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I’ve bought Professional Services Automation software. What next?

Frustrated EngineerIn my MSP eBook “Mistakes MSP’s Make – The Five Most Important Mistakes IT Managed Service Providers Make Which Cost Them Time and Money” one of the biggest mistakes I suggest IT Managed Service Providers (MSP’s) might make is not implementing Professional Services Automation (PSA) software.

Put simply, PSA software enables you to bring order to chaos within your IT business. It becomes your business operating system — the central repository for information across all areas of your business, from Service Desk to Sales to Finance. It allows everyone in your business to sing from the same hymn sheet. It allows you to move away from the vanity of turnover to the sanity of profit. It enables your business to work with the right employees and clients. And more.

In my mind, any IT businesses worth its salt needs a PSA solution if they are to grow in a scalable and sustainable way.

But — and this a huge but — a PSA tool is not a cureall. The act of buying a PSA system is not going to solve all your worries as an IT business owner. For that you need a PSA tool and something else – an implementation plan.

The PSA system hasn’t worked!

ExcusesI’ve heard from many IT businesses who have implemented a PSA system, and then a few months later and a few pounds or dollars less in the bank, dumped it and exclaimed “It doesn’t work!”.

I sympathise with these IT businesses. When my own MSP implemented a PSA system, it was a challenge. Why? Because I was changing the established processes and systems within my business, and doing this is painful because it takes time. Time is something most IT businesses do not have – which ironically is often the reason they’ve bought a PSA system in the first place.

Finding the time to implement change is difficult within any business, but especially within smaller IT businesses. In a company with 5 employees or less, where the business owner is often the Senior Technician, HR person, Marketing Manager and head Salesman, trying to find the time to implement a PSA system feels nigh on impossible.

For many of the IT businesses I work with, where the business needs to achieve something but it’s going to be impossible for the business owner or anyone else within the business to find the time to do the task, I suggest they outsource the work.

Outsourcing the implementation of your PSA tool is a step too far for many IT businesses. PSA companies such as Autotask offer full locally based implementation packages with their product, but for many businesses that feels too uncomfortable. “My business is unique” or “They aren’t an MSP, so they won’t understand how I want to use the software” are two common objections I hear from IT businesses. The other objection, of course, is cost. Some people object to paying extra to have a tool setup for them when they’ve already paid for the license. Of course, it often costs more in the long run to not get assistance with an implementation, but many MSP’s don’t realise that until they’re ready to dump the product.

So the MSP buys the PSA tool because they know they need it, but they don’t implement it properly because it’s too painful to do so – either in terms of time or money. They hobble on in this way for months until they reach breaking point and throw their hands in the air and declare that it doesn’t work for them.

And so they are back to square one – needing something to help them organise their IT business and bring order to chaos.

Why you need to make a commitment to a PSA implementation

ConsistencyWith all that said, there are thousands of IT Solution Providers and MSP’s who do use a PSA system and it has radically changed their business for the better.

How have they achieved this? Simply put, they’ve made a commitment to implementing the PSA properly.

That commitment might be to undertake a project to migrate their most mission critical system – quite often the Service Desk – from a legacy system to the PSA tool. It’s my experience that when the Service Desk is using a PSA tool in anger, then the rest of the business follows suite. A PSA system isn’t Microsoft Office. It isn’t a piece of software you install and start using – it takes planning, which is why PSA Vendors like Autotask offer dedicated implementation teams to work one-on-one with clients to achieve this.

But if you choose not to work with the Vendors implementation team — for whatever reason — you can make commitments to implement the PSA product in other ways.

Attending Peer Groups

You can learn from your peers. There are thriving User Groups across the world, and here in the UK there are large Autotask and ConnectWise User Groups that you can freely attend.

In the UK, US and further afield, Autotask have started group implementation so that you can attend sessions with your peers. You might even choose to do this in addition to a formal implementation. Attending these groups gives you a more generalist session which helps you learn more about the broader features of a PSA tool.

