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5 Ways to Improve Your MSP Service Level Agreement (SLA)

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5 Ways to Improve Your MSP Service Level Agreements (SLAs)

SLAs are the foundation of your MSP business. They are essential to building strong client relationships and must be clear, reasonable and well-constructed.

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Talking with Your Customers about Business Continuity

Posted March 22, 2016by Christina Hurley

In this industry, it’s fairly well understood how crucial business continuity and disaster recovery are to modern business. Service providers are the ones constantly dealing with hardware failures, troubleshooting network outages and making sure every technological wrinkle is ironed out as quickly as possible to avoid any momentum-killing downtime at a client site. But when you’re talking to those clients, it’s important to remember what all of this looks like from their side of the relationship.

To them, “business continuity” is just an ornate little buzz word and “disaster recovery” sounds like an extremely unlikely occurrence that is worth betting against. It can be easy to forget that the business owners making IT purchasing decisions are usually a layer or two removed from the actual hands-on technical work that keeps their business going. Because of his separation, it makes sense that they might take for granted all of the precise planning and maintenance that goes on behind the curtain on a weekly or daily basis.

These misconceptions and technical illiteracies from SMB business owners are not only fair, but they should be expected. This makes it all the more important that service providers, when talking about offerings like business continuity, deliberately and accurately frame the conversation in a way that hits the sweet spot between educational and exhaustive. Explaining backup and disaster recovery (BDR) as “insurance for your data” only skims the surface of the value that your services provide, but getting into the gritty tech specs of each server and encryption algorithm is more likely to make their eyes glaze over than their wallets open up.

There are a few ways that you can strike that balance and explain business continuity in terms that SMBs will both relate to and appreciate. Here are a few suggestions:

 

Ask Questions

I was tempted to go with the “save the best for last” strategy with this one, but that just didn’t seem to make sense. This is absolutely the most important thing you can do when talking to your clients, and it’s the reason that this article is titled “Talking with your customers about Business Continuity” as opposed to “Talking at your customers….”

Sitting down and asking meaningful questions to help understand the problems that your prospects and/or customers are trying to solve is the first (and best) step toward actually solving those problems. If you go into the conversation blind assuming that your tried-and-true BDR sales pitch is going to fit the needs of every potential customer then your message is likely not going to be as powerful as it needs to be to win their business.

Start by asking questions that help you understand what they’re currently working with:

  • What are the main priorities as far as backup and continuity are concerned? Do they have certain regulatory commitments that they need to comply with?
  • What problems have they faced in the past that could be pre-emptively addressed?
  • Do they currently have offsite backup? Do they think they need it?
  • What plan, if any, do they have for recovering from downtime?

I’m not saying that you need to take all of their initial answers as gospel, but if they tell you that their priorities are grounded on the ability to occasionally restore a couple of deleted files then you have an opportunity to educate them about the overall value that you can provide for them. It’s not that you need to match your service level agreements (SLAs) specifically to their perceived needs during the first meeting, but you should be willing to frame the conversation based on their understanding of what you can provide them. Not only will this help you craft a compelling sales pitch for your BDR offering, it will also set a positive tone that could last for the duration of your working relationship.

 

Time is Money

I don’t think it’s an overstatement that this is something that all business owners can relate to. Time is their most valuable commodity, and every hour during the day that their employees are unable to do their jobs is money flowing out of their pockets. This is why it’s effective to frame the BDR conversation around the time that is wasted in the event of a hardware failure or human error.

It’s important to get your prospects and customers thinking beyond the standard file and folder restore. Help them understand that when you say “business continuity” you’re actually talking about tangible operations that go far deeper than recovering a few lost files, and when you say “disaster recovery” you’re not necessarily talking about a once in a decade natural disaster. It’s about being able to access their data and run their business when something goes awry, whether an onsite Exchange server malfunctions or a squirrel climbing on a transformer causes a neighborhood power outage near their office.

Proving that you’ll be able to get their business up and running faster than anyone else will go a long way in highlighting the actual dollars and cents value that your offering provides.

 

Understanding the Value of Data

If time is a company’s most valuable commodity, then its data would have to be the second. This is an oft overused cliché in our industry’s marketing collateral, but that’s for good reason. When talking directly with a prospect or customer, it’s imperative that you break through the noise and help them understand what that vague term, “data,” actually means to their company’s productivity.

Data is their business history. It’s their transactional records. It’s the basis for their daily decisions. In some cases, data is part of the product that they sell to their end-clients.

As noted above, loss of data means loss of productivity, which leads to loss of money. “Data” shouldn’t just be some buzzword that’s tossed in with “the cloud” and skimmed over in your marketing material. You’ve got to be able to bring a tangible value to the term if you’re actually going to be able to explain all of the value you are providing them by keeping their data safe and accessible, no matter where it lives.

 

Your Solution and How it Benefits Them

Finally, it’s important to talk about your specific business continuity offering in a way that relates back to their priorities and expectations. While it can be easy to fall back into talking about how many TBs of data you can backup in the cloud, it’s more important to focus on the actual benefit that the technology is enabling. It’s important that your account managers can fluently answer any technical questions that may come up, but this probably isn’t what will sell your prospective client on your services.

Spell out to them in measurable units (minutes or hours) just how quickly you expect to be able to get their systems back up and running in a worst case scenario. Tell them how you would handle a specific situation, say a ransomware attack, using real-life details based on the answers to the questions you’ve asked. Let them know whether or not you can proactively fix any issues before they even know there was an issue. Let them know that you will help them carve out their own recovery plan based on their specific needs. And let them know that, most of all, you will be there as their trusted advisor regardless of what technical issues they’re faced with.

And lastly, don’t shy away from talking about lower priced products. Do them a favor and make sure they understand what they’re actually getting if they decide to try and save a couple of dollars on a self-serviced, consumer-grade backup product. If you’ve done a good job of asking and answering questions and highlighting the value of their business-critical data, there’s absolutely no way that a client worthy of your services will put their faith in a lesser quality BDR option. Let’s face it, any business owner who is willing to expose their company to that level of vulnerability likely isn’t someone you’d be happy doing business with anyway.

Business-Continuity-the-MSPs-guide-to-backup-and-disaster-recovery

Christina Hurley is a marketing team member at Continuum, focused on Marketing Operations. She is currently finishing up her B.S. in Economics, with a concentration in Marketing from the University of Pennsylvania. When she’s not in the classroom or creating compelling content for MSPs, you can find her in the pool training with the Penn Varsity Swim and Dive Team.

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