Customer experience secrets – from an award winning MSP

I’m really enjoying curating my next book, MSP Secrets Revealed episode #2.

It’s inspired me to do more interviewing – another love of mine.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work with the brilliant Craig Pearson over the last couple of years. He’s the sales and marketing director at Your IT Department, here in the UK. They are a forward thinking 20+ person MSP and are growing nicely.

One of the reasons for their success is their focus on customer service and customer experience.

They’ve recently won an award for customer service and when I spotted it, I knew I needed to invite Craig onto the new MSP Secrets video series.

We chat for 13 minutes below about why this focus has been so important to them and Craig reveals a number of secrets to their success …

Want to participate too?

If you enjoy giving back to your peers, there’s two ways you might consider helping …

  1. Do consider contributing to my next book – MSP Secrets Revealed episode #2 (and receive a free copy) – details are here
  2. If you’d like to appear on this video series – drop me a line here.

Don’t sell commodity

This is the next article in a series of adapted excerpts from my book, MSP Secrets Revealed (episode #2 is coming soon, with your help).

I wanted to share some of the interviews I did for that book with the world at large and so each month during 2022,  I’m sharing one secret from the book with the world to inspire.

This next one is from Nigel Moore. If you’ve never met Nigel, you’re missing out on a bit of life. He runs The Tech Tribe – possibly the world’s greatest MSP community. I’ve been part of it for the last two years and am honoured to be a ‘Tribal Elder’. You’d be crazy not to at least take a peak – and no – I’m not on commission – I just believe in what goes on there.

Nigel’s secret centred around pricing and applies to all businesses – not just MSPs.

Don’t sell commodity

Our core MSP services are becoming more and more commoditized and so over time, the only real differentiation will be … price. I want to encourage you to SMASH that type of thinking out of your head.

Coffee is a commodity, yet some people sell it for $0.01 per cup and others sell it for $5 per cup.

Flying is a commodity, yet some people sell a seat on a plane for $29 and others sell the same seat for $299.

T-shirts are a commodity, yet some people sell t-shirts for $1 and others sell them for $1,000.

Things like experience, emotion, comfort, fear, a sense of belonging, status, etc. ALL have a direct impact on how much someone will pay for a (seemingly) commoditized product/service.

Sure, monitoring, maintenance, support etc is “commoditized” to a degree – but all the stuff / experience around it isn’t.

If Nigel’s thinking doesn’t shake up your perception of pricing and value, then you need to take yourself outside and give yourself a good talking to. You’ll find a lot more in his book. Search “Nigel Moore book” and dive in.

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A couple of additional thoughts of my own on this, as I think about some of the things I teach in both Helpdesk Habits and Website Success 101.

If you’re not selling on price, what are the other options to push price down the list of buying critera? Price will always be lurking – it’ll never not be a consideration – but wow-ing and persuading customers using the power of customer experience is so important.

Do you have 100 5 – star Google Reviews, and dozens of testimonials – video or text – on your site and within your sales process?

If you do – you will know that’s the ultimate demonstration of credibilty. It shows that you are more than a safe pair of hands – it’s shows you’re the go-to people. You’ve got ultimate trust from your customers. Prospects will pay a premium for that piece of mind.

In Shep Hyken’s recent survey, The State of Customer Service and CX, I want to pull out 2 stats for you:

 42% of respondents would rather clean a toilet than call customer support.

Would this be the perception of your business? If so, you will almost certainly need to sell on price in a race to the bottom.

Turn this around. Make your business both responsive and “convenient” to do business with.

When EVERYONE in your team interacts with customers, ensure that the Human Customer Service ethos kicks in. This concept is something I’m passionate about and talk about regularly.

Here’s something else for you to consider and 100% backs up Nigel’s secret:

58% of respondents said that customer service is more important than price.

Wow. Whilst it shouldn’t be a surprise, it kind of is. And I know that stats can prove anything, however, it’s one I don’t think you can ignore.

If you’re selling purely on price, it’s time to start thinking differently.

