Welcome to our new “MSP Fast Track” hangout series blog post, "MSP Panel: How to Build the Right Vendor Network.” On this panel, we had two fantastic and experienced panelists, Sanford Gladding of ATS Communications, Inc. and Peter Melby of Greystone Technology.
Meet Our Panelists
Our MSPs Share Their Criteria for Vendor Selection
Our panelists were in agreement on many of the criteria to look for when selecting their partner ecosystem.
Peter of Greystone Technology noted that a “vendor” becomes a “partner” when they earn thrust and cement the relationship by delivering on commitments and demonstrating success for the MSP. Sanford shared that “the biggest benefit we look for is a partner that wants to have the same type of relationship with us that we want to have with our customers. So we looked for partners that are very relationship focused. We're obviously all focusing on sales and looking at making money, but at the same time we want to create a long lasting relationship that will grow our business, grow their business and grow our customer's business as well. Clients are constantly having ongoing challenges. So we evaluate the partner’s solution or service based on if it will solve a client’s need? And it's not just necessarily a technical need; it is often an educational need.”
Peter Melby of Greystone Technology added that “MSPs spend a lot of time digging into what makes a good partner and what makes a bad partner. He said that it’s the pain of having a bad partner and wanting to avoid those situations that makes conversations like this so important. MSPs want to avoid that situation altogether. No vendor is perfect, no partner is perfect, but the ones who can be accountable and who understand what we’re trying to accomplish for our clients are the ones that make a true partnership work. We’re not just purchasing a product, we’re engaging in something that needs to contribute to our overall success.”
Establishing Your Strategy for Partnerships
Our MSPs went on to discuss in our hangout how they strive to ensure they are leveraging partners to help them with day-to-day work so they can be freed up to have time to truly run their business. Some tips they shared included:
1. Prioritize what you need for your business, but keep in mind your customers.
“The Clientele will help to dictate which direction you may go in with some of the vendors. What is the need? What is the pain point that the business (either yours or theirs) is dealing with? Right now cybersecurity is obviously the hot topic that customers need, so what vendors could help us with an educational piece of it? What vendors can help us with the marketing piece of it? What vendors have the technical piece of it?” You have to take those pieces from all those different vendors and bring together a solution that is a value add for a customer. One vendor won’t be able to solve for all things, you have to bring together bits and pieces from a variety of vendors to put together a holistic solution.”
Sanford hit the nail on the head there, as an MSP you are the one source for your customers’ cybersecurity solution, but it takes a village for you to be able to deliver on all of your customers’ needs!
2. Determine if it is better to build yourself or buy from a partner.
Peter discussed on our hangout the four things that helps him decide if he builds a service or solution himself or retains a partner to do it.
- “We build it if it has longevity and it's worth putting that effort in.
- We can provide market differentiation if we can do it in a way that provides a uniqueness to our service.
- If we can do it fast enough to be relevant.
- If we can do it with the idea that we want to compete in that space.
If we could answer ‘yes’ to those four questions, then it's worth considering building. Otherwise, if we truly need to do it, we need to find a partner.”
3. Engage with internal and external partners and vendors.
MSPs need both internal and external partners and vendors to scale faster. Otherwise they will be stuck on day-to-day work and yet may still not be able to keep up or satisfy their clients or the growing needs of their MSP business.
Peter helps to define why you need both partners and vendors, “With a vendor it’s a one-way engagement. We pay them money and they give us something and we have different expectations. It’s much more succinct. However, it’s different when it’s something that we are partnering on.” He goes on to define a partner, “With Continuum, it’s different. They provide us agents, they provide us services. This goes back to the fact that those who understand the ecosystem, those who understand how we operate, the chain, what clients expect of MSPs are certainly more prone to be partners. So partner relationships tend to grow over time and vendor relationships tend to stay the same.” (Of course, at Continuum, we certainly like to think so.)
4. Manage your partner ecosystem.
Both Peter and Sanford agreed that you need to ensure you are managing your partner ecosystem to get the most you can out of them. However, they also commented that it is common to not be optimizing the value partners can bring as there is never enough time to uncover all. Peter said. “If I look at our partners and our vendors, we're probably utilizing 10 to 25% of the value that they could offer our businesses.”
Peter said that a good question to ask is, “Are we utilizing you in the way that we should?” This is a great way to uncover untapped opportunities to optimize successes with your partners.
Peter said Greystone Technology has reached a scale where they are able to have a dedicated Partner Manager to help manage and engage within their different vendors and partners. Sometimes though, this isn’t a role that can be attributed to a single hire, like at ATS Communications, Inc., Sanford says they handle things a bit differently, “I have a couple of partners and the three of us really manage the overall relationships and it depends on the type of partner that it is.” He makes a point that communication is key between all partner/vendor relationship managers!
Peter and Sanford wrapped up the panel discussion by sharing the valuable tips from the “MSP Panel: How to Build the Right Vendor Network” hangout.
Compartmentalizing and truly understanding the priority needs to decide whether to build or partner.
Paying attention and asking the questions that engages partners in a way that unlocks the most value and deepens the partnership.
“It’s okay to say ‘No’! When someone comes to you and wants to buy something from us, just because I can provide that doesn’t mean that is core to what we are trying to do. It has been an evolution of saying ‘no’ with a ‘yes.’”
“Make sure your partners are able to deliver the value proposition to you that you want to deliver to your customers.”
“Understand your bandwidth and how much capacity you have because we all have this opportunity and it looks great… but we have a tendency to want to run after the next shiny object to try and add to our overall portfolio. But being a jack of all trades and master of none is not necessarily the best. Understanding what your bandwidth is and focus is, will allow you to be successful today and give yourself the luxury of time. If you’re new in this industry, it’s continuing to change, continuing to evolve, and continuing to grow. The opportunity is going to continue to be there, be patient, give yourself time. We have over 40 partners but we didn’t get them all within the first couple of years. These have grown over four decades of being in business. We just started with one or two partners at a time and became really proficient in that. We build that relationship, we built that trust, and then we grew our model and expanded our products and services to do that. Baby steps, give yourself time, understand your bandwidth, and be patient along the way.”
I hope you find our “MSP Fast Track” hangout as valuable as we did. To hear more from Greystone Technology and ATS Communication, you can listen to the full hangout: “MSP Panel: How to Build the Right Vendor Network” here.