issues that have cropped up during the pandemic.
Making the cut
While I was running Calyx Managed Services, an IT services consultancy and provider specialising in hybrid cloud, datacentre networking and IaaS, we cut our vendor partnerships down from around 135 partners to just 15, with which we then fostered close strategic relationships. This involved setting joint targets for marketing, training and other areas and creating in-depth development and growth plans with an agreement to hold each other accountable. As a result of this cull, we not only we reduced our operational costs by more than 20%, we and our partners also grew our market share.
All too often, MSPs criticise vendors for not offering the right support, but it takes two to tango. As an MSP, make sure you engage fully with your vendors to create a win-win partnership with common goals. Even if you’re busy with day-to-day tasks, take the time to do this properly and be strategic about it – the effort you invest will soon pay off. In the long run, having real partnerships with your vendors will make all the difference to your company’s success.