There is little that has been more valuable to our MSP growth than our ability to create strong relationships with CEOs and other key client executives. Executives are notorious for stonewalling IT initiatives for budgetary or other reasons, but these relationships have proved to be the opposite for us. The technical responsibilities of today’s executives are changing, and most would love to have a strong technical resource on which to rely.
In my previous post, I shared five ways you can use your company culture to your advantage in order to grow your MSP business. In this post, I'm going to switch perspectives from MSP owner to CEO. MSPs and IT professionals are often seen as mid-level business resources managed by the Operations Manager. The larger the organization, the lower it seems the MSP naturally sits in this organizational structure. However, if you want to be a $10 million MSP, you need to get a seat at the table. Here are some tips we've learned in our pursuit of building effective executive relationships.
First Conversations Make First Impressions
MSPs rarely meet with the CEO during the beginning of sales process, especially for larger clients, but this first impression sets the tone for the entire relationship. In the first conversation, it’s important to ask deep questions about business strategy to get to know the organization. For example, ask questions about future goals, growth strategy, acquisition history and key business challenges. When the Operation Manager, Controller or COO cannot answer the questions, you’ll know you’re in the right place. At this point, you’ve established that your business acumen and curiosity won't be limited, and you can subtlety hint that a future introduction up the chain may be necessary.
CEOs Care About Building, Not Maintaining
Most CEOs I know (as well as myself) know their role is to move forward and build. It's the job of operations to maintain what has already been built. So, many CEOs don't engage with MSPs because MSPs are usually focused on maintaining. When we get a chance to communicate with the CEO and we start talking about uptime, service level agreements (SLAs), ticket close rates, business continuity or even cloud strategy, we're slightly missing the point.
CEOs want to know that someone understands their business well enough to solve strategic business problems. So, when we start talking about technology that will help them deliver a better product or propel their business, CEO ears begin to open.
Start Advising from the Get-Go
The best way to be seen as a key strategic advisor is just to start strategically advising. How do you do that? Simply provide advice every time you see a need. After all, you are the technical expert, so don’t be afraid to spread your knowledge. The more you share your thoughts and expertise, the more your client’s executive team will view you as a valuable asset.
Become a Trusted Colleague
CEOs have two types of relationships: "trusted" relationships and "yes man/woman" relationships—and they view these people very differently. Even when MSPs get an audience with the CEO, we are often too focused on being compliant than sharing real insight. But our relevance can reach a new level when we're willing and able to diplomatically challenge the position of the CEO. I know what you’re thinking; “wait a minute, did you just say challenge the CEO?” This is a lot easier said than done. However, MSPs have to make sure that their position is relevant and respectful, and taking this risk can be worth it in the long run.
CEOs connect with the resources that are most valuable to them. When we begin to reorient our perspectives and view the world as a CEO does, we have the opportunity to be more valuable than any other vendor partner. At best, we'll be a key cog in the wheel of growing businesses. At the least, we'll find it a bit easier to get approval for those IT initiatives.