While Thanksgiving may be over, it's important to show thanks to your clients during the Holiday Season. There are many ways to do this, but it's important to make sure that your clients understand how important they are to your business, as it helps strengthen the business relationship you both share.

On this week's episode of MSPradio, we welcome back Bryan Gilliom, Founder of GrowMyMSP.com, who gives us a number of effective strategies for showing thanks to your clients and your employees this Holiday Season.

Tune in to MSPradio and get in the spirit of giving thanks!

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Episode Transcript:

Nate:                       Hey folks welcome back to another episode of MSP Radio I am your host Nate Teplow and we have a great guest here with me today, a returning guests to the show. His name is Bryan Gilliom. Bryan how are you doing today?

Bryan:                     Great Nate, how are you?

Nate:                       I am doing well. We are thrilled to have you back on the show. Hopefully you listeners recognize it Bryan’s name, he has been on here a few times; once at Navigate and also on a previous episode so we are excited to have him back.

                                    And today we’re going to be talking about a little bit about giving thanks to your clients. We have Thanksgiving coming up quickly and we are going to touch on a few ways that you can show this appreciation to your clients and give back to them and some of the important strategies to do so.

                                    Before we get into it we would like to remind you to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes. You can get these episodes straight to your smart phone or to your iTunes account. Follow us on Twitter using the handle @follow continuum and you can let us know what you think of the show with the hashtag MSP Radio.

                                    So again Bryan is here with us today. If you haven’t heard his previous MSP Radio episodes, he has a ton of experience running MSP businesses, IT businesses; I think you run how many multiple…

Bryan:                     Yeah, I have built 2 seven-figure practices in my career as well as before I started my business worked for several other at that time IT kind of companies, service providers.

Nate:                       Great. He’s got fantastic experience and now you are… You got your own consulting coaching practice called Grow my MSP correct?

Bryan:                     That’s right, GrowMyMSP.com. I work with MSPs to help them break through whatever is keeping them plateaued in a particular growth level so whether that be compensation, agreement sales, operation service delivery, I meet them wherever they are stuck and help them get unstuck.

Nate:                       Your, because there are a lot of places where you can get stuck in this industry.

Bryan:                     There absolutely are.

Nate:                       Great, so we have heard a little bit about Grow My MSP last time when you were on the show. Tell us a little bit about how it’s going and your progress with it.

Bryan:                     It’s going well. We had a great reception at Navigate, gave a great presentation on how to give a great quarterly business review, annual business review in order to become a trusted advisor and really build that long-term relationship with a client, actually repeated that in a webinar earlier this week. So that was great, got several… Had some great conversations, have some new folks I am working with out of that                  so always good to come out of a conference with some new folks to work with and help. So the business is growing and hope to be releasing the breakthrough MSP book by the end of the year so hopefully the editors can not bull with me but we are getting there, we’re getting close to having that finished.

Nate:                       Yeah, cool. We’re looking forward to seeing that hopefully…

Bryan:                     Absolutely.

Nate:                       … Before the end of the year. So like I mentioned earlier we’ve got Thanksgiving approaching and obviously it’s the time of the year to give thanks. And I think a lot of MSP business owners out there, they can get a little too remote sometimes either take the clients for granted or just with all the you know technologies at hand with RMM software and whatnot you can do most of your job remotely but it is important to show that thanks, stay in front of them, maintain that face time. So I was hoping you could tell us a little bit just about your experience as an MSP business owner, some of the things you did to show your client thanks and just some strategies for our audience to hopefully implement.

Bryan:                     Sure. I think you bring up a very good point. I mean in the world we live in now where we have all these great automation tools and the NOC that we can offload things to and that kind of thing, it can become very easy when you walk in. Today your first focus is on the clients that are having problems usually aren’t your best clients. And then your next focus is on finding new clients so that’s not true, the squeaky wheel is getting the attention and the people that are really providing for your business and providing for your employees aren’t making noise so you are right, it can be easy to let that kind of a fall by the wayside. And as we head into increasingly commoditized world, our relationship with our clients is probably the most important thing we have moving forward, making sure that they want to continue to do business with us.

