Three ways to un-muddle your MSP goals

Karl Palachuk

One of my favorite topics is focus. We focus on our business. We focus on our family. We focus on the job in front of us.

Unfortunately, it can be very difficult to bring the correct amount of focus to your business. Where this really hits home is with our goals – and the goals we help our clients set. As you know, I’m a huge advocate for playing the CIO role with your clients. That means you need to have goals for them and you need to help them articulate goals for their technology.

It seems like setting goals should be “obvious” to us. But it really isn’t. Most of us have what I call muddled goals. That is, they’re messy and confusing. We say things like

  • We want to make more money
  • We want more clients
  • We strive to provide excellent service

I say those are muddled because they are imprecise. More money? How do you reach that goal? Sell one more laptop. There. You’ve made more money.
Compare those goals to these:

  • We will increase monthly recurring revenue by $50,000 by December 31st 
  • We will add one additional client with ten or more seats to managed services each month
  • We will maintain a Net Promoter Score of 9 or above for all clients each quarter

The most obvious thing about un-muddled goals is that they are clear. By definition, muddled goals are not clear and clear goals are not muddled. “Clear” means your goals are specific. Some people use the term precise.

Here are a few tips for un-muddling your goals.

Tip #1: Be Detailed and Elaborate

GoalsThe easiest way to un-muddle your goals is to begin giving them details. For example, the goal above went from “more money” to an extra $50,000 by a specific date. Think about how you might explain your strategy to me. I might ask you to elaborate on your plan.

Goals are not plans. But goals that get met are those that begin to look like plans. How might you elaborate this goal? Well, for starters you can list out specific goals for each type of recurring revenue. For example, you might say that you’ll add six BDR solutions at $1,000 per month each. Then you’ll add ten servers to managed services at $500 per month each.

Continue on this way until you’ve listed out each type of monthly recurring revenue and set targets for each. In addition to making the big number look much more attainable, you’ve broken one big goal into smaller goals – each of which can be reached within the targeted deadline.

Tip #2: Intertwine Your Goals

Combine-goalsHow many times have you looked at the excuses put forth for not reaching your goals? When you start to do this, you begin to think that your whole business is one big cascading failure. We didn’t make sales because we didn’t have enough prospects in our funnel. The funnel was empty because the leads were not good. The leads were not good because we bought them from a broker rather than cultivating them ourselves. We had to do that because we were in a hurry because we didn’t market while we were busy delivering the last three big projects.

You see how it goes. Everything relies on something else. And the cycle never stops. But if it’s true that everything relies on something else, let’s not isolate one goal from another.

In the second goal above, we decided to add one decent-sized client each month. When we examine our average 10-25 user client, we can estimate how much they will buy in managed services, remote backup, hosted email, and so forth. This has a direct effect on our goal to add recurring revenue. In fact, once we dig down into the details, we may increase the overall goal. Or we might leave it the same but adjust the amount we expect from software licensing versus remote monitoring and maintenance.

Tip #3: Schedule Checkpoints

Check-pointsWe are often told to set deadlines for ourselves. Your goals need deadlines. For example, we set goals that are due to be achieved by December 31st. But that single endpoint is often more of a hindrance than a help.

Many people have a tendency to avoid starting work toward a goal because the deadline is far off into the future. At some point they begin to worry about it and eventually they panic and start the work. So rather than taking six months to reach a six-month goal, they take four months to procrastinate and two months to run around like crazy trying to meet the target.

Scheduling checkpoints holds you and your people accountable for working on the elaborated details discussed above. It also helps you to schedule the intertwined elements. I frequently look at all timelines from two distinct perspectives: Forward and Backward.

If I’m planning scheduled checkpoints, I normally start with “today” and then make estimates for checkpoints going forward. For example, targets for each month between now and the end of December. Then I start at the end and begin looking at the details. To close the work we need to meet our December goals, we’ll need to have meetings scheduled, which require proposals sent, which require sales meetings, and so forth.

Looking backward forces us to add realistic time frames to the goals we’ve set. It also helps us get a more detailed view of the smaller goals that have to be met in order for the large goal to be met. In other words: It helps us develop checkpoints.

Checkpoints must be more than reminders on a calendar. This is a time to actually sit down and take stock. How far have you come? Are you on target? Is the next target reachable? Are there details we did not foresee and now need to plan for?

Take These Tips to Your Clients

I hope you’ll consider these three tips as you set goals for the rest of the year – and in your annual planning. But you should also apply them to your client “roadmap” meetings. As the outsourced CIO, you need to help your clients plan the evolution of their technology.

One of the biggest differences between break/fix and managed services is planning. By definition, break/fix clients begin worrying about their server one minute after the old server dies. In many cases, their default reaction is to replace the failed technology with similar technology. But they may also know something about alternatives. Should they move to the cloud? Should they just move a few key functions to the cloud and buy a lighter server for the on-premise piece?

Think about adding these three tips to your roadmap process. You can talk about a generalized calendar of changes, even without specific dates. But once you start getting into the details, and elaborating the pieces that need to be addressed, you make the project easier for the client to understand. It’s important that they view technology as a large, integrated system.

Very few clients throw away all of their technology and replace it all at the same time. It is much more common to address one system or sub-system at a time. That makes this approach work very well.

For example, we always like to push a three-year cycle for hardware replacement. Clients hear that and many agree to it. But many also drag that out an additional 6-12 months. But in the end, they eventually replace all their desktop computers. These days that might mean that they’ve gradually replaced all of their 100MB network cards with 1GB network cards. So now their switch is the chokepoint. But it’s okay since the server only had dual 100MB NICs as well.

As the CIO you can present a holistic picture of what’s going on. Everything works. It works pretty fast. It could be faster. With CAT5e wiring, they’ll probably never reach 1GB, but they might achieve 300MB or 400MB speeds. So now you can propose a plan of action that takes them out 1-2 years and gives them a sense that you’re looking after the big picture when it comes to their technology.

Roadmap meetings are not sales meetings. But they certainly help you to make sales. And when the client has bought into the process months – or years – in advance, the sale is a lot easier.

Just remember that an “elaborate” view of technology goals does not have to be discussed in technical terminology. In fact, it’s much easier to discuss the big picture when you can discuss each element separately. Clients understand the concept of speed even if they don’t know what 100 or 300 or 1,000 refers to.

Try this three-pronged approach to goal-setting within your company and with your clients. You’ll see that a detailed, comprehensive approach doesn’t have to be overwhelming for your staff or your clients.

How do you set your goals? What do you think of this three-pronged approach? Share your thoughts in a comment below!