By Raymond Vrabel, Director, Technical Account Management, Continuum Managed IT Services
The fourth installment of a new monthly blog series offering tips and best practices on various ways MSPs can help their SMB clients work through the most challenging daily business issues.
In last month’s installment of, “Better Call an MSP,” I discussed how to manage potentially non-profitable clients. This month, I discuss concerns that I have recently been hearing within our industry on how telecommunications companies (or telecoms) are being deemed a threat to solution providers. Frankly, it has been my experience that MSPs do not need to feel threatened by telecoms, and if there is talk that telecoms are set to move into the managed services game, it won’t be for some time. Further, if this shift does gradually happen, there are ways that MSPs and telecoms can work together, rather than against each other. Check out some of the questions I have posed below that may help to ease concerns and generate potential opportunity.
1.) Are Telecoms Really Providing Services? While a mobile phone is a “service,” I see this as more of a product sell, rather than a full gamut of services offerings. A telecom provides a phone and all of the services that come with a specific package, but it is not adding on security and IT-as-a-Service with that package. As in a true managed services model, someone still needs to deliver the “service” when something on your mobile device breaks. Some of the larger telecoms might be starting out with services agreements, but their definition of managed services is much different than that of a true MSP. For instance, in thinking about all things IT, a telecom might have experience in this area, but that doesn’t mean they have implemented real security like patch management or anti-virus or malware management. They might have dealt with questions like, “My phone isn’t working, what do I do?” It’s a whole different world in managed services. I’m not saying that they won’t eventually get to this point, but I think it will take time. For MSPs that want to avoid this eventual competition, show immediate value or possibly face being undercut by price as opposed to services.
2.) Can Telecoms Truly “Speak” to the SMB? It’s true that the large telecom can easily train salespeople to hit the streets. However, the MSP has the SMB relationship in place. Even if the MSP has more of the technical strength, that is more powerful because they want someone who is both a subject matter expert and technical advisor. SMBs need someone who is a solution seller; someone who truly gets what they are selling and doesn’t need long sales cycles to do it. At the end of the day, SMBs are looking for value and that doesn’t start until the service is delivered. It’s important to have someone doing the service but also understanding the clients’ needs. While I agree that telecoms have selling experience are business-minded and have the financial capital and flexibility to do something like building their own NOC, they are not like the MSP that has been through the actual building process, usually working together with a vendor to do this. Can a telecom do something like this? Sure, but the MSP has the experience and the connection with your vendor partner to provide the scale and mass in order to overcome a potential threat like this.
3.) What About Partnering and Working Together? I’ve outlined a couple of areas where MSPs excel. Now, how about taking these positive qualities and using them to work with the telecoms as they begin to get into services? This is especially helpful as some of the larger telecoms have begun to establish partner programs catered to solution providers working with SMBs. This can be viewed as a true partnership and collaboration rather than a threat. Of course, since many of these programs are new, like anything else, there will be bumps in the road for both the telecom and the MSP. However, one way to overcome this is to first figure out how both sides can be “friends” and combine resources and best practices to build out a solid partner program. For the telecoms, they have the sales and marketing powerhouse, staff and capital to back a solid program, while the MSPs have the technical and SMB industry knowledge, as well as the current end user relationships. The telecoms might have the manpower and the money, but they need the help of the MSPs to implement a true as-a-service model for SMB customers. MSPs have the potential to be very valuable in this situation because they can position themselves as subject-matter experts and technical advisors when telecoms begin to establish their partner programs and eventual implementations.
Bottom line, MSPs and telecoms can work together, not against each other when it comes to this possible evolution. Both groups have their own strengths that can be exploited in the managed services space. Telecoms don’t have to be an impending threat to solution providers, even if they up their game within services, because there will always be a need for collaboration from both sides. With the strengths the telecoms can bring to managed services, look to partner with them for increasing opportunities rather than as the competition.
Raymond Vrabel is Continuum's Director of Technical Account Management and participates in product and service growth initiatives. He manages Continuum's Technical Account Management team, supporting over 3,500 partners worldwide. Vrabel has more than 15 years of experience in the IT industry, specializing in managed IT services, disaster recovery and cloud solutions. Follow him on Twitter: @rayvrabel.