Posted 12 July, 2016 • by Craig Sharp
Ah, you've landed that coveted prospect meeting, but what you're hoping to get out of it and what the SME is hoping to get out of it are two very different things.
From your perspective, you may be trying to expedite the managed IT services sales process. Perhaps you typically prepare for these prospect meetings by working out your fees, printing contracts and developing pitch presentations. While all of these materials are sales essentials, your prospect is typically working toward a different agenda than yours. At this point in their buyer's journey, they may need more convincing that you're someone to do business with.
How can you use that first meeting to guide them towards a close down the line? Hint: not by discussing the speeds and feeds of your various technology products.
After 20+ years of providing IT services to U.K. SMEs, I've learned what resonates with potential clients. Here are the top five considerations you, as a professional MSP, should know before that first prospect meeting.
As a technology service provider, you naturally focus on nitty gritty technical details - from hosted exchanges, to remote monitoring, to antivirus (AV) software and hardware. The sad truth is that prospects rarely, if at all, care about these details. You could form your presentations around product features, but your audience would simply nod politely and fail to mention that they have no idea what SPI Firewalls or SSL VPNs are. What a waste of time!
To effectively talk to prospects, speak in their language, not yours. Keep the IT jargon to a minimum and ensure that you sell the vision of what you can provide, not the technology.
Many SMEs you meet with won’t see your MSP practice as a professional service. Instead, they may perceive you as a commodity that's easily exchangeable should costs become too high. MSPs strive to build relationships and add value, but you can't expect this to happen on its own. What differentiates your operation from a cheaper managed service or worse, a break/fix provider? Even if you successfully acquire that prospect you meet with, you must have a plan to continually demonstrate your value after the fact. If you win over a client and then sit back without putting in any extra work to optimise service delivery, your clients may leave you for one of your competitors.
To combat this, share your value-add plan BEFORE, not after, they sign your MSP agreement. An important service you can review during your prospecting meeting is the quarterly business review (QBR), a client meeting in which you evaluate the existing state of your client’s business and how you will help them reach their goals. In learning that you offer QBRs, clients will recognise that you're not just a service provider, but also their strategic business advisor.
I know this may be a little personal, but it's true. Like Einstein said, everything is relative. Thus, they think you are a geek because you know a lot more about IT than they do! This will create some problems if you don’t address it early. Prior to the prospect meeting, research their business, particularly their corporate culture, to help establish a common ground you can appeal to. They'll appreciate your careful, personalised preparation and approach. Then, identify potential IT and/or business challenges you can learn more about in-person. The key here is in realising that you can't talk at them. Instead, create that open dialogue and listen to what they have to say. When it is time to speak, being less "geeky" and more business-focused will win over more prospects than you could ever imagine.
Even if prospects still think you're a geek, as long as you prove that your IT skills can be harnessed to make their business world more reliable, more secure and more productive in terms that resonate with them, you'll outshine competitors.
Don't be naive in thinking that you're the only IT solutions provider prospects vet while making their decision to simplify and strengthen IT. In the same way that they'll need help understanding the value of your services, they'll likely also need help judging one MSP's offering from another. Indeed, not all MSPs were created equal. A given prospect may be trying to choose between apples and oranges without even knowing it.
Just as you research prospects, research your main competitors and present your findings comparatively. Don't do this to bad-mouth them or to be negative, but simply to ensure that you provide like-for-like information and fees. Remember our second point? SMEs see yours as a commodity service. They could be tempted to select an IT provider with less expertise and older working practises if this competitor offers a lower fee. That's not to say you should outright ask the prospect which fees are on the table, but you should still seek to learn more about competitive offerings. Then, showcase the value of your difference. Explain why it's a smarter investment to pay more for whatever gives you a competitive advantage, such as 24x7x365 data coverage.
The most important thing to remember in prospect meetings is that SMEs cannot do what you do. They invite you to their place of business because these businesses need your managed IT services. You have the skills, expertise and value they lack internally. Most SMEs grow in a haphazard manner. By the time they reach out to an MSP, they have outdated systems, hardware and procedures in place. Solutions which may have once worked when there were only five or 10 users are inadequate now that they have 30, 50 or more. As a professional MSP you can refine and strengthen their IT infrastructure, improve reliability, enhance security and optimise business efficiency. Arm yourself with this knowledge, and you'll be more confident approaching prospect meetings!
In any industry, it is common for those "inside" to think that everyone "outside" understands what they do and the details of the solutions they provide. That's all the more the case in the world of IT services. Accordingly, MSPs need to understand fundamental prospect meeting best practises. On your visits, dial back the technology talk, show that unlike others, you can act as a trusted advisor and demonstrate that you understand the prospect's business. If you successfully do your job, before you leave, SMEs will be well-informed enough to compare you fairly against other MSPs' offerings and trust your ability to improve their business operations.
Now, go into your next prospect meeting confident that you have the tools, especially with Continuum behind you, to deal with anything they throw at you!
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Craig Sharp is the founder of MSP Wingman based in Birmingham, UK. Retaining a stake in local MSP Abussi Ltd, Craig has a proven record in managing, growing and transitioning an MSP from break-fix, through VAR and into a true Managed Services Provider over the past 20+ years. Craig believes passionately that the key to IT / MSP business success is reducing the tech, and building business focused relationships. Additionally, Craig helps smaller IT / MSP businesses grow through targeted and innovative marketing approaches. Most importantly Craig has a passion to educate and inform. Follow Craig on Twitter @MSPWingman or #MSPWingman.