Before you go …

Nigel runs a brilliant community and coaching program for MSPs. I should know, I’m part of it.
Use the link below to get your first month’s membership at a 40% discount.

https://thetechtribe.com/mspsecrets

 

Lessons from a client project in Dubai

Some thoughts, as I fly home from the amazing Emirate of Dubai this morning (I urge you to sample it one day). I’ve spent the last day with a growing IT business here, filming client testimonials, an about us video and planning out their shiny new website.

1) When you film testimonials with your clients, not only are you getting a brilliant and long lasting marketing asset, you as their partner, learn a LOT.

I’ll be providing uncut versions of the 10/15 minute independent interviews I conducted on their behalf (my client wasn’t in the room) so that they can learn from the feedback.

2) I’ve suggested that they also play the uncut versions to their team, so that they can see just how valued they are. They loved that idea and will absolutely be doing it.

Their team will be blown away by the feedback. Something they rarely get directly.

3) When you plan a testimonial with a client – it gives you an opportunity to catch up with them too – no agenda – no sales push – just a chat. I watched this IT business engage with everyone for up to an hour after filming.

4) Rebuilding a website is SO much more than rebuilding a website. It focuses the mind on what the message needs to be to the outside world. It’s likely that the message has changed since the last version.

I facilitated and watched a fascinating discussion unfold between three directors. It was a healthy debate and they reached a consensus.

We now have a plan for how we’re going to create this new online presence and they are in agreement about their new vision and message to the world.

5) A final point. There is nothing – NOTHING finer than creating true partnerships and relationships in business.

Sometimes you just need to get on a plane / train / in a car and meet face to face. We’ve all become very used to being on camera over the last couple of years and getting more done. Travel can be a real time waster and I’m the first to promote remote work – I’ve been doing it for years.

HOWEVER, stop for a moment and make sure you’re not hiding.
When was the last time you bought a customer lunch or dinner and found out about their family or their values?

That’s when the real magic happens.

These last 3 days have been an absolute privilege and I’ve loved every second.

Doors closing … ✈️

MSP owners and their mental health – a very personal story

Every month, I’m publishing one secret from my almost best-seller, MSP Secrets Revealed.

Reflecting on it recently, whilst I had a brilliant time researching and interviewing and I learnt a lot (more) about business, it’s only when I started to talk to people about their ‘stories,’ the interviews became even more revealing. Some IT professionals were very happy to open up, in the hope of benefiting others.

The final chapter in the book is called “Personal Stories.” There are eight in total.

Today’s excerpt is one of those stories, from a well known name in the MSP community – Mark Matthews. <—  connect with him on Linkedin

I’ve admired Mark from afar for a long time. He’s one of the few MSP owners who has managed himself out of his own business. That’s not easy. We had a phone call recently, where he talked to me about the difficulties in doing just that. He is winning though.

What was his personal driver for doing this? Because of the story he very openly describes below.

If you’re struggling with the pressure, the day to day, your mental welfare, your life in general. Stop for a moment and read Mark’s story …

It’s not about the money

Five years ago, I was really unhappy. I was working 70 hours a week and I had staff issues. I couldn’t switch off, and it wasn’t in

a good way. I felt like I was going backwards. At that stage my business had been going 26 years, so it was a strange feeling to have. It wasn’t because the business was unsuccessful or unprofitable, but personally, I felt like I was going backwards.

I was always on the phone. Holidays were a nightmare. My phone used to be next to me on the sunbed. I used to hate holidays, because I’d always end up having to ring the office.

I felt like I was blagging it. People think if you’ve been running a business for as long as I had that I must be really successful, but I didn’t feel that way. I found everything very frustrating.

I’d had enough, and I felt suffocated. Suffocated enough that, one morning five years ago, I was driving on the motorway on the way to work. I was in a nice car, I had a nice house, my kids were successful.

“10 minutes into my half hour drive, I started to cry. I was 46 and crying on the way to work. What the hell? What did I have to cry about? Luckily, my dad’s a counsellor, so I rang him and asked what I should do.”

He told me to go home and make a doctor’s appointment, as only that weekend one of his friend’s sons who worked for a worldwide software company had taken his own life by jumping out of a 3rd-floor window, so I did. I live in a small rural village, so I was fortunate to get an appointment within the hour and the GP had a list of questions to go through with me, one of which was “did I have a shotgun at home?”. I curiously asked why?

