There are a handful of things we do that truly define our business and separate us from other IT providers. One is our Monthly Maintenance Process. Another is our Quarterly Roadmap Meetings.
Roadmap meetings actually start with prospects before they become clients. Many of the questions are the same. Basically, you want to get a sense of where the client's business is today and where they expect it to be in the next year or so. If you can, you should try to find out where they hope to be in five years.
Basically, the Roadmap is a rough plan for the client's technology "department" (even though most do not have such a department). The Roadmap meeting is an opportunity to sit down with the client and talk about their future.
Is the client growing or shrinking? How dependent are they on technology? Do they have a budget? Do they have a technology budget? It is quite amazing how easy it is to get clients to tell you their plans, hopes and dreams. We've gotten responses like these:
This is great stuff. You only get this stuff by asking.
But you can't casually ask. You need to have a process and procedure in which they've agreed to participate, and these are just a few questions in a longer list.
We use our own "Roadmap" process, but many of the questions are similar to the original Microsoft Business and Technology Assessment Toolkit. The best place to get this is from an old MSDN or Technet CD from at least five years ago. That's because the assessment was just a Word document and was easy to customize.
To my knowledge, there is no current version of this questionnaire at Microsoft. The last version they produced required InfoPath, a program they have ceased to produce. Note that this is not the same as the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit, which is for evaluating client technology so you can give advice on upgrades and migrations.
We print out our questions on blue paper with a cover sheet so it looks like a set of forms. That way prospects and clients see that there really is a standardized process here.
When clients are growing, you can give them the big heads up that technology spending will increase. No "sales" necessary. Just say things like "You know you can't add three people and all their data in that old server. So you don't need a new server today, but you know you will."
There's no sales here, so they'll just nod their head and say "I know, I know."
But not everyone is growing. We have had to help several clients manage the shrinking of their business; that includes using the best machines as some are taken out of service. In two cases it meant helping the clients shut down their physical office and move to virtual offices (and to the cloud). In one case, we managed technology as our client was purchased by their competition.
Our company provides free planning meetings for our clients under contract. Our definition of "managed services" focuses heavily on being the outsourced IT department for our clients. As such, we try to help develop the budget, the policies, and the 1-year, 3-year, and 5-year plans for the "IT Department." Basically, if they have a big business plan or binder, we provide the IT section that slips into place.
Here are some examples of activities we promote through Roadmap meetings:
As you can see, all of these decisions are interrelated. And they all involve lots of money and labor. And timing matters. MOST small businesses make these decisions one at a time, trying to save the most money on each purchase. The result is that they spend more money as time goes on.
And we don't push upgrades just to push upgrades. If Microsoft gave these folks everything they wanted for free, they would still have the costs of our labor plus downtime per desktop and potential downtime for servers just to install it all. So we don't push every update that comes down the road.
We call these "Quarterly" Roadmap Meetings. But that almost never happens. Basically, we schedule them with all clients. Our office manager knows that we have certain slots open in our calendar, so she can fill those with Roadmap meetings and she knows they won't conflict with anything else. It also means that we spread out the meetings so we're not taken off tech support or other tasks for large chunks of the week.
Once we've completed a round of Roadmap Meetings, she starts scheduling them again. Some clients delay and delay. So overall, most clients end up having 1-3 meetings a year. But that's enough. It keeps us in touch and keeps the conversation going.
Meetings are generally one or two hours. This is not a time to address individual service ticket issues, but it IS a time to discuss service overall. If clients have concerns about nagging issues or overall service, this is a great opportunity for them to bring that up.
So if I had to summarise three take-aways from this blog, it would be the following:
(Used with permission of Karl W. Palachuk, SmallBizThoughts.com)