Using Free PSA Training

You can commit to sending your staff on training. It’s in the PSA Vendors best interests for your whole business to engage with the product, and for it to become sticky. Therefore they offer free on-line training as well as in person events (I’ve written before about the Autotask Accelerator events here in the UK).

Working with 3rd party Experts

If you want to find out how other successful MSP’s are using PSA tools, then you can hire them directly to show you the ropes.

Worldwide, there are a large number of Autotask Certified Consulting Partners (CCP’s) who have implemented Autotask within their own business, become experts in how it is used, have passed an exam to prove their expertise, and now work with other MSP’s to help them not only implement their PSA product, but also provide ongoing support and assistance too.

Here in the UK we’re spoiled with some of the best Autotask CCP’s in the world. Gareth Brown at Sytec has helped many MSP’s implement Autotask from scratch. Bruce Penson at ProDrive is an expert on how to use Autotask to reduce costs and increase profitability. Emma Barker at Blue Logic is a worldwide expert on both Projects and Sage integrations. These are folks who know as much about PSA products as the PSA Vendors themselves – and can prove it works for their businesses.

How the PSA Vendors can improve

Where the PSA Vendors can improve is in making it easier for new customers to take baby-steps into using their products. Bite-sized training that allows users in specific roles to get up to speed in how to do the things that are important to them.

Autotask New UI Announcement

Mark Cattini announces new Autotask UI at Community Live! 2013

The interface of modern PSA tools also needs to change. For instance, Autotask has an intimidating user interface (UI) that can overwhelm some people. If you’re a Helpdesk engineer, then seeing details about sales and finance might be a distraction. If you’re a Sales person, then you want to sell and the PSA tool needs to help you do that. Sales tools such as OnePageCRM give a glimpse at how the future should look – helping users focus on the next action they need to take rather than leaving them confused.

I was excited to hear Autotask CEO Mark Cattini’s announcement at Autotask Community Live! in Barcelona last October that Autotask will be getting a full User Interface overhaul in 2014. I suspect this overhaul will make the product easier to implement and use for everyone. Watch this space.

Conclusion

The bottom line is, a Professional Services Automation tool *can* help make your business scalable and sustainable – but only if you’re prepared to make a commitment in time and energy to implementing it.

The PSA Vendors offer options to help you and your staff become adept with their product, for it to become sticky within your organisation — it’s in their best interests to — but even if you choose to ignore these options, there is a thriving 3rd party market of experts who you can hire to give you bespoke advice and guidance.

One of the biggest mistakes an MSP can make which costs them time and money is to NOT use a PSA tool, but it can also be a mistake to implement one without a proper plan.

A list of User Groups for UK Managed Service Providers

Shaking HandsHere is a list of User Groups for UK based Managed Service Providers and IT Solution Providers that I hope to keep regularly updated.

Peer and User Groups are a fantastic way of accelerating your learning and building your business, and I highly encourage you to get involved.

Need more convincing? Here are 3 good reasons to attend your local user group.

 

UK IT Small Business User Groups

A number of user groups regularly meet around the UK to discuss both business and technology, to share ideas and to network. Many of these groups were born from the Microsoft Small Business Specialist Community (SBSC) and members of these groups are typically the owners of SMB IT solution providers and Managed Service Providers.

Further reading:-

 

Autotask User Groups

There are a number of worldwide Community groups for users of the Autotask Service Intelligence tool, including a group in the UK.

Autotask User Group meetings are typically open to all-comers, not just Autotask users, with industry wide as well as Autotask-specific education.

If you want to know more about the Autotask User groups then contact Len DiCostanzo, Senior Vice President, Community and Business Development at Autotask.

 

CompTIA UK Channel Community

The community was formed in an effort to provide a platform for resellers, distributors, and vendors to focus on developing best practices, business education and resources for companies engaged in the delivery of IT services in the UK.

The community meets face-to-face four times a year, and the LinkedIn group keeps the community in touch between meetings. There is no requirement to be a member of CompTIA to join the community, and attendance at the community meetings is free.

Further reading:-

 

ConnectWise User Groups

There are a number of Community groups for users of the ConnectWise PSA tool across North-America, Australia and there is also a group named Five Hours Ahead that regular meets in London for the UK.

