CharTec Academy: Ten Things I Learned
By Gennifer Biggs, security, storage, and managed services editor
On Wednesday, June 15, CharTec, a master MSP that offers both a full Hardware-as-a-Service (HaaS) solution and a unique monthly training program dubbed the CharTec Academy, welcomed more than a 100 partners and multiple vendor partners to its newly expanded facility. The CharTec building, which also houses the company's managed services practice, ARRC Technologies, has nearly doubled in size, and offers a look at every solution CharTec offers. Founder and CEO Alex Rogers welcomed the group on Wednesday night with a Polynesian-style celebration that included a baby zebra (the CharTec logo), fire dancers, and a pig roast.
On Thursday, the focus shifted to work, and Rogers presented to the group about the value of CharTec and shared his experience as an MSP in business for nearly 20 years. Mixed in that presentation were 10 tips I'd like to share with you.
1. Invest In Your People
Rogers stresses that events such as CharTec academy aren't just for business owners, but rather an IT solutions providers' entire staff. With tracks on marketing, sales, and technology, there is something for everyone. And, just as some time out networking with peers reinvigorates you as a CEO, it also helps your staff build connections with peers and rediscover their enthusiasm. Other advice – don't forget to provide your staff the skills they need, such as vendor certifications around your solution set.
2. Build Relationships – With Customers, Employees, and Vendors Rogers pointed out that many companies stress strong relationships with their customers, but don't spend as much time building good relationships with employees, and a strong corporate culture around that, or with vendors. He encouraged MSPs to partner – truly – with vendors by attending conferences, sharing business goals, and asking vendors for support to achieve those goals.
3. Answer Your Phone I know, it seems like a silly tip, but as Rogers puts it, your customers are only calling you when they are already annoyed and having a bad day, don't add to it with an automated attendant. He challenged the group to turn off those answering services, hire a receptionist, and make their customers happy. "It isn't 9 options to help me, it's 9 options to make me angry and frustrated," jokes Rogers. "If you are telling me you can't afford someone to answer the phones, then it seems to me you can't afford to not have a friendly voice answering your phone."
4. Figure Out Where You Are Better I know, you think you know. In fact, during CharTec Academy, Rogers asked the 100 gathered MSPs to make a quick list of five things they do better than their competitors. The lists were riddled with PR speak such as "I'm a trusted advisor," and "I respond faster," versus true differentiators. His suggestion: Ask your customers what you do that makes them like to work with you. Then ask your employees what they are doing to be better than their peers at your competitors. Build on those skills.
5. Develop A Flat Price For Your Customers. One point Rogers stressed was offering a flat-fee price to your customers. No matter what, they know exactly what they will spend each month. The cautionary word on this: Do full and deep discovery in each customer's environment so that your flat-fee proposal, which is unique and different for each customer, reflects any hurdles you have identified in that environment. For example, if you are completing a contract proposal for a graphic design firm with dozens of Macs, and you know you will struggle to manage those machines, make sure that higher support cost is reflected in the flat-fee you propose. (More on this later …)
6. Define And Articulate Your Solution Stack The fatter your solution stack, the better you are protected from cloud computing competition. Does that mean you have to build expertise around every single point of your customers' environments? Nope. Find partners, and work toward a common goal of higher revenue.
7. Goal Of HaaS Is To Overcome Objection About Replacing Old Network Components If you know the story behind CharTec, you know that it started with a stubborn customer that refused to upgrade its network but fully expected ARRC Technologies to keep it running for a set contract price. Eventually, it made sense for ARRC to simply replace the network; it turned out to be more profitable that investing the manpower required by a slow, old, instable environment. Today, HaaS allows CharTec partners to take that objection off the table. The end result: Your customers have fast, stable networks; are extremely sticky since you own the hardware; and your company benefits from a quieter ticket board, standardized solutions, and higher profits.
8. Marketing Is A Marathon, Not A Sprint. Among the vendor partners presenting was Mike Cooch, CEO of Kutenda, which offers marketing-as-a-service to the channel. The main message from Cooch was simple, and one tip was for MSPs to understand that marketing campaigns take patience and longevity. He pointed out that most potential customers are in the market for an IT partner for 12 to 18 months, so mailing one postcard won't cut it. You need to invest time in building your brand awareness, and be consistently in front of your audience. The takeaway: It takes 8 views or touches before your target audience remembers who you are.
9. Proposals Come After Discovery One common mistake made by many business owners is making a canned presentation. Rogers does everything but jump up and down to stress that approach simply doesn't work, especially with managed services. Why? Because every single client is a little different. So, 1) don't assume you know what they need, and 2) don't sell them stuff they don't need. Rather, spend time talking to everyone from the decision maker down to the receptionist about what works and what doesn't with their IT. Then, tweak your proposal to reflect what you learned. Heard a horror story about the roll out of their last software update? Highlight proof of concept testing in the cloud. Were they down last month for two days due to a server crash? Talk about BDR and restore time.
10. Don't Just Regurgitate Facts. How often have you tuned out the flight attendant telling you how to find the exit on a plane? Rogers asked that questions during his presentation to make the point: If you tune out a monotonous presentation on how to survive a plane crash because it is all professional speak, how will you get your customers to listen? Talk to them. Use examples you learned from your discovery process, anecdotes, humor, and be friendly. It is the Southwest Airlines model. People listen when you engage them with real conversation, not when you show them a PowerPoint slide deck.