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TMBG Report: Everything to Know About MSPs

3:49 PM EST on January 30, 2024

    How Technology Managers Decide to Contract with an MSP & How Technology Advisors Decide to "Work With or Compete Against" MSPs

    What you need to know about MSPs
    At the low end, businesses hire MSPs to keep their computers running. At the high end MSPs "do all tech" for a fixed monthly "managed services provider" fee & displace technology advisors.iStock

    Editor's Note: This & all content is constantly being updated. If the specific info you're looking for can't be found here simply email your question to

    For Technology Managers: Do you want "computer techs" as employees?

    For most businesses, until you get to several hundred employees, the answer is generally "no". So who keeps the computers working if you have no computer tech employees? Either your "ISP" or internet services provider if they have "help desk" and other similar add-on services or a local "MSP" or "managed services provider".

    In a perfect business world there would be no need for any business to ever have to hire "techies" because tech would always work, right? But alas, tech does not always work and so at some point, Nick Burns, your company's computer guy (or equivalent) must be summoned.

    Back in the day, MSPs started out as individual guys you could call on a "break fix" basis who would come to your business and fix your computer for a one-time fee. As you can imagine, that's a tough way to make a living so most successful MSP businesses only contract with businesses who agree to pay a set monthly fee for the MSP to keep all their computers and tech stuff working - usually anywhere from $50 to $150 per month per computer.

    For growing businesses, if you can keep your monthly MSP fees to under $99 per month per computer, just say "yes" and go back to focusing on whatever your business does to generate revenue & leave the "keeping the computers fixed" to the MSPs.

    How to find the best MSP to contract with? Call a technology advisor like me, Dan Baldwin. I'm not interested in fixing your computer but for a one-time, reasonably priced professional services fee, I'll help you understand just how much MSP you need and introduce you to several who would be a great fit. The good news is your MSP can pretty much be anywhere on the planet. If you actually need someone to physically "touch your tech", your MSP can schedule a "truck roll" and contract for someone to appear where you need them and the MSP will remotely manage them so you don't need to get too involved with Nick.

    For Technology Advisors: Do your want MSPs as marketing partners?

    While most technology advisors (like MSPs) think they are not restricted to a specific metro marketplace, when you're first starting out - you really are. So where ever you find yourself, whether it's Phoenix, Wichita or Flagstaff, make a list of all the MSPs physically located in your area and then visit them one at a time to let them know you're the top "technology services & solutions" marketing & salesperson in their area and you're interested in being a contract business development salesperson for them.

    Whether they have an actual sales commission partner program or not, you need to find out what technology service lines of business they're best at so you can refer appropriate leads to them as you work through your own business prospect list. In doing so, they will quickly come to understand that they can either work with you or compete against you. If you are any sort of decent technology advisor who actually hustles 8-hours a day "developing business" then they will want to partner with you for real money.

    The Four Types of MSPs: Which ones do you need & when?

    In general, MSPs can be categorized as 1) helpdesk, 2) migration, 3) specialty, and 4) "next". As the name implies, helpdesk MSPs are indispensable to the success of your business and your sanity as a technology manager because whenever an employee says, "my computer's not working" you simply say, "Did you put in a helpdesk ticket?" Helpdesk MSPs are like barbers or hairstylists, they're easy to use, easy to replace and every business needs one - unless you're committed to cutting your own hair (which is a bad idea for both haircuts & fixing computers).

    Migration MSPs are the next step up from helpdesk MSPs and are necessary when you feel like a technology change is needed, like the decision to switch from all iPhones to all Android smartphones, or switching your office productivity suite from Microsoft 365 to Google Docs. Migration MSPs will engage you for technology migration projects and then maybe stick around after the migration is complete if they have a helpdesk division of their company.

    Specialty MSPs, as the name implies, specialize in a particular line of software applications or hardware appliances. If your business has decided that your network security is only safe behind Palo Alto firewalls or in an Extreme Networks fabric switch environment then of course you choose a specialty MSP that has all the software or hardware certifications that seem fit. Some applies if you use a specialty applications like Salesforce, Netsuite or similar.

    The fourth category or "next" MSP may be the most important one if it's important to not have your current MSP(s) overcharge you. Just as you can play one internet service provider off against their competitors to ensure you're getting the best monthly price, you absolutely need to do the same with your MSPs especially given that the best MSP for your business can be located anywhere on the planet. Always have at least two MSP where you're giving 75% of your business to your primary and 25% of your business to your "next" MSP.

    Now your current MSP will most certainly throw some FUD ("fear, uncertainty and doubt") at you if you even hint at adapting a "dual vendor strategy" but fear not, if your business can not switch MSPs as easily as you can switch your barber, then it's your fault as your businesses technology manager. Keep in mind that the salary of any technology manager is funded by the savings your business accrues by getting the most competitive monthly price for all technology services all the time - if you don't have a "next" MSP then you're not generating the technology savings required to fund your position.

    Where to Find the Best MSPs: They can be anywhere on the planet!

    1. Don't Ask Your Neighbor (unless...)! Remember, the only reason any business owner hires an MSP is because they don't know how to fix computers themselves which means they likely have no idea whether the MSP they use is competent or ripping them off. UNLESS ... your neighbor actually has a "next MSP" which means they've actually invested some quality time selecting both their primary & next MSP. That's a business neighbor worth listening to!
    2. Don't Ask a Technology Advisor (unless...)! Technology advisors are first and foremost salespeople who, between 8am & 5pm, generally only associate with people that help them make money - which, of course, is the whole point of working between 8 & 5. If a technology advisor recommends an MSP to you, assume the MSP is paying them a commission for that recommendation. ONLY accept advice from technology advisors you have a professional services agreement with that requires them to disclose their advice commissions to you.
    3. Manufacturer "Certified" Partner Lists Usually Work. Just like you're only supposed to hire an electrical contractor to replace a light switch, the software & hardware vendors whose logos appears on your tech invoices recommend you only choose partners they've certified. As time allows, if you interview at least three certified partners and choose both a "primary" and a "next" (and they both know there's "another MSP") you're going to do just fine.
    4. ChannelFutures' MSP501 List is Interesting. While this list is quite difficult to search & sort through, if you work hard enough at it (like download the whole list & then curate it yourself), you're sure the find the fantasy MSP you're looking for, both a "primary" and a "next". While most business magazine "award lists" seem primarily a way for the business magazine to sell advertising (which is true), my personal experience with the MSP501 list is the members of the list actually have something special going on and I've discovered & recommended MSPs from the 501 list that my clients have been quite pleased with. If you're in a desperate hurry to find an MSP, first say a prayer asking for Divine MSP intervention, and then start calling MSP501 listees at random & then ask for referrals. Or contract with a technology advisor to find one for you.
    5. Ask Your ISP if they do MSP too! Five plus years ago, only a crazy business owner would seriously consider asking their internet service provider to also provide helpdesk services. Today? It's worth the ask if your MSP requirements are not too unique and you've got locations spread all over. Just as Dunkin' Doughnuts now serves fancy coffee, Spectrum, Comcast and the other ISPs can now also provide pretty decent MSP solutions all the way down to helpdesk. Again, don't expect gold-plated MSP service from an ISP- but if you specifically don't want gold-plated prices and your MSP requirements are pretty pedestrian then getting MSP from your ISP makes great sense. I've had very positive results using what I call "carrier MSPs" like Spectrotel and there's many other quality carrier MSPs in the space. The best way to find the best one for you is to contract with a technology advisor to find one for you.

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