If you’re a ConnectWise user who wants to know more then contact Amy Hodge, Community Director at ConnectWise.

 

Heartlands Technology Group

The Heartlands Technology Group (HTG) is a peer group for IT businesses that lives by the mantra “Business and Personal growth driven by execution”.

HTG 11 is the UK chapter of the peer group and meets once per quarter. Find out more details about Heartlands Technology Group (HTG).

 

Microsoft Office 365 UK User Group

Meeting the first Thursday of each month alternately in London and Birmingham, the group is dedicated to IT companies who work with Microsoft Office 365.

For more details, contact group lead Matthew Hughes or visit the Office 365 UK User Group web-site.

 

Microsoft Unified Communications User Group London

A London User Group aimed at driving awareness for Lync & Unified Communications (UC) related technology – with a little best practice thrown in too.

For more details visit the Microsoft Unified Communications User Group London website.

 

Sharepoint User Group UK

Connecting Sharepoint experts across the UK, with monthly regional meetings and online forums.

For more details visit the Sharepoint User Group UK website.

 

SQL Server User Groups

The Midlands SQL Server User Group meets every other month in Birmingham. For more details, check out the SQL Midlands web-site or follow @SQLMidlands on Twitter.

The Leicester SQL Server User Group meets three times a year in Leicester. For more details, check out the Leicester SQL Server User Group web-site.

 

UC Birmingham User Group

Unified Communications group. Quarterly Lync, Exchange and Office 365 events in Birmingham City Centre.

For more details visit the UC Birmingham User Group webpage.

 

UK Azure User Group

Meeting monthly in London for evenings and weekly for mornings to discuss and consult on Microsoft’s Azure cloud computing platform.

For more details visit the UK Azure User Group meetup page.

 

UK Virtualisation User Group

The largest independent Cloud and virtualisation user group in the UK. Formerly known as Virtual Machine User Group (VMUG), the group holds regular events across the UK.

For more details visit the Virtualisation User Group website.

 

 

Yammer User Group

An occasional meetup for Office 365 and Yammer users in London.

For more details visit the Yammer User Group meetup page.

Other Groups

If you have a User or Peer Group you’d like me to list, then please contact me.

 

Image used courtesy of Garfield Andersson under Creative Commons license.

Autotask Community on Tour – London – 18th Nov, 2011 – New larger venue to accommodate popularity!

imageA heads-up that the Autotask Community on Tour event that takes place this Friday 18th November in London has *exploded* in popularity over this past week!

I understand the team at Autotask were expecting around 100 registrations, but with the upsurge in new Autotask users within the UK over the past few months and the strong line-up for the day, at the close of business on Friday registration had exceeded 200!

To their credit, Autotask haven’t backed away from the situation and instead have moved the event from the original venue of the Holiday Inn in Oxford Circus to the Grand Connaught Rooms in London. If you’ve ever visited the Connaught before, you’ll know it’s a great venue!

What’s more, Autotask MVP Lee Evans of Vital dropped me a line on Friday to say that thanks to the new bigger venue, he’s contacted those non-Autotask users who expressed an interest in attending the event to welcome them along. As Lee said, “… it’s become less of a user group and more of a road-show come industry event that everyone is welcome to attend, and we are now able to accommodate more!”

I know that as well as Autotask flying in CEO Mark Cattini (who I interviewed on this blog a few weeks ago), Senior VP Len DiCostanzo and other senior staff, also in attendance will be GFI Max, Doyenz, Synaxon and the team from LogMeIn – who will be hosting a Cocktail Reception at the venue after the event.

And if I had to guess, I’d bet on the fact that due to the increased exposure of this event, more recognisable names still will be in attendance…

If all that sounds too good, the downside is that I’ve been asked to present to – but you can tolerate 30 minutes of me talking about Backup and Disaster Recovery for MSP’s, right? Smile

Registration is free, so regardless of what PSA or RMM tool you’re using (or even if you’re not) – if you’re an IT Solution Provider or Managed Service Provider, get yourself across to http://www.autotask.com/ontour/london/ and register now.