“The doctor said that three people in my village had used a shotgun to commit suicide in the last two years.”

I’m sure you can imagine, this was a massive shock that he felt the need to ask me. After that, I realised I had to take my situation seriously. I was prescribed some tablets and went home, and then pretty much stayed in bed for six months. I’d go to work for a few hours, but when I got home, I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

I then got to the stage where I didn’t care if I didn’t wake up the following day, and I pulled the covers over my head. But the next day, I decided I was going to get my arse out of bed, go back to work and start to get my life back together. One phrase in particular helped me with that: ‘There will come a time when everything is finished. That will be the beginning’.

People who knew me at the time would never have known I was suffering. I used to think it was an owner’s mask we all wear, where we always have to say things are brilliant and going great. We never say, ‘Oh, it’s shit’, because we want our peers to think well of us. Nobody would have heard me say anything negative at all.

I would have never shown anyone how I was feeling, because I would have seen it as a weakness. There’s no way I would have ever spoken to any of the people I knew about anything, even individually, because I wouldn’t want to be belittled.

Turning things around

I came home one day to find a book I hadn’t ordered had been delivered. ‘The Fred Factor’, by Mark Sanborn, is about a postman who does lots of things for people without asking for anything in return.

Prior to reading it, I was the type of person who wouldn’t do anything for somebody without getting something in return. That’s what I thought you had to do to be a businessman. If you want to grow the business right, you’ve got to get what you can. But Fred went out of his way to help the people on his post route.

“You think it’s about money. It’s not. In the last four years, I’ve reduced my working hours from 70 hours to 26.”

We had a 24% increase in turnover last year (2018), and a 110% net profit increase. I’m now allowing people to do the job that they’re paid to do. Because we’ve got trust. If you think of Patrick Lencioni’s pyramid, we can’t hit the figures if we haven’t got trust.

The best thing in the world for me, out of all of this, is that I’m the happiest I’ve been for years. I’m earning less money than I did five or six years ago, because we were a much bigger company then, but I know where I’d rather be. I’d rather be where I am now, happiest spreading the word about trust and showing the difference it can make to you and your workforce …

… because it’s not about the money.

____________

Mark Matthews is the CEO of ATG IT in the UK, and is the exec director of Network Group.

A big thank you to him for his honesty.

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Recommended books for IT managers & MSP owners

On 17th April 2020, I published my second book, MSP Secrets Revealed.

In September 2019, my original plan was to put the call out for contributions and have a great resource of secrets and tactics for 100 people by the end of that year.

It turns out that life doesn’t work like that 😮. It’s actually quite hard to write a book (even when you’re hoping that many others will contribute).

Despite it being harder than I thought, I loved the process. I interviewed at conferences, on the phone and on the street if I had to. Eventually I had managed to cajoule 85 contributors into giving me a secret – something which would help other MSPs and IT managers to improve their department or business. In total I had 101 secrets and I am still incredibly proud of the end result.

I personally learnt a huge amount about both writing and editing – but also about business itself – thanks to the conversations I had.

Books for IT managers

Part of the way through the interview process, I thought it would be interesting to get a book (and software/service) recommendation from each of the contributors as a bonus. Let’s face it, most of us read, based on recommendation and so I added their thoughts at the end of each secret.

Today, for the first time, I thought it would be interesting to bring that list of books for IT managers and MSP owners together and share it with the world.

Some of the books you will have heard of below – some you may not have.

I’ve done my best to categorise them below. I hope you find the list useful.

I’m also going to keep comments open on this post forever – please do add yours below and I’ll update the list regularly to provide a definitive ongoing list.

A list of books for IT Managers and MSP owners – as recommended by IT professionals from around the world.

Most recommened:

Traction, Gino Wickman

A number of my contributors selected Traction. It’s coming up for 10 years old now at the time of writing and is still a #1 best seller on Amazon.

So many MSPs I know run this process in their business and are all the richer for it. It’s definitely worth reading (and implementing) if you’ve not considered it before.

Rocket fuel  (by the same author of course) was also recommended too.

Second most recommended:

Incredibly, only two other books were recommended more than once –

The classic, Good to Great, Jim Collins

and

Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss – Tools for effective negotiation

In addition, another author was recommended multiple times. He is a favourite of mine – Daniel Priestley, the founder of Dent Global. His entrepreneurial books are must-reads.

