From Good to Great: Three Differences Separating Elite MSPs from Everyone Else
You run an MSP, and it’s a good MSP. And that’s great — no, wait, it’s not great. It’s good. Your employees are good. Your service is good. You’re good. But therein lies the problem …
Sometimes ‘good’ isn’t good enough — especially in an industry as competitive and crowded as managed IT services. More to the point, a good MSP doesn’t make any money!
OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration; good MSPs make money, but there’s money, and then there’s live-the-life-you’ve-always-dreamed-of money. There’s money, and then there’s retire-early-and-ride-off-into-the-sunset money. So, who is making ‘real money’ in the MSP game?
Great MSPs, that’s who. This isn’t just some vague remark intended to motivate you, either. It’s a quantifiable fact: the best (top 25%) of MSPs are currently dominating the market — capturing the lion’s share of revenue and achieving unprecedented levels of growth and profitability. As for ‘the rest’ (the other 75% of MSPs)? Well, if you’re in that category, you already know the answer: it’s a struggle!
Truth is, most MSPs are scraping by, struggling to survive let alone grow. And, what’s more, most of these MSPs are good. Solid. Not bad. But as mentioned, that’s not going to cut it; if you want to make real money as a managed service provider, you can’t just be good. You’ve got to be great.
In this blog post, we’re going to talk about 3 Ways Great MSPs Differ from Good MSPs. But first, let’s explore a fascinating idea concerning the general difference between being good and being great — whether we’re talking about athletes, comedians, or MSP owners. This concept is a real mind-blower, so brace yourself …
Being Good is Harder than Being Great
There are a lot more good basketball players than great basketball players. Tons more good jokes than great jokes — just think of the dizzying number of groan-inducing ‘dad jokes’ being told this very moment! And finally, for every great MSP, there are a bunch of good MSPs struggling to break through to the next level.
In a word, there’s a lot more good in this world than there is great. And this is true almost by definition; to be great is to be special, rare, elite. A mountain narrows to a peak, reminding us: there’s not much room at the top.
OK, but what’s the lesson here? That turning your MSP into a great company is a statistical improbability? A pipe dream even?
No way! In fact, the lesson we can glean from the above observation is actually a very heartening and positive one. And it boils down to one simple concept: competition.
When you’re just good — i.e., when you’re ‘just another MSP’ — you face a lot more competition than you would if you were a great MSP. That’s because there are so many good MSPs, all competing against each other for the same opportunities.
Author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss summarizes the situation perfectly when he says, “ninety-nine percent of people in the world are convinced they are incapable of achieving great things, so they aim for the mediocre. The level of competition is thus fiercest for ‘realistic’ goals, paradoxically making them the most time- and energy-consuming.”
Wow. When you settle for less, you face more — more competition, more difficulties, and more obstacles. And it’s all because most people don’t have the guts to really go for it.
So, even though it might be scarier to pursue greatness than to pursue goodness, it’s also easier in the long run, as very few people — MSP owners included — are actually willing to do it. At the end of this blog, we will discuss one reason why this truth applies particularly well to running an MSP — why running a great MSP is actually a lot easier than running a good one (hint: it has to do with scalability).
Want to learn more about why so few people are willing to pursue greatness? Check out this highly entertaining and illuminating animated video. But first, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. Here are three differences between ‘the best’ and ‘the rest’ in the MSP space. The differences, as you will see, are subtle, which means greatness is well within your reach. Your MSP can get to the next level. You’ve just got to go for it.
Difference #1: KPIs — Keeping People Informed
If you’re thinking that using metrics like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) is the mark of a great MSP, think again. Nowadays, most MSPs use some metrics (some use too many). In short, simply tracking and measuring data at your MSP isn’t something to write home about. All good MSPs enlist metrics to measure, monitor, and improve performance.
Where great MSPs differentiate is in the way they use metrics such as KPIs to drive continual improvement. An entire book could be written on the various ways an MSP can elevate its use of metrics, so we’ll focus on just one way here: the involvement of employees, and specifically, technicians.
A great MSP not only uses a variety of metrics — financial metrics, operational metrics, system metrics, security metrics, etc. — but also, involves employees in the process.
More specifically, great MSPs keep team members in the loop; instead of being something that management looks at every so often, a great MSP’s metrics are readily accessible to employees (especially techs) on a daily basis. And it’s ideal to set up a visual representation of metrics — at least key ones — that your technicians can easily see, process, and respond to according to a ‘corrective action’ baked into the metrics themselves.
