An important aspect of running a business is ensuring that it actually makes money. You can have beautiful motherhood statements stating that you are going to revolutionise the world of widgets and make the world better because your pink widgets will solve hunger in all third world countries BUT if you don’t actually have a profitable business, then you won’t be changing anything – except maybe your own world and the house you live in when receivers are appointed.
When it comes to discussing proactive consultancy, many MSPs think they are in the realm of motherhood statements. All nice and fluffy and feel good – but not really anything concrete. More importantly, many MSPs don’t see a consultancy discussion as actually delivering any profits so they should just ignore them.
I say – ignore them at your peril.
An incredibly important component of a modern SLA is the concept of a regular consultancy meeting. There are several reasons you should lock these in and set the schedule in concrete.
Humans are not computers. We forget stuff. Ninety days is the magic number. If your clients don’t have any contact with you in ninety days, they start to forget who you are. When they see a regular payment being made to you then after three months, they start to resent that payment. They start to question why they are paying you thousands of dollars a month when, from their perspective, you aren’t actually doing anything. When they finally ring and demand a meeting to discuss this terrible rip-off SLA that you sold them, they are already way below the line of reason and they need to be brought back up above it. If you have a consultancy meeting with all of your clients every quarter, they remember who you are.
The primary school that my children attend has a unique system in place in relation to being ‘sent to the Principal’. One day one of my children came home and told me they were told to ‘see the Principal’. I was horrified. In my school days, you were sent to the Principal when it was time to receive the cane. My fingers automatically wince at the mere thought of it. I thought this child of mine was performing very well at school hence my shock. Then I found out she had received a merit award for high achievement and the school has a policy of sending children to the Principal for excellence as well as for punishment (and apparently they can’t give them the cane anymore). I loved the idea. The Principal should not be a big scary ogre that dishes out punishment and that children are scared to talk to him or her. It is the same for your clients. If you visit them regularly – when the relationship is completely rosy and everyone is happy – then a meeting when there is a problem is not a scary concept. In fact, by having a regular meeting, you have a chance to discuss all manner of items about the relationship and constantly reinforce the positive relationship you have. One of those meetings each year would be the SLA renewal meeting and the client won’t feel you only ever visit when you want their money.
At the end of each consultancy visit, I would ask the client five standard survey questions and I asked them to rate our organisation out of ten for each question. I didn’t ask them to fill in a survey – as that only delivers the extremes of satisfaction (good and bad). I would ask the questions as part of the meeting and record their answers in our survey tool. Every month we would view the results as an organisation. As nice and fluffy as the rest of the meeting often was, this is where you really found out how satisfied the client was. Numbers tell the truth. It gives you a chance to address any individual concerns on the spot but, more importantly, by viewing the results of the questions on an ongoing collated monthly view, it gives an indication if the organisation is tracking well or if there are significant areas for improvement.
Lastly, without even meaning to do it, you sell more stuff! The typical format of one of my consultancy meetings would go along the lines of: “How is your business travelling and what is happening in your industry?”, then “How well is your computer environment meeting your current needs and how are our service levels?”, then “Here are some developments in IT that might be of interest to you.” I would have my survey questions at the end of the meeting. In 96 percent of cases, I could not leave the meeting without the client spending more money. It is almost impossible to talk about technology and discuss the latest trends in technology without a client becoming interested or excited by what they heard – and that means it created desire. This certainly was never my intention with consultancy meetings but it was a by-product of the meetings that I was happy to take every time. By the very fact that it was never designed as a sales meeting it made the meeting more attractive to the client as a sales meeting! The best part, of course, is that you build the consultancy time into your overall SLA package so you are effectively being paid by the client to have a meeting with them – to sell them stuff! It doesn’t get much better than that!
My advice is to find out the coffee preferences of your clients and turn up at the consultancy meetings with your client’s preferred coffee choice and run through the discussion in a format that makes you feel comfortable. You will have incredibly loyal clients, you will have your finger on the pulse of your client’s business and understand your service delivery and, perhaps most importantly from a profitability perspective, you will sell more of your hardware and services.
Tell me the most unusual coffee preferences of any of your clients firstname.lastname@example.org.