Nate:                       Yeah.

Bryan:                     So having a really good business review that you do periodically and part of that obviously is thanking the client for their business and expressing appreciation to them, I think you have to be creative. You might have to do the obligatory Christmas card or the obligatory box of Christmas cookies or something like that but so many of those come in, they are so transitory, they’re kind of expected at this point…

Nate:                       Yeah.

Bryan:                     … That I am not sure you get a lot of impact out of doing it. You might get some impact out of not doing it. But you don’t get a lot of impact and retention out of doing it. Perhaps it is having one of your geeky engineers put together a holiday technology gift guide…

Nate:                       Yep.

Bryan:                     … And passed that out. At my previous practice we sponsored… We went and found some local families that really couldn’t do Christmas on their own and we would sponsor them. Sometimes we would do some of that in our clients’ names and share with them what we had done.

                                    I think it is important, the big thing is if you are not putting some thought into it and really trying to figure out how you can make an impression on that business owner, because he is in the middle of his busy day, he’s going through all the stuff that he normally does, so if a card comes across his desk or something like that, if you are going to do that be sure you handwrite it, be sure you handwrite the envelope. I mean there is lots of… Don’t put the laser printed label on the envelope and have your signature printed on the card when you send it out. And I know, lost this at Christmas but once we get into Thanksgiving up in a week or 2 we are starting to plan all our stuff for that so… Consider what if you were in their shoes would be valuable to you and what would make their life easier or something that would really make an impression with the value you have knowing technology.

Nate:                       Yeah, and we were talking before the show and you mentioned that you used to have your technicians actually bring these items even if it is just a bottle of wine or a box of cookies like it’s not good to just to send it to them but make sure you have someone going to represent your company and establish that face time with the client.

Bryan:                     Yeah, and I think you want to, if at all possible you want to make an appointment and you want to have time to not only present them the gift but to take that opportunity to thank them and it does need to be whoever has the most solid relationship with that client, if you are in your structure there is an account manager or a sales rep that has that strong relationship but then maybe consider taking the senior engineer out who is working with them all the time too.

Nate: Hmmm.

Bryan:                     I mean this is an opportunity if you are really grateful for their business, then you investing some time from your key people is not a big thing to ask right?

Nate:                       Yep, Absolutely.

Bryan:                     So if you are not willing to invest time from your key people to say thank you then how grateful are you?

Nate:                       Yep, exactly. And is about the personal message too, I mean I have seen a service I think it is called V-Snap, it allows you to send a 1 minute personal video message just from your computer; very simple, and you can do it for 30 clients in theoretically 30 minutes, in half an hour. And by just saying a very personal thank you, saying their name, maybe a quick story from the year, inside joke that you have, something like that you need to get creative and establish that personal relationship.

Bryan:                     Absolutely, because if it feels manufactured, if it feels like something you just did 30 of them, something handed you your top 30 client list and you did it, then you are not going to make an impression, you are really kind of wasting your time and money.

Nate:                       Yeah, absolutely. So is this something you should do for all your clients or just your top clients? I know you mentioned the ones that are making the least noise are probably the most important and the ones that are falling off the radar but shouldn’t you be kind of doing this across your client base or how do you typically do it when you are running your own business?

Bryan:                     So, for my practice we typically, I mentioned the top 20, or top 30 list, we went through and we would identify the top 20, each sales rep. So we might have a junior sales rep who didn’t have as many big clients but we still allocated for each sales rep, we allocated their top 20 clients.

Nate:                       Hmmmm.

Bryan:                     And that was more around; what we could afford to do right?

Nate:                       Yes.