That last piece is of particular importance: your metrics need to not only reveal when there’s a problem, but also, point to a corrective measure. When metrics not only capture what has occurred, but define a path forward, you will start to see real improvements on the operations side. That’s greatness in action.
Want to revamp your MSP’s metrics program? Here’s a list of twenty metrics that MSPs ought to consider tracking.
Difference #2: Playing the Long Game
Similar to the use of metrics, marketing is no longer the mark of an elite MSP, but a standard practice that practically every MSP embraces. Well, ’embraces’ might be too strong a term; sadly, many MSPs still view marketing as a necessary evil.
Perhaps that’s why so many MSPs fail to check the most important box in their marketing to-do list: KEEP GOING! Good MSPs market, and some market quite well, enlisting a variety of channels — email, social media, video, blogs, etc. However, only great MSPs market tirelessly, which is to say — they stick with it! They don’t get discouraged when the leads don’t start rolling in right away. They push and they push and they push, making adjustments as needed, exercising patience, keeping the faith — because that’s what it takes to truly tap into marketing’s power.
Our CEO Tim Conkle, in a recent interview with CanvasRebel Magazine, spoke on why a lot of business owners struggle with this aspect of marketing: “What business owners want from marketing is for it to work like a coke machine — put a dollar in, get something sweet right away. But in reality, it could take three months for that dollar you spend on marketing to yield something.”
So take Tim’s advice and “trust the process.” It takes time to get a healthy ROI on your marketing efforts, but then again, all great things do.
Difference #3: Improvement vs. Evolution
Good MSPs improve; great MSPs evolve. This might sound like a cryptic riddle, but it actually describes a concrete difference between good and great MSPs.
Good MSPs get better at what they do, grinding out gradual improvements that add up over long periods of time. They don’t fail big, but they also don’t win big — i.e., experience huge breakthroughs that catapult them to the next level. They improve, but they don’t evolve.
Great MSPs, on the other hand, grind out gradual improvements, but also, they take risks by trying out radically new things — a new product, a new tool, a new marketing strategy, a new support desk structure. Just as biological evolution relies on mutations — sudden deviations that introduce something radically new and different — so too does evolution in business. The gap between good and great isn’t huge, but it’s hard to close without taking the occasional leap of faith.
There’s just no way to sugarcoat this. If you want to be great, you have to think big and go big, which means taking risks and trying things that scare you. Burger King didn’t just improve by adding the Impossible Whopper; Charmin didn’t just improve by embracing ‘potty humor’; Apple didn’t just improve by focusing on phones back in 2007 — No, these companies evolved. They refused to keep chugging along, getting better at what they’d always done, and instead, chose to try something entirely different.
It paid off in the end, and strategic risk-taking can do the same for your MSP.
Final Thoughts — Learn to Let Go!
The differences between good and great MSPs covered here are not vast. They’re subtle. It’s not the case that great MSPs market, and good ones don’t. It’s not the case that great MSPs use metrics, and good ones don’t. And it’s not the case that great MSPs continually improve, and good ones don’t. The differences between great and good MSPs lie in the details — not in what great MSPs do, but in how they do it: how they use metrics, how they market, how they change and improve.
That said, when you add up all the subtle differences, they get to be a lot. This is especially true if you’re a ‘one-person band.’ Implementing changes across the board is too much for one person to oversee, which is why a lot of MSPs get stuck in a ‘good’ gear, never shifting to ‘great’ — the owners are afraid to let go and hand over parts of their business to others.
But becoming a great MSP means learning to let go. It means creating scalable processes that don’t require your direct oversight and intervention. Letting go is scary, but if you can pull it off — if you can make your business scalable and less dependent on you as an individual — that’s a huge step toward getting to that next level. Moreover, your life as a business owner will become immeasurably easier once you learn to scale and hand over parts of your MSP business.
The 20 helps small and medium-sized MSPs become great with its MSP blueprint. Instead of trying to figure out a recipe for success all by yourself, you can plug into our model and start operating like an
elite MSP right away. Will joining The 20 require making some big changes to your business? Of course! But as we’ve learned, this is a good thing and a key ingredient in a recipe for greatness.
Check out this 5-minute video to learn more about what The 20 is, and how we help MSPs grow.