MAX 2015: Ryan Morris – Strategic and steady wins

Karl Palachuk

We've all heard the advice that you need to work "on" your business. In his keynote presentation at MAX 2015 in Washington, DC, Keynote, Ryan Morris gave a deep dive on exactly what that work looks like. The talk was called "Updating Your Managed Services Business to Extend Your Value & Improve Profit Performance."

The basic question is: How do you remain relevant and profitable as wave after wave of technology sweeps through our industry? Just like every other industries, our industry has early and late adopters, and a bunch of people in the middle. There's money in the middle, but you also need to know when a trend is fading and add new offerings to your mix. Too many people just follow the crowd, dramatically reducing their potential revenue.

Ryan talked about ways to develop a perpetual business strategy for addressing waves of change – and being prepared for the next truly disruptive change in our market.

The talk was wrapped around a great question: Why do some businesses win?

Traditionally, technology companies have sold themselves based on better products, better services, better prices, promotions, doing a better job, and having better people. All of that might be true, but it makes your business very hard to differentiate from other managed service providers. We all have the best products, best services, best people, etc. Right?

The right way to win is to time your strategy so that it's relevant to where the market it right now. If each market (eg, cloud services) has a startup stage, a beginning, a middle, and an ending stage, then you'll need different approaches for each stage. That requires that you pay attention to what's going on and know where the market is in it's lifecycle.

The hard part is that sellers don't define the market. Buyers do. And they're all different. So you have to really tune in to figure out where the buyers are. That means you need to really tune into your existing and future clients. If they're buying something you're not selling, you need to fix things quick!

Add some complexity to this and realize that there are multiple markets going on at the same time, each at a different stage. So you can actually look a little into your future. Right now the market for in-house servers is in its final stages of life. The Cloud market has been growing for awhile now and is in the fat, juicy part of its life. Looking ahead, 3D printers and IoT (Internet of Things) are on the horizon.

It's tempting to keep getting in late for each new market, Morris says. Lots of MSPs got into the cloud game late, and left a lot of money on the table. Most MSPs don't have any strategy or awareness of markets that have to do with 3D printing or IoT.

So this should be a wake-up call. Do you see technology markets that you haven't planned for or figured out a strategy for? You don't have to jump into all of them, but you'll have to jump into something or you'll be out of business! So you should start thinking about how these emerging opportunities fit in your business.

And since Moore's Law rules supreme, the rate of change is increasing every year. Markets emerge, mature, and decline much faster now than in the past. And the speed of change will continue increasing.

So how do you cope with all this? Morris notes that there are four skillsets you need. Most of us practice one of these on a regular basis. The others we either don't practice or we don't practice enough to be good at them. The one we do well at is to dig into our current market and make the most of it. To be honest, a lot of us got lazy in the heyday of Small Business Server because we rode that market from about 2003 to 2009 with very little change.

The primary skill we don't practice enough is investing in new markets and launching new offerings. If you do this every three or four years, you'll never be good at it. If you are constantly investing and launching, even on a small scale, you'll have the skills to do it well.

The opposite skill is to have a strategic program for decommissioning a technology and removing it from our business. But you have to stop selling certain things in order to sell something else. Again, we don't do enough of this. But my sense is that this is far less important than the "launch" skill.

Finally, we need to get good at market research, business planning, and change management. Here's where many people just fall flat. I think many of us want to adopt a business model and some product offerings, and then just run that business forever. Well, you can't. The world keeps spinning. All those new markets are going to come at the speed of light. You need to be prepared now more than ever.

The good news, of course, is that you are still ahead of your clients and you are 100% in control of what you do with your company, strategically.

Remember, no one promised you this would be easy.

But if you really love technology, there's some really cool stuff coming at us fast. And you get to sell it!

Ryan Morris' presentation at the MAX 2015 conference was excellent - and an excellent example of how MAXfocus is dedicated to helping partners to be successful moving forward.