From MSP to MSSP: Products that Help You Grow Your Services Business
From eye glasses to wedding dresses, everyone has become used to being able to "try before you buy." Giving potential clients the chance to test drive products and services is smart business for both sides. It helps buyers make sure that the offering fits all their needs and desires, and it helps businesses avoid unhappy customers banging down their door in search of a refund or an apology.
Traditionally, cyber security product sellers have used demos to show off features and capabilities that are particularly enticing. Increasingly, however, these providers are finding that providing a 30-day trial of their products and services is the new "demo." These free trials help managed security service providers (MSSPs) "dip a toe in the water" without making a final commitment. In so doing, they spend less time hemming and hawing and more time figuring out if the product is right for them.
As an MSSP, however, you also need to make sure that the products you offer align with your situation and the needs of your clients. Simply adding a product to your offerings won't guarantee that users will be clamoring to try it. If you're thinking about providing a new product or service, you need to make sure that it will help turn potential buyers into real customers, and ultimately help you grow as a business.
What Are the "Four E's"?
John Pagliuca from IT management company SolarWinds recently proposed the idea of the "four Es" for free trials in a talk at the Empower MSP Orlando 2017 Conference. The general idea is that when you're evaluating providers, you should find their products to be easy, simple and straightforward to work with in all respects. Below, we'll discuss the four qualities that you should look for when assessing new security products or services.
Easy to Try
The best free trials are unobtrusive and simple to get up and running. This means an easy downloading, installation and onboarding process that should be as close to touchless as possible.
Once the product is installed, any manuals and instructions are written in clear, understandable language that describes how to use it and how to benefit from doing so. You can easily assess how these benefits impact your bottom line, so that you can make the final decision on whether to add the tool to your arsenal.
In order for the products and services to be "easy to try," you also need to understand the best ways to deploy them to customers and monetize them. Your security product vendors should provide you with the materials you need during the sales process. Make sure that you emphasize not only why customers should use the products, but also what it is that they're getting for their money.
Easy to Implement
Providers should make you feel like they're able to work with the product in an independent, self-directed manner. The product should be technically mature and should fit within your and your client's environments.
In addition, the product should be minimally disruptive to users' processes and daily work while providing maximum value. Depending on how much the software provider needs to get involved, ideally you may be able to remain completely hands-off when installing and using the product for your customer.
The product should also be easy to implement on your end as well. Once you've gone through the trial and installation process for one potential customer, it should be easier to replicate for other potential customers. In the end, the onus is on the product vendor to make implementation simple and repeatable.
Lastly, if possible, the product should also integrate or tie into other customer management systems so that you can better track how clients use and feel about the product.
Easy to Use
Whether it's saving your customers time or making them happier, the products you offer should have a clear value proposition. You should be able to come up with a one-sentence answer about how the product will make you more efficient as an MSSP and deliver value to your client.
There are many ways that a product can make you and your clients more efficient, including:
- Making final results more consistent
- Reducing the time spent on manual effort
- Reducing the time wasted on duplicating efforts
- Simplifying complex repetitive tasks
- Improving the turnaround time to obtain information
Different customers will see different benefits in using a product, but both you and the customer should view the product as a net positive for your relationship. They key is that it cannot be a heavy lift on your customer (not hopefully on you) in order to realize the benefits. Difficult implementations and long delays in value realization by clients are twin the death-knells of selling services.
Easy to Sell
Of course, none of the above qualities matter in the end if you aren't able to turn a profit from selling the service. For starters, you should understand the difference between products that are "sold to you" versus "sold through you." Spoiler: you want more of the later!
Products that you buy for your benefit are generally designed to make you more efficient, which is an indirect benefit for your clients. These include things like ticketing or billing systems. Think of them as the "cost of doing business" products, where you want to maximize the price-performance ratio without overspending your budget.
On the other hand, products that you buy for the direct benefit of your clients are those that the client is happy to pay for because they clearly see the value. In essence, they understand that they couldn't possibly buy and maintain the product themselves for your price and with your proficiency. Rather than focusing on price-performance ratio and overspending (hallmarks of cost centers), these products are profit generators that scale with the services engagements.
While efficiency and continuous operational improvement is important, growth mostly depends on generating new revenue, and that can most easily come from selling new products (or services on products) to your existing and new customers.
Whether products fulfill these "four Es" isn't a binary yes/no question. Instead, the right answers exist on a spectrum. The more value that the product provides to customers, the more leeway you'll have to move around on this spectrum as it suits your needs. Albert Einstein reportedly said that "everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler." If the product is truly a game changer for your clients' IT security, then having a more complicated installation process is both understandable and perhaps even necessary.
However, there are still certain "tipping points" for the product that you must be sure not to bypass. The most important ones are:
- Easy to try: Although some complexity in terms of installation is understandable, you should always be able to easily evaluate the features of the product.
- Easy to implement: The product must be inherently compatible with your customers' existing IT setup; it cannot force you to rearchitect their entire environment.
- Easy to use: The product's long-term cost-benefit analysis is a net positive. Setting up and managing the product makes your life (and potentially your customers' lives) easier, not harder, on the whole.
- Easy to sell: Any product or service that your client pays for directly drives revenue and growth. Focus there.
When evaluating shiny, exciting new products, it's easy to lose track of what's really important for your work as an MSSP. Keep a few important questions in mind at all times: Will you be able to sell the product to your customers, and/or does the product make you more efficient? If so, it's a viable choice to include among your offerings.