Bryan:                     So I think the answer to your question is there is not a hard and fast rule. I mean in a perfect world we would go thank all our clients because the ones that are producing a lot of money now we want to thank them for. The ones that may not be perhaps there’s an opportunity to grow your presence there, perhaps there is an opportunity at least to put your relationship on a different footing with that client and getting a better place for next year. So I would think creative, create a time and expense budget that you are willing to do and then figure out how many people you can recognize in that budget and do it right.

Nate:                       Hmm, yeah. Cool. And it’s not just about building goodwill too like we’re kind of talking about here but it’s kind of a sales opportunity for you too. I mean you can approach them with this gift, with a card or whatever that may be but if you can set up an appointment with it; you can also talk about their priorities for the upcoming year and use it as a way to get a foothold in that next year.

Bryan:                     I think so, just be very, very careful about that because if it feels like you’ve manufactured an opportunity coming in for a sales call…

Nate:                       Yep.

Bryan:                     … Then your gift will be colored…

Nate:                       Yeah.

Bryan:                     … As a sales gift.

Nate:                       Yep.

Bryan:                     And so I think my advice in that situation is absolutely an opportunity to talk with them about what they’ve got planned for their business, what they are looking at doing the next year, what went well for them and that kind of thing. But maybe save the, “Oh, I have a service that can help you with that” for a follow-up call.

Nate:                       Yeah, but you can uncover a need and not have it be a goal but talk with them, converse with them, see how things are doing and maybe you can understand that they having a problem with XYZ and then later in the year; January, February, you can follow up and talk about that.

Bryan:                     And you will be magically just calling them up about this problem they are having and they would have forgotten that… By the time they would have forgotten that they had told you about it.

Nate:                       Exactly, and you are just reading their mind.

Bryan:                     Exactly!

Nate:                       That’s great. That’s great. So we actually, I think we’re going to take a quick commercial break here. But coming up next I wanted to shift this a little bit towards the internal employees because obviously it’s important to talk to your clients because they are the ones that give you revenue. But your employees need to be thanked too and they are an important, very important part of your business. So coming up after the commercial break we will talk with Bryan about some strategies for showing thanks to your internal team and how to use them to grow your business and achieve success in your business. So see you all in a few minutes after this commercial break.


Nate:                       All right. Welcome back from our commercial break, you are here on MSP Radio. I am your host Nate Teplow and we are talking with Bryan Gilliom. He is here visiting our Boston office so I thought I would sit down with him and pick his brain because he is a great MSP expert.

                                    So we were just talking about giving thanks to your clients, obviously Thanksgiving is coming up and it’s an important topic I think for MSPs but we’re going to shift it more internally now and talk about some strategies on how to give thanks to your employees and your technicians and make sure that they feel that they are appreciated for all the work that they do for your company.

                                    So tell us a little bit about some of the things that you did for your employees when it comes to internal gifts or compensation in terms of showing them thanks.

Bryan:                     So I think what it is important as we go into the holidays everybody likes trying to do something for their employees for the holidays, and I think that is important but it really does… It is something that you need to do year-round. I mean I give you an example. We had a relationship with a local spa resort kind of thing. What people don’t think about a lot of times is people in our industry were very hard, they work long hours, they are away from their families a lot. And I always try to think about wherever possible could we create a reward or incentive that would benefit the family as well as the employees. So we had a relationship with a local spa resort and we had an engineer that was involved in a really long kind of server outage and that kind of thing where they had to work a bunch of evenings and that kind of thing. We would often times give them a certificate to take them and their wife to go have a spa evening in a nice room, couples massage and that kind of thing.

                                    Granted, this was… A lot more of this happened in the break/fix days when we were making a bunch of money of that advance so I was giving a little bit back to the employee. But it’s still the case that we often times forget the toll that the events that happened around us, or employees takes on their family and the flip side of that is I have been through a number of very key employees that had their family life fall apart on them and that’s a tremendously traumatic event for that employee as an employee and one they sometimes don’t come back from.