If you’re looking to become an influencer in your niche, Key Person of Influence is essential reading. Oversubscribed and 24 Assets are also brilliant.

Autobiography

What’s not to love about a set of true stories, encapsulating the ups and downs of life and business?

Riding the storm, Duncan Bannatyne
Henry Fraser, The Little Big Things

General business books

A set of general business books were recommened. Most here are well known and all have a slightly different take and set of lessons within them. Excuse the self-promotion at the end of the list. To be fair it was a recommended book! Helpdesk Habits was ‘born’ the year before MSP Secrets Revealed was published.

Profit First, Mike Michalowicz
Subscribed, Tien Tzou
Humans Need Not Apply, Jerry Kaplan
BOOM! – Blow the doors off business as usual, Kevin Feiberg
Predictable Success, Les McKeown
Value-Based Fees, Alan Weiss
Getting Naked, Patrick Lencioni
Pumpkin Plan, Michael Michaelowics
The E Myth Revisited, Michael Gerber
Helpdesk Habits, by errrrr, Mark Copeman

IT specific business books

There are a number of consultants in our industry who have  been recommended within this list. You may also want to check out Paul Green’s free book too.

Managed Services in a Month, Karl Palachuk
The IT Business Owner’s Survival Guide, Richard Tubb
The Phoenix Project – Gene Kim, George Spafford, and Kevin Behr
Package, Price, Profit: The Essential Guide to Packaging and Pricing Your MSP Plans, Nigel Moore

History

I was surprised more fiction or off-business books weren’t recommended. Here’s just the one.

Devil in the White City’, Erik Larson

Books on leadership

Running a successful team rarely comes naturally and I think it speaks volumes that so many recommended books on leadership in a quest to improve how teams are managed.

Radical Candor, Kim Scott
The One Minute Manager – Ken Blanchard
Effective Executive, Peter Drucker
The ride of a lifetime, Bob Iger
What Successful People Know about Leadership, John Maxwell
Great Game of Business, Jack Stack

Personal development

The last chapter of the MSP Secrets book contains a number of revealing personal stories. So often it’s impossible to split business from our personal lives. I’m still grateful to the contributors about how candid they were. So many of us are always looking to improve in different ways. This list certainly can help with that.

The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict, the Arbinger Institute
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth
The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg
The Fred Factor, Mark Sanborn
The Go-Giver, Bob Burg
Atomic Habits, James Clear

Sales & marketing

This is the largest category – and possibly for good reason. It’s one of the most difficult areas to get right when running a business – particularly, if your background is in IT. Having a grounding in this discipline is key. Know enough to hold a sensible conversation with experts. Be able to challenge and question what an agency recommends.

Selling the Invisible, Harry Beckwith
Fanatical Prospecting, Jeb Blount
Pitch Anything, Oren Klaff
They Ask You Answer, Marcus Sheridan
F🤍cking Good Content, Dan Kelsall
Words That Sell, Richard Bayan
The Power of Moments, Chip & Dan Heath
Measure what Matters, John Doerr
Commonsense Direct and Digital Marketing, Drayton Bird

As a reminder, I’m also going to keep comments open on this post forever – please do add yours below and I’ll update the list regularly to provide a definitive ongoing list.

Please note – I need to tell you that all links are Amazon affiliate links. Should you click and buy something – eventually, that may just buy me a cup of coffee – so thank you.

Treat customers like you’re dating

This is the first article in a series of adapted excerpts from my book, MSP Secrets Revealed.

I wanted to share some of the interviews I did for that book with the world at large.

The first one is the highlights of an interview with the very awesome Juan Fernandez, previously of Imagenet Consulting. He exited that business in 2021 and is now on a crusade to help MSPs in lots of different ways.

Juan has an infectious personality – and it’s been tool long since we’ve met. It’s my turn to beat him at bowling.

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Juan is the ultimate advocate for relationship creation, which is appropriate, as we met at an after conference party in a bowling alley in Phoenix, AZ. He was much better than me.

