Managed services exits the COVID tunnel.
Around this time last year, many dealers began helping clients migrate employees to the new (and sometimes scary or baffling) world of WFH (work-from-home). The challenges could be especially difficult for dealers offering almost any level of managed IT or other managed services.
“Dealers in the managed services space had a lot of demands on them,” recounted John Schweizer, vice president of business development and channels at ConnectWise. “Now, a year into it, MSPs [Managed Services Practices] are seeing nearly 20% growth, sometimes quarter over quarter, which shows how well-positioned they can be with customers.”
The most successful dealers paid attention to their customers and market dynamics and helped customers’ employees maintain productivity while adapting to new routines and meeting new expectations.
“Dealers who helped customers with respect to service enhanced their position within those customers’ businesses,” agreed David Pohlman, executive vice president and chief operating officer at GreatAmerica Financial Services Corp. “For example, managed IT is a much higher consequence relationship, so dealers that performed well found it easier to gain a ‘trusted advisor’ status with those customers.”
Such status is by no means trivial. It can help secure a dealers’ position in other areas, including output devices. “Enhanced relationships and increased reliance will be strong long-term benefits for these dealers,” said Pohlman.
But success depends on how well a dealer packages and delivers its brand promise because customers prefer complete services.
“Dealers that do it well tend to win,” noted Schweizer. He pointed out that several services are often bundled so there is one monthly charge for a set of products and services. This used to be, common say, for printing/copying supplies and equipment servicing. With managed services, it may be those plus varying levels of network support, IT security, and telephony. These bundles are becoming more important with the rise in WFH employees. If there is one thing the pandemic has proven, it is that the workplace we are accustomed to has irrevocably changed.
Office or Not?
What some of your customers are wrestling with is when, how many, and how often people come back to the office. While some companies are deciding life can go on with only occasional appearances by most employees, the majority are planning to have at least some employees back in the office all or most of the time.
“The American workforce in general is adapting to different approaches for the future,” affirmed Laura Blackmer, senior vice president, dealer sales, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A. “We’ve spent a lot of time helping dealers whose customers suddenly have remote workforces. Some employees and employers like the structure of an office setting, while others are more comfortable with remote work.”
People who have normally worked remotely, such as salespeople, will stay remote, but others will be coming back into offices, sometimes in a hybrid model, added Blackmer. Sales, though, can be different. A key part of Konica Minolta’s efforts has been training dealers’ sales reps—who commonly did primarily in-person selling—to sell remotely.
To help the changing world of sales, Konica Minolta invested in a showroom at its Ramsey, New Jersey, headquarters where customers and prospects can get a personal look at the systems they are considering.
“The results from this have been phenomenal,” reported Dino Pagliarello, senior vice president, product management and planning, Konica Minolta Business Solutions U.S.A.. “It’s the best thing we could have done. It lets us show customers what we can do, but we also learn by talking with them. We hear about their needs in terms of hardware, cloud, and wireless support, and it has really fast-forwarded us about five years.”
Chris Bilello, director, business development at Konica Minolta agreed: “A lot of what we learned was cloud-based, especially how dealers could support customers in terms of security and enterprise content management. Some dealers provide this already, others use All Covered (a managed services company owned by Konica Minolta), and some dealers’ customers use third-party providers. Either way, they want to know how to protect everything.”
It is important for every dealer to talk with customers about these issues because remote offices are the way of the future. Even if office workers are in a regular office two or three days a week, they are remote the rest of the time—and their work has to be protected. Dealers have the opportunity to be customers’ go-to resource for equipment and security. Moreover, this is not a temporary need. ConnectWise’s Schweizer said the need to support remote workers will remain healthy.
“Cybersecurity is already in demand and going to get bigger,” Schweizer said. “The bad actors have gotten more active in the past year and will increasingly push into the small and medium business sectors.”
You’re Probably Good at Billing
As the need to support remote workers grows, it’s interesting to note that dealers already know how to bill for it. Earlier, Schweizer observed that dealers and customers alike were accustomed to billing that encompassed a mix of services that included labor and materials. Now is no different.
“Fifty years ago, dealers figured out how to package up supplies and services and bill for it. Now it’s just a different mix of supplies and services,” he said. “Instead of billing for 30 copiers, maybe you’re billing for 15, but you are also billing for a higher level of expertise and support that customers need.”
While not all dealers can make the leap to offering managed services on their own, forward-looking ones have formed outsource relationships to meet pending demand. You can, too. While some outside providers may have all the business they can handle, others need a partner to be the feet on the street that gets them in a prospect’s door. Dealers can be ideal partners because they already have footholds and relationships in many businesses. When working with a partnering company, the key is to be sure your sales team asks questions that help identify a customer as a managed services prospect, and then, turns the lead over to the partnering company.
Some dealers will protest and claim they don’t have the knowledge. Well, maybe not. But you also don’t know how to build a printer or copier. So, you went to an expert or two, which are now your OEMs. The same is true for managed services. What you can’t do yourself, find a partner company so together you can provide the 24/7/365 service your customers need—and that you can bill for.
“In most cases,” said Schweizer, “the amount billed goes up, not down.”
Whether you are betting on a return to normal or whatever comes next, GreatAmerica’s Pohlman thinks technologies that facilitate location flexibility, remote collaboration, high security, and ease of remote support will be the big winners. To prepare, learn what customers are thinking about, develop an offering and roll it out (perhaps even in a lean form) before it is needed, and perhaps partner with the customer and another business as necessary. And ask your OEMs for intel on new markets. OEMs all have sizeable teams devoted to researching opportunities. Don’t hesitate to pick their brain on the details of a market so you can better understand it and the opportunities for your business. Then, you can be better prepared for the new normal.
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