 

Building a Community – Lessons from GFI Max

One of the ways you can tell if a good product or company is gathering momentum and becoming popular is by how much of a community is building up around that product or company. When people are passionate about something they want to talk to other likeminded people about it.

GFI Max LogoOver the past couple of years, GFI Max is one such company where I’ve observed a growing community of people who want to spend time together talking about the Max RMM tool.

Whilst this isn’t something that has happened entirely by design, it’s not something that happened by accident either.

LinkedIn Forums

GFI have helped facilitate their community by providing the GFI Max LinkedIn Forums – a place where Max users can chat, exchange ideas and give feedback to the GFI team – good or bad. Whilst these forums are monitored and members of the Max team participate in discussion themselves, they aren’t moderated in the sense that if a Max client has a gripe about the product or the company that they air with their peers – the GFI team don’t delete the message or shy away from it, they respond to it directly. This attitude towards being open and transparent hasn’t gone un-noticed by the SMB Community.

Members of the GFI Max LinkedIn forums are usually the first people that get to hear about new features and the forthcoming Max Roadmap too, further building a sense that the community is valued.

User Groups

Earlier this year, GFI responded to a request from the Thames Valley Small Business Specialist User Group led by Chris Timm. The group, which has a high proportion of GFI Max users within it, was looking for a new sponsor, and GFI agreed to step in and help that group continue to grow.

All of these things on their own aren’t enough to persuade people to use GFI Max products. You still need a really good product and service delivery (which I believe GFI Max has). But if all things are equal, and an IT company is faced with choosing between two or more really good products – as is the case in the RMM market populated by GFI Max, Labtech, Kaseya and others – people tend to choose the product that their peers have recommended to them.

Make it, don’t fake it

You can’t fake this stuff. Building a community of raving fans isn’t something you can acquire. People can tell the difference between a paid endorsement and genuine goodwill towards a company or product. It takes time and it’s not easy. Most IT vendors give up because it’s too hard. They want immediate returns. Those vendors will still sell stuff, because generally their product is good, but retaining clients and as importantly, having clients who will talk about their product to others? That takes commitment.

Conferences

GFI Max Global Conferences 2011Over the next few weeks, GFI Max will be taking another step towards supporting their community and will be hosting their first GFI Max Global Conferences at four locations across the globe.

The UK Conference takes place in Oxford on October 20th.

The USA Conference takes place in Florida on November 8th and 9th.

Not forgotten, Australia gets it’s Conference in Sydney on December 1st, and Europe has a Conference on November 23rd in the Netherlands.

I’ll be attending the UK Conference on October 20th, and will be looking forward to getting together with a whole load of GFI Max users.

Are you a GFI Max user and attending too? Let me know!

How do I choose a CRM Vendor to work with?

My last blog post, entitled “How do you move from being the “IT Guy” into a Trusted Business Advisor?” prompted a lot of responses. It seems that becoming the “Trusted Business Advisor” is the goal of the majority of IT Solution Providers (ITSP’s) and Managed Service Providers (MSP’s), but achieving that status is easier said than done.

One of the techniques I suggested for ITSP’s and MSP’s moving away from providing purely maintenance and support and towards being seen as a valued business partner for clients is to become adept in offering a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) solution that can be customised for a clients specific business needs. There’s no quicker way than to both learn about and demonstrate an understanding of a clients business than taking the deep dive required to deploy a CRM solution.

Two Businessmen shaking handsBut where to begin? There are a slew of CRM packages on the market from many different vendors. Many of the e-mails I received on the subject of CRM’s spoke about being “too complicated”, “poor support” and “too expensive for SMB’s”.

I’m going to say right now that this blog post isn’t a CRM product comparison. I’m not going to recommend this CRM over another. As with all these types of topics, I do have my own preferred suppliers and software, but that’s based on my own experiences. You should find your own solutions by exploring the options and speaking with your peers on what works and what doesn’t.

I’m also going to preface this list by stating the most important technique for offering CRM solutions that I believe you can adopt. My American friends use a phrase I love – “Eat your