He learnt to sell from an early age. His Grandmother sent him out to cut grass for a $1 … and he would come back empty handed. She told him it was because he didn’t know how to sell himself. She taught him to add value first, then to sell yourself and finally trust kicks in.

Juan was recently asked by a colleague, “If you were still on the phones, trying to sell, what would you say to your targets?”

He replied – “I’d never call anyone.”

Invest in relationships

Juan has built two businesses – and at no point in their evolution did he or anyone else ‘hit the phones’.

Instead, he has continuously invested in relationships. He taught his VCIO teams (franchise holders) to do exactly the same.

He is a big advocate for community engagement programs and meetups. He finds people he wants to work with … and then builds relationships with them. Caveat being that those individuals are part of companies suitable for Imagenet’s services.

He trains a lot of teams and goes to great lengths to explain that when you meet with a customer, you must never assume you have a deal.

“It’s very easy to forget that a customer doesn’t realise they’re in a sales cycle. Instead, teach yourself to remove the concept of selling something from your mind, regardless of how the conversation develops.”

Stop jumping to solve problems

Juan knows that the engineers amongst us typically jump on problems they can solve.

If they know, through questioning, that a customer has a need for a 4082 multiband gigablaster, conversations then tend to focus on selling just that – it’s almost a relief that there’s an opportunity to solve a problem and therefore sell something.

Juan’s advice is to do the opposite. File those thoughts away and remember to always “treat customers like you’re dating!”

“Salespeople need to become solutioneers.”

With his considerable experience, Juan points out that it’s important not to know where a customer is at right now, but to focus on where they want to be in the future. He also believes it’s not important to know how they got to where they are today.

Instead, focus on three outcomes – return on investment, employee productivity and profitability. Steer conversations and questions to these big picture areas, as opposed to plugging a firewall gap. That can of course come in time but should never be your initial focus with a prospect.

If you know you are an ‘accidental entrepreneur’ … you saw an opportunity and set up a business around it, it’s possible you haven’t ever had a need or been forced to work out how to build a business and create trust.

Juan’s path was different. He resigned from his job and actively set out to grow an MSP from nothing. He believes this forced him to focus on relationship selling and building trust, as he didn’t have a problem to solve initially.

Juan has one last lesson – his motto in business:

“Provide quality products and services that everyone can afford and add so much value they can’t afford not to buy.

Be the difference …”

Ask questions. Build relationships. Earn trust.

You won’t go far wrong.

 

The best question to ask a brand new managed services client

I love working with smart people. It’s inspiring.

I worked with someone a while ago who really gets selling.

He understands how to get inside buyers’ heads and the concept of talking a buyer’s language and really – I mean – really – figuring out what they are looking for in a service.

Adrian Evans is an author (of Be a job magnet), headhunter and career coach and I helped him to build something rather awesome for one of his clients a few years back. I know it’s awesome, because it was going to be solving their problems and giving them something, which they don’t have today which will genuinely move them forwards as a business.

How do he was was building something which would move them forward as a business?

Because he has asked just the right question before we even started.

“How will you judge this?”

So simple, yet genius.

He has got his client to lay out to him their success criteria – and specifically how they will feel when it’s right, how their senior management will react to something and what they’re expecting from a deliverable in one simple question.

I love it and I will be using it myself in the days and weeks to come.

The emotional side of business

When contracts between clients and MSPs are created – there will be metrics / legals / specs and SLAs stipulated and that’s all as it should be.

What’s fascinating to me however, is that contract renewals are so often based on relationships and gut feelings.

How often does a client really pour over historical metrics to determine whether to sign for another 12 or 36 months?

Typically those decisions are made based on relationships – and how a business owner and their team have FELT about how the service has gone. They are constantly judging how you operate in the background. Mostly they won’t even realise they’re doing it too.

If you have an idea upfront, once a contract is signed, about how all the key players within your new client are likely to judge you – then you’ve a client for life. It’s just so empowering.

Typical answers to that key question

“I’d like to sleep better at night”.

“I would like you to take the pain away”.

“I need someone I can trust on my side”.

“I need to be operational 24×7”.

“I want an IT partner who I can get on with”.

Just that one answer, can hold so much more enlightenment than the 20 page managed services agreement – if you think to ask it.

Why not add it to your sales process today?