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What did we learn about making MSPs and VARs efficient?

At the recent ChannelCON conference in Austin, Texas, Carolyn April hosted five panelists Nadia Karatsoreos, Len DiCostanzo, Charles Love, Crash Lowe and myself as we discussed the topic of business optimization and took questions from the audience. You can check out what each of the speakers offer the channel to improve efficiency. Several speakers were actual MSPs in the past so the deep understanding was felt instead of a Coach talking generalities.

The definitions ranged, but mostly it had to do with increasing productivity. My definition of efficiently is about saving time, generating more profits and becoming happier. If you think about it, when you optimize the efficiencies of your business, you really get more of what you want and need.

You also get happier employees simply by reducing chaos and redundancy. If you were to add solid leadership to this equation, then you would have a solid formula for great efficiency and success.

“Efficiency is not about layering tools on top of tools” proclaimed one MSP in the audience. This is a true statement, but you do need the right tools to get the job done. Essentially, tools reduce the amount of redundant and mundane tasks from the equation. It also adds structure and proper process to follow so less will fall through the cracks. It keeps the team marching in the same direction!

That said, tools are definitely not enough. A Managed Services expert wrote an article a while ago called “A fool with a tool is still a fool”. It’s good read if you want to see the potential disconnect between tools and people. Most MSPs and VARs use a patchwork of tools that they somehow stitch together to run their business. Some of the components work well together while others are simply disconnected. The problem with tools is that there is no one tool that will get the job done completely, so you do need to choose well. We have vented over 150 tools that successful VARs and MSPs have told us that work. See www.varofficesuite.com. We can recommend the right tools for your business but you will still need to see a live demo from each vendor to ensure the perfect fit. At least we can make the list shorter and help you avoid costly mistakes.

You should also be aware that the functionality of tools is a moving target. Vendors are constantly adding and integrating third-party tools. On top of that, the way that the end-user is buying is also changing so that makes a big difference in the tools you choose. As if that was not enough, vendors are adding self-management tools into their hardware like printers, toner/ink or monitors. Like Data Centers managing their network of servers. Like automatic system and application updating of computers, especially in virtual desktop environments. As these self-managed systems proliferate, the need for MSPs to monitor them will decrease.

An interesting company called Crushbank has developed an AI solution for the managed services help desk space that helps the technician to quickly resolve problems. I am currently researching the role of AI in channel business and it’s both exciting and scary! I think AI will be changing the way the channel does business in the future!

More tools are coming onto the market to fill in the gaps. One such tool will allow the end-user to instantly summon a service or support for any device in their company without ever knowing anything, from the convenience of an app. It will automatically open and send a service ticket to the appropriate provider to fix the problem. Who you gonna call? Just one click away!

We are constantly reviewing new business applications for the channel. The line up is impressive. Currently we are evaluating a cool marketing automation platform for VARs and MSPs as well as a private-label e-commerce platform for selling SaaS. And, it seems like we are getting closer to a full ERP solution that’s specifically customized for VARs and MSPs, at a reasonable cost! I will be introducing these tools when the vetting process is completed.

The great news is that tools for the channel are getting better and more affordable every year! New companies entering the channel will adopt the latest and greatest tools that will become their competitive advantage over the traditional channel partners. To stay ahead of the game, VARs and MSPs will need to keep upgrading their mix of tools.

Efficiency beyond tools is the people. It starts with better leadership. A weak leader is much less effective in motivating a team to stick to the approved processes and improve. Poorly trained employees do not have the proper understanding of the requirements and skills to get their jobs done.

Take for example CRM tools… Many sales people simply do not comply with the procedures. There are many reasons for this and some have merit, however, without the proper sales process married to the CRM and the management and training to ensure that the sales reps use it properly, the system will likely fail. AetherPal has developed a real-time help guide that works in parallel with mobile applications to prompt the user on what to do next. Support on demand!

My advice to the VARs and MSPs is to learn and digest all you can about business operations and best practices. A good place to start is to take a free business assessment test at www.bestmanageditcompanies.com. You will better understand your strengths and weaknesses so you can make a plan to improve. You can also get some good advice from business coaches at www.varcoach.com. You can even hire a coach to come help you with any specific problem. There’s a Coach for that!

The ultimate way to improve your business is to join a Mastermind Peer Group! The power of collaborating and combining the brains of 8 peers to solve just about any business problem is incredible. We have just upped the power on Mastermind groups by adding six business coaches to the equation. You can think of this as a Mastermind group on steroids with a mandate to grow your business by 30% within the first year! Learn more at www.varmastermind.com.

Which secrets can you share about how you improved the efficiency of your business?