I had lunch with a friend a few weeks ago. He works in sales for a small technology company with about 50 employees. He asked me what I knew about CRM products, and then went on to detail his frustration with the sales tools his company provides. Like many companies which offer technical solutions, his company was started by a founder who personally programmed every single internal tool, including an out-of-date CRM.
And it worked for many years while revenues hovered in the hundreds of thousands. But with revenues well into the millions, the tools for tracking customers and business trends were holding the company back from potential growth. His questions are basic, but come with many ramifications if handled improperly:
- How long must we keep customer data?
- Must the data be encrypted?
- Does any of this change whether customer data is keep onsite vs. in the cloud?
- Are we able to share any of that data with partners?
Keep in mind that he works for a company that’s been around less than a decade and has seen sales spike over the past couple of years. It’s not uncommon for small companies to stitch together a couple of arcane products in an attempt to create their own CRM, accounting or sales tracking solutions. In fact, many small business owners will look back on their ability to run a lean machine as one of their primary reasons for success. I’ve worked for a number of companies with “homegrown” solutions, and in my experience, employees learn to route around the shortcomings of the software, totally oblivious to the fact that far better solutions exist.
For an entrepreneur, it’s not easy to admit to a skills gap or admit that you might need to bring in someone with the expertise to take the company to the next level. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons you should consider partnering with an MSP.
To Fill Organizational Gaps
Because each company is composed of employees who possess a myriad of talents, the gaps an MSP can fill will vary by company. It helps to assess your current employees and note those gaps that may fall outside the core competency of your talent pool. It’s not easy, especially among management, to admit, “We are not good at IT, and we need help.” But the sooner you can admit this, the closer you are to a solution.
Like companies, MSPs tend to focus on a few areas of expertise. A reputable MSP will work to understand what gaps you need filled and recommend a solution or refer you to someone who can. You may have an experienced IT staff on hand that can manage the day-to-day tasks. But as your company grows you may not be able to hire into specialized areas quickly enough. A small company may need help getting a new CRM off the ground while a medium-sized company will need a full security overhaul because they are launching a new service that requires keeping customer data safe and secure in the cloud.
A few years back, I worked for a technical services company that hosted websites for a few dozen customers. Over time, our customers wanted to integrate their products and services into the site requiring ecommerce knowledge we didn’t possess. Our ISP put us in contact with an MSP who specialized in exactly what we needed to continue servicing our growing customer base. The cost of bringing on an MSP to assist with ecommerce packages was surpassed by the additional services we could sell to our customers. It was a win/win.
If you’re a small IT shop, maybe 2 or 3 person, you probably feel like the work often exceeds the allocated hours. While a company is growing its sales, marketing and support staff, the IT department can get overlooked. I mean, how hard is it to create a few more email accounts and expand the storage? When IT staff is doing their job and email and internal tools are all running smoothly, it’s easy for management to overlook the impact that growth has on IT. This is where partnering with an MSP can pay large dividends.
No more is this true than when your company offers a seasonal product or service that taxes your IT staff at certain times of the year. Augmenting your staff with an MSP can give your team a breather and allow them to keep the machine running while an MSP can focus on issues that crop up during times of growth and high demand.
When interviewing MSPs, you’ll want to explain what’s likely to fall through the cracks when the business cranks things up a few notches. Your MSP may be able to help you better plans for these times. I worked for a company where the MSP not only helped us through handling the holiday rush of orders, but helped us create a plan for the next year that helped alleviate some of the supply and labor challenges we assumed were standard for our market.
The key here is to be honest and plan ahead of the busy season. The last thing an IT manager needs is another group to manage, and detailed planning can keep everyone productive even during the most hectic times of the year.
Staying Ahead of the Technology Curve
Let’s go back to my friend’s complaint about his company’s CRM solution for a moment. His manager doesn’t have time to research, rank and implement a CRM product and so they continue to limp along, year after year. This situation is basically tailor-made for the MSP who understands CRM and can quickly make a recommendation and create a plan to implement.
Even if you hire the best and the brightest in the market, no IT professional can keep up-to-speed on every new technology or advancement. Using technology to put data in the hands of your employees can be a huge competitive advantage. But partnering with an experienced MSP can give your company an advantage by having someone who can react to changing technology and trends in the market.
And let’s be honest. As an outsider, an MSP can often push through initiatives that tend to bog down when they come through internal channels. You might find that your suggestions are met with indifference while the exact same recommendation from an MSP will be met with open arms and an approved budget. Sometimes that’s how business is done, but don’t take it personally.
If you speak with managers who have partnered with an MSP, you will probably hear them wish they had done so sooner. Keep in mind that that an MSP’s goals are almost always aligned with yours: when you succeed, they succeed. The best MSPs have several areas of focus and will tailor a solution to your needs. That can mean anything from serving in the CIO role temporarily or augmenting your staff on a part-time basis.
I’ve heard some managers lament that MSPs are expensive, and I don’t want to downplay the costs of engaging with the best. Like anything else, the best MSPs don’t come cheap. But if they are managed properly they are often a bargain compared to adding additional full-time staff. Add up the total investment in an employee earning $80,000 along with taxes, benefits and 401k match, and you might find the costs of an MSP to be a lot more palatable.
One last piece of advice: If you’ve never worked with an MSP, it never hurts to ask your colleagues for referrals. You’ll likely find they have strong opinions either way. Good luck!