One challenge many businesses face is how to distinguish themselves from the competition. This is even more difficult in the Managed Service Provider space, shaped to a large degree by customer need on the one hand and by available technology on the other.

The tasks of staying up to date on the technology, hiring reliable techs with a high degree of expertise, managing clients, fleshing out the service offering and internal processes is enough to take up more than all of your time. How then do you distinguish yourself and make sure you have an edge when it comes time to make a competitive sale?

This comes down to your secret sauce, and your specific recipe, or the different ingredients that make you truly unique. Much of what helps mid-tier MSPs become top-tier MSPs runs counter to what you might expect and interrupts business as usual.

For the most part, sales departments will bend definitions to make the sale. They’ll listen to what the client wants, confirm that they’ve come to the right place, then come back to the service department and tell them to figure it out, risking the quality of service delivery and client satisfaction over time if things aren’t done right. How do you get around these obstacles and stand out in a competitive marketplace?

  1. What: Define your service offering. 

This is the base of the secret sauce. What do you do well? Identify your team’s core skills and then define the service packages you can support best with those skills. What’s in and what’s out? A big challenge for tech providers is service sprawl. We have to be able to say no to services we know we don’t do well with. If the core skills aren’t apparent, talk to your sales people. What requests do they hope to get in the sales meeting because they know, for your company, that one will be a home run? Warning: this may not be where you traditionally see the biggest margins, but if you’re playing for keeps, stick with what works, not what gets you paid up front, only for the client to go with someone else later when you can’t deliver.

  1. Who: Define your target client by size, industry, and even contract type.

Early on, businesses can be undisciplined about this, or not be entirely sure without a track record, but it’s key. Consider what kinds of industries will need not only IT projects, but need extensive and recurring services over time, offering longevity and business partnership over time. Be realistic about what you can do and go after the clients in the sweet spot. A huge contract does you no good if you can’t actually scale up to meet the challenge.

  1. How: Standardize delivery.

This is the sweetener. This makes your secret sauce distinctive, so that clients keep coming back and don’t mind paying a little bit more for your brand. Develop a core repeatable process for delivery. That way you can measure performance, not just margins and profit. How well did you deliver the service? What were your ticket times? How much are you spending all-in to deliver a given service? With standardized processes, you can compare apples to apples and identify areas for improvement.

  1. How much: Equip your sales department and consultants with average pricing calculations.

If you can’t give clients ballpark figures or initial estimates for your products or services based on a few quick inputs, that’s an obstacle to the sale. If you request an initial assessment of 10 hrs. for a large IT environment just to arrive at a price, you’ve put yourself in a bind. Do you charge the customer for those 10 hrs. to pay the highly skilled engineer for his time without actually delivering any service? How do you roll that into the project or service price if they don’t retain your services? What if your competitor can say: “looks like that’ll be around $3000-$3500” after a short phone call, but it takes you two weeks to come to the same conclusion? Get into the habit of using averages.

These are just a few practical steps to becoming a top-tier MSP with a robust service offering and delivery process. With all the developments in technology, 3rd party vendors, and client requests, you’ve got to develop a solid framework internally for processing all of that information, getting everyone on board so they know how to process information that comes their way. There will likely be some pushback and disagreement, and you’ll have to determine the best way to navigate those conflicts. In the meantime, make sure you’ve specified roles and accountability to make sure these questions get answered, or you won’t experience the growth that’s possible in this market.