As a managed services provider in the SMB market, the challenge of growing your operational maturity, bringing on more clients and simultaneously caring for existing accounts can be daunting. From the moment that first contract is signed, tickets begin to come at your team at 1000 mph from all directions – all with the same level of urgency. Your support staff gets stretched too thin, yet all the while your sales team is out looking for new clients that will also need support!
So, the questions begin to pile on. Do you invest in a bigger support team so you’re ready for newly acquired business? Or do you hire an outside sales rep to generate the revenue to pay for your team? Do you hire an internal account manager to offload the customer service requests? Or do you invest in more specialized training for your current team? The list goes on and on. But as the old adage goes, the key is to "work smarter, not harder."
At Southern Data Solutions, we face the same challenges every day. We are constantly striving to hit the sweet spot of proper revenue growth, account management and new client acquisition as we aim to hit our goals in 2017. Unfortunately, there’s no secret sauce to these challenges, but there are some ways we have seen success in reducing the craziness and chaos that ensues when trying to grow our business while keeping current clients happy.
Like many of you, we’re working hard in 2017 to improve our operational efficiency in all aspects of sales, onboarding, support and account management. And like any great quest, this will be an ongoing work in progress as long as we are in business. We've already grown by leaps and bounds since we first opened our doors in 2005, and along the way I’ve learned some key strategies for achieving operational efficiency in a time of growth.
Embrace Automation and Outsourcing
Automation is huge, whether it be sales processes or ticket handling. The first step to reducing the clutter that gets thrown at your team is to automate the tasks that don’t need to be done manually anymore.
When we put a system in place that began to prioritize and categorize tickets for our support staff before it got to their desk, we were able to drastically reduce frustration – for both our clients and our staff – and improve overall response times and resolutions. Our support team knows that not every ticket represents the same level of priority just because every client expresses the same high level of urgency when submitting a ticket. Betsy at XYZ Corp may urgently need to print payroll on a Friday, so her ticket is marked “Priority 1–Urgent,” but a server just crashed on Mike at ABC Co. and 100+ employees are without connectivity until it's fixed. This is where both automation and outsourcing come in handy.
We've relied on IntelliMon to help make sense of alert notifications, tickets and critical events. It gives us the ability to properly sort, categorize and prioritize every event so that by the time it reaches our team it goes to the right person at the right time. We've greatly reduced "noisy" tickets and bumps in the night by giving each request a proper workflow, or in some cases, automatically remediating them through pre-built scripts.
That's also where outsourcing comes in handy. After automation handles each alert, ticket and event, it is then sent to the proper channel. In some cases, that's our senior engineering team and in other cases, that's the 700+ Continuum NOC. Whatever can and should be handled by the NOC is handled, and whatever is left to be escalated is sent to our team of rock stars (aka Senior Engineering Team) so they can keep being rock stars to our clients.
Set the Right Expectations
Let’s talk sales first. Can you imagine if your best sales guy showed up on a Monday morning with a signed contract in hand for 100+ users and 15 servers that needed to be onboarded by Friday because that's what he promised the client? No thanks!
Setting the right expectation with your sales team requires communication to your support team about what's coming down the pipeline so they can be prepared for even the smallest win and easily onboard, train and turn up new clients. We offset this by meeting regularly with both our sales and support teams to discuss opportunities as they’re being led to the close. We also set expectations for how many new clients we are trying to acquire each month and stick to that plan as best we can. Our leadership can then prepare for new business by hiring new personnel if necessary, or by implementing new support and automation tools to properly bring the client on board.
On the other end, we set the right expectation for the client by walking them through what our ticketing process looks like. Of course, it takes time for new clients to get used to how we do things because, like any relationship, there’s a process that requires trust and mutual respect. If we take time to train and teach our clients how to submit support requests and what to expect when they submit one, they are less likely to use improper channels or become frustrated when asked to wait for a request to be fulfilled.
Put this practice into action by planning lunch n' learn training sessions with your new clients that include Q&A's, education and expectation setting as part of your onboarding process. Make sure each employee feels good about working with your company, and not just the person who signed the contract. Trust me, this goes a long way.
Block Out Your Time
As you grow, your entire company will wear multiple hats. This can make focus, efficiency and day-to-day quality of life a real challenge. Eventually you'll hire people to do only one job with excellence, but until that time comes you may have a Marketing Director who provides some HR work, or a Sales Engineer who tackles technical support on the side. While this admittedly is not ideal, it's very common for small MSPs as they mature.
When faced with multiple duties and responsibilities the best thing to do is stop multitasking! I know that in this frenetic and busy world, multitasking not only seems like a way to get a lot done, it has become our default setting when sitting down to do work. Your sales guys are prospecting while also responding to client emails. Your engineers are answering a support request while working on a scope of work. And your HR person is issuing checks while also buying office supplies!
If you have more than one set of responsibilities for your company or you’re the leader of your staff, get yourself and your team to quit multitasking and start blocking out time for only one task or a directly-related set of tasks at a time. For example, you can take care of account management and support your clients if you set aside a small amount of time for only existing account-related work. Let's say you have 20 clients and you want to get at least 10 more this year. At the same time, you want to make sure each of those clients gets a phone call twice a month to stay ahead of satisfaction issues, upsell and schedule quarterly business reviews. If you block all your client calls together twice a month, you can make 20 calls in an hour. This means it would only take you two hours a month to call each client!
Clustering related activity to related goals is how your entire team can work more efficiently. Doing this allows you to hire more strategically, instead of reactively, and feel far less insanity around each day's work load as you increase your retention and grow your revenue.
Are you facing similar challenges as you grow your MSP? Share them in the comments below!
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