Nate:                       Yeah.

Bryan:                     So you may not look at it as a direct investment but there is a reason to do that. So I think it’s also important to recognize, there is a very famous book, The 5 Love Languages, there is actually is a less famous corollary to that called The 5 Appreciation Languages. And people actually have different ways that they want to be sure appreciation. For some people a pat on the back is more important than any money you can possibly give them or being recognized in front of their peers is more important than money. So I don’t think a one size fits all approach to rewarding or thanking employee’s works very well. I made the thing that’s probably the least valuable even though it sometimes expected is the extra hundred bucks and the paycheck of every single employee; everybody gets the same so nobody gets offended.

Nate:                       Yeah, but the same thing with your clients is that you don’t… You want to take a personal approach and you want to establish a personal connection with them and you don’t want to give that one size fits all gift to your employees just like you do want to do that for your clients either.

Bryan:                     That’s right. I mean if business is tight, if business is tight, sit down as the business owner and write a little one paragraph handwritten note saying what that employee has done for you in the last year and how much you value them and how they have helped grow or keep your business open and what that means to you and put it in their end of the year paycheck.

Nate:                       Yeah.

Bryan:                     Yeah I mean granted it’s not money but that will mean a lot to people, a lot more than we probably give credit for in our busy days.

Nate:                       Yeah, absolutely.

Bryan:                     Because we spend a lot of time telling people what they do wrong, we don’t spend a lot of time often times telling people what they do right.

Nate:                       Yeah, it’s always nice to hear that even if it’s once every 3 or 4 months, just a nice pat on the back or words of encouragement go a long way, longer than some people might think.

Bryan:                     The other thing that I warned people about, the whole employee of the year thing, we did that for a number of years and reception usually is that’s a popularity contest for who’s got the ear of the business owner. And what we moved to instead which worked out very, very well is twice a year, we had what we called an All-Star program and we would actually have our employees vote for one person in each of our teams; so sales team, technical team, operations and accounting team, and they would vote for… They would all vote for who they thought and we set it up in the beginning, we said who is kind of setting the best example of our core values, what we want to present ourselves as a company; goes out of their way to help the other people and that kind of thing. And that program had so much intangible benefit in our company because 1, people are getting recognized by their peers. 2, it wasn’t just one person.

Nate:                       Yep.

Bryan:                     And people just showed up better every day when they knew that 6 months from now, that person at the front counter that gets their returns when they bring stuff back in is going to be deciding whether or not they are one of the best employees in the company.

Nate:                       Yeah.

Bryan:                     And then we gave those all-stars a bonus in their paycheck every month for 6 months until the vote came around again.

Nate:                       Yeah, that’s a great point Bryan. Wanted to talk a little bit about the size of compensation and I know that employees do talk and you don’t want an employee to feel like they are more appreciated than another. So what are some ways that you made sure that thank you and incentives were equal but still personalized?

Bryan:                     So that’s always a never ending challenge in some respects because you are right, people talk even if you tell them not to, they do. 2 words of advice, in that area and kind of 2 principles that I tried to always live by, one is make sure that whatever formula you are using decide how much you give people is tied to something in the real world. So if you decided to give the 3 engineers that build twice as much as everybody else more money in their Christmas bonus, just make sure that people can understand the Christmas bonus is tied to your production. So if they see the guy next to them got twice as much as them, and then there is a reason for it, it’s not just favoritism or something like that. You can use seniority for that sometimes if you need a way to kind of tiebreak.

                                    Another interesting school of thought and I wasn’t necessarily in favor of it when it was first proposed but it is something we actually used for a number of years, is we took the amount of money we had and we weighted it more heavily towards the employees that didn’t have an opportunity to earn commission over the year. So our salespeople and our billable technicians, they kind of earned their bonus all year long. When they sold, they got their commissions, they got bigger paychecks but the person doing Accounts Payable has no opportunity to earn any money, extra money. So we allocated our bonuses more heavily towards those employees that didn’t have any opportunity to earn more money over the course of the year. So that’s another thing to kind of factor in.

