With the first month of 2016 already behind us, you should hopefully have already made headway on your 2016 business plan. In order to reach these goals, you can't just have vendors. You have to have true business partners. Whether you are searching for the right IT management platform provider or evaluating if your current solution is right for you, here are 10 red flags to look out for in any third party business relationship.

4 Red Flags When Searching for a New Vendor

1. They Think All That Glitters Is Gold

The first warning sign to look for should trigger a straight “thank you, but no thank you” thought during the initial meeting. Stay clear of the “dog and pony show.” In sales, this phrase is used to describe pitches that are overly produced and showy, but devoid of any substance. If your provider shows up with a presentation that's all flash and makes unrealistic or salesy claims, cut and run. At the end of the day, they are more interested in saying what they have to to make the sale, rather than helping you do your job better. If it seems too good to be true, it may not be true for you.

That brings me to my next red flag...

2. They Don't Want to Get to Know You 

Second, be aware and take notice of whether or not the vendor attempts to understand your business, its revenue and profitability goals and those of your clients. Long before making their pitch, an IT management platform provider, for instance, should ask about business challenges, such as hiring and retaining IT talent or having the ability to onboard and support new clients without letting others suffer. Otherwise, that presentation will lack any business value for you and will just be the "dog and pony show" described above. In a true channel exclusive model, that provider's job is to fully understand your target audience and help you grow your margins with sales and marketing support.  

3. They Don't Listen to You or Answer Your Questions When You Finally Get a Word in Edgewise

If the vendor does not seem as though they are listening or genuinely comprehending what you have to say, they have no business being involved in your business. To them, you're just another account. They may be just trying to "butter you up" by telling you what they think all clients want to hear. The sales conversation should be just that - a conversation! Watch out for vendors who seem to only care about selling themselves, rather than listening to what you have to say about your business. Ask the tough questions that they may not want to answer, and make them. They should answer honestly or confirm that they'll follow up with the right answer if they can't help you at that moment. 

4. You Haven't Done Your Research

Talk with other MSPs who have worked with the vendor. There are so many ways to easily and quickly get information on vendors now-a-days. Social networks, search engines, articles and customer reviews are all useful channels. Are the reviews overwhelmingly negative? Keep tally! Examples of issues to flag when researching IT management platform providers include unreliable and unsecure technology or absent technical support and account management. Do your due diligence and browse online feedback to help you make your decision easier.

6 Red Flags When Working with a New Vendor

1. Their Solution is Not Built with You in Mind

This red flag is specific to the IT channel and so one of the most important for MSPs to watch for! As an MSP, you need to partner with someone who understands that their success is wholly dependent on your own. By having business goals that are aligned, that means your IT management platform provider should be someone that's bought into the channel exclusive model. Your remote monitoring and management (RMM) and backup and disaster recovery (BDR) tools should be built with you, the MSP, in mind. Your needs differ from your end users', and your provider should recognize this. Look for solutions that offer easy management and the ability to execute things like scripts and patching across multiple sites. Additionally, you may want to white label your RMM reports or have a larger team of skilled technicians available to troubleshoot issues with BDR. Whatever it is you need, make sure you know and hold your provider accountable for delivering it. If they can't, part ways. It's not you. It's them.

2. Their Pricing Model Includes Hidden Costs and Drains Your Bank Account

Does your vendor's pricing model align with yours? Beware of those that initially sell you on a fixed number of licenses, regardless of whether you use them or not. Instead, seek a partnership with no annual contracts in which your vendor suggests only those licenses that will benefit specific areas of your business on a month-to-month basis. Another bullet to dodge, vendors that regularly get you with hidden costs like maintenance fees are sucking your funds dry. Having to pay these hidden costs puts downward pressure on your margins. To maximize profitability, however, consider providers that offer a fixed monthly fee for their preventative maintenance tools and 24x7x365 technical support. Rather than having to pay to staff techs through the night when you can't predict what the alert volume will be, spending a set amount each month to offload this labor to something like a network operations center (NOC) helps you predict expenses and balance cash flow. 

3. Their Technology Is Unreliable and Unsupported

Are you often frustrated with inconsistencies in the product's performance and a general lack of technical support from your vendor? Do you experience frequent issues working with these tools, but little guidance? Another red flag to pay attention to is whether or not your provider's products and services are difficult to use or are unreliable. If you are paying for a product, you shouldn't have to worry about the soundness of its technology, but you should be provided with a clear understanding of how to use it and troubleshoot any issues that may come up. Your vendor should provide you with all of the knowledge needed to master their tools, at no additional cost to you. Look for IT management platform providers that offer training courses on their product. At the same time, you should never feel like you have to fend for yourself. The "instructions are in the box" mentality is passive and doesn't help you scale your business operations. Look for a vendor that wraps its technology in 24x7x365 support and does whatever they can to resolve issues that may arise so your techs can focus on higher value work.   

4. They Haven't Made Strategic Tech Partnerships

Your vendor should be visible within the Channel community. If they neglect the opportunity to network and maintain relationships with fellow vendors, they are most likely one, two, or even ten steps behind the competition. In today's era, change is constant! Your provider should be familiar with the other technical offerings you depend upon, and build mutually advantageous relationships with them. An example of this would be an RMM provider that's Professional Services Automation (PSA) tool agnostic, meaning their product offers an API with the PSA solution you already use, saving you from the headache of a migration. New innovations, improved products, different services and new trends in the channel all translate to revenue streams down the line. Only through keeping a finger on the pulse of IT and partnering with strategic players in the space can your vendor keep your MSP business competitive and on an upward trajectory.  

5. They Don't Attend or Host Major Industry Events 

This example continues the last in that it involves a vendor who's ignorant of or uninterested in the Channel ecosystem. If you start to notice your vendor is frequently absent from major industry events, you should take a second to ask yourself why this may be. Events provide a great amount of opportunities for staying up to date with new changes, challenges and solutions in the industry you work in. These events allow attendees to discuss the latest trends, network and form new strategic relationships and have the face time they don't get when they're geographically spread all over. For us, Navigate, our annual user conference, and European Partner Day provide the perfect opportunity to catch up with partners who live on the other side of the country or in another country entirely. If you notice your vendor's presence at events is dwindling or they haven't organized a mass meet-up to help their partners learn how to get the most out of their technology, while encouraging them to meet and learn from one another, get out there and find providers who have.

6. They're Not Updating Their Products 

Last but certainly not least, steer clear of vendors that sit idly by and fail to regularly update and improve their products. For this breed, they either don't have the necessary resources (do you want to be constrained by their own constraints?) or all they really want is to get their money out of you. They don't value your feedback. Vendors that fall into this latter situation could care less if you are happy with the products or services they provide. You should look for a provider that not only listens to and implements your feedback, but also solicits it. They should realize that in order to offer technology that's built for the MSP, they have to understand how to optimize the MSP's use of their product or platform. This combined with all of the other listed qualities to look for in your IT management platform determine whether or not the relationship you have with your vendor is a true business partnership, and not just something you're invoiced for.