… Now you need to do what you promised

Karl Palachuk

I’m a firm believer that most people who sell “managed services” don’t actually deliver managed services. By that I mean they do not actually manage the technology at their clients’ offices. They don’t monitor. They don’t set alerts. Then don’t test backups. They only apply patches if it’s done automatically by MAXfocus. They don’t have an actual maintenance plan that is executed every month.

PromisesFor many people, “managed services” is synonymous with recurring revenue. Recurring revenue is a component – and maybe the most enticing component – of managed services. But it’s definitely not the whole thing. But recurring revenue can be a one-way street: The money flows in but no service flows out. For example, I still receive a monthly check for a telephone account I signed more than ten years ago. It is serviced by someone else. I literally do nothing for that check. That’s recurring revenue, but it’s definitely not a managed service.

I mentioned a maintenance plan. As simple as it sounds, you need a plan for each client under contract. The big question clients have after a year or so is, “What am I paying for?” In addition to allowing you to answer that question easily, a plan also becomes a checklist for you to make sure that you’re actually doing what you said you’d do.

A couple years ago I was talking to an MSP who had stumbled onto a huge problem. One of his clients had a hard drive failure and the backup was failing. They had trusted the BDR provider, and so they did not actually restore from backup once per month. Now they were in a panic that all the other backups didn’t work either.

To audit themselves, they created a project, assigned a team lead, and proceeded to document each backup and then test every client backup. They had several dozen BDRs deployed, and found two more that were not configured correctly.  That project turned out to be a huge undertaking – and very expensive for the MSP. Now all the backups are documented and test restores are run once per month for each client. The “cost” of guaranteeing backups is to have a 10-15 minute process every month for each client. But now they will never have to go through that ordeal again.

I hope that story made you a little anxious. The “before” and “after” parts of that story define the difference between break/fix and managed services. We’ve got these amazing tools at our fingertips. All we have to do is learn the tool, configure the tool, and verify that it’s doing what we think it’s doing. That’s what makes managed services.

And there’s a non-tool component. Someone has to configure the MAX agent, true. But someone also has to step back and look at the big picture from the perspective of taking responsibility for the client’s network. With break/fix you don’t really have any responsibility.

With break/fix, you have customers. They’re not paying you to define, document, and maintain their technology. With managed services you have clients – and they pay precisely to define, document, and maintain their systems.

How to Create a Service Plan

So, how do you get started with this grand plan for each of your managed service clients? It’s easy. Start with your three-tiered price list (or whatever else you use to market your offering).  If you don’t have one, then use whatever list of services you promoted when you sold the contract. This list will include things like

  • Remote Monitoring
  • Patch Management
  • Remote Labor
  • Quarterly Review Meetings
  • Anti-Virus
  • Spam filtering
  • Maintenance of Network Equipment
  • etc.

For each item on that list, write down the actions you will take to verify or demonstrate that you’ve delivered on that promise. For example, “Restore files from each drive and the system state to the C:\!Tech\testrestore directory on the server.”

Some items will be taken care of by the MAX agent. Others, such as monthly trainings or client roadmap meetings, have to be managed by human beings. Again, write down how you have fulfilled each of these promises each month.

I know you’ve heard it said that only a restore from backup can verify that the backup is working. This is true. Now, what are the equivalent tests for each item on your list? Write these all down. Now you have a basic checklist of the promises you’ve made to the client and actions needed to fulfill those promises.

Next, see how more of the list can be automated. Are you still approving patches manually? Have you deployed agents to the mobile devices? And so forth. Once you have this document, you can easily create a customized maintenance plan for each client on managed services.

Finally, create a recurring service ticket for “Monthly Maintenance” for each client. When the maintenance plan is executed each month, put your time into the ticket and then close it. You’ll know exactly how long it took you. And that’s a great step in documenting how profitable that client is!

We’re always looking for ways to differentiate ourselves from the competition. Well here’s a place to start: Actually deliver management of the client systems! In most cases, your competition isn’t doing it, even though they claim to.

Mock up a “Maintenance Plan” for a Platinum client and take it with you on future sales calls. Show clients how you track the actual delivery of managed services. Casually mention that anyone who offers them a managed service agreement should be able to produce a maintenance plan to demonstrate how the service will be delivered.

In addition to providing a higher level of service, it’s important to create maintenance plans simply because you need to be confident that you’re delivering the service you promised.