Nate:                       Yeah, and we were talking before the show too and you mentioned tiers of of having certain gifts that were in tier 1 and in tier 2 and kind of using those 2 match them up just to provide more structure for you on your own end as an owner.

Bryan:                     Yeah, so if you have an incentive program where you have one engineer may want to go to a 2 day training course and get the latest greatest certification for XYZ technology. Another one may prefer to have a week off with pay. Another one you prefer to get some cash, another one may prefer to get a new laptop okay. If you kind of establish a cafeteria plan of incentives and give people the ability to kind of choose ABC or D, as long as ABC and D have the same value then you can address the way that people want to be basically recognized and you won’t be giving days off to somebody who would rather have a new shiny toy.

Nate:                       Yep, Yep, absolutely. So kind of switching this a little bit to kind of the whole scheme of appreciation between your clients and your employees, let’s just say for simplicity purposes you had $100 to spend on appreciation between those 2 different sides, how much would you allocate towards employees and how much would you allocate towards your clients?

Bryan:                     So I got a reputation of being somewhat a contrarian. So my answer is I would probably allocate 60 or 70 of those dollars to my employees.

Nate:                       Uh huh.

Bryan:                     And the reason for that is the money that I spend in my customers is going to have an impact for a month tops. But the money I spend on my employees is going to affect their morale, is going to affect the way they show up, it’s going to affect their general demeanor in front of the customers for a lot longer probably, especially if I spread that money out over the year and don’t just use it for Christmas.

Nate: Hmm.

Bryan:                     And those engineers, those people that answer the phone do that every day to every client. And so if I can have positive effect on that, I’m going to have more positive impact on my relationship with my clients…

Nate:                       That would carry over.

Bryan:                     … Than just giving them a turkey.

Nate:                       Yeah, absolutely. Cool, so we’re coming up towards the end of our show but just wanted to… I guess make one last point and I hope you can expand upon it. But that this should happen at the end of the year, it shouldn’t just happen towards Thanksgiving or the holidays but you should really think of ways to do this through the whole year for your clients and for your employees.

Bryan:                     Yeah, I mean I didn’t do this but when you talk about that it was just because I didn’t think about it I guess but rather than doing Thanksgiving or Christmas, as MSPs we have an anniversary date of people’s contracts. Why don’t we recognize our customers individually on the anniversary date of their contracts with us?

Nate:                       Yeah.

Bryan:                     Recognizing employees on their hire date. You are right, the more that everybody gets right now it makes it less valuable than if this is my day.

Nate:                       Right.

Bryan:                     If we all have the same birthday, then it would be as exciting to have a birthday party for everybody around you got to have the same party the same day.

Nate:                       Yeah. And it helps spread out that timeline throughout the whole year versus…

Bryan:                     And expense.

Nate:                       … Expense, exactly. Yeah well great well Bryan Gilliom, thank you so much for joining me here on MSP Radio today.

Bryan:                     You’re welcome, thanks for having me Nate!

Nate:                       It’s great to have you back on the show. If our listeners want to learn more about your practice, Grow my MSP, where can they go?

Bryan:                     So go to GrowMyMSP.com or if you want to know more about the book that my editors are going to whip me until I get it out before I go to the end of the year, go to BreakthroughMSP.com.

Nate:                       Great well I highly recommend all of you to check out Bryan’s website and to keep an eye out for that book because Bryan is very knowledgeable, he’s a great resource and I hope you all leverage him.

                                    So with that, that’s all the time we have for today, thank you for tuning into MSP Radio, don’t forget to subscribe to this podcast on iTunes. You can follow us on Twitter at the handle @follow Continuum and you can let us know what you think of the radio show with the hashtag MSP Radio.

                                    So thanks again folks for tuning in to MSP Radio this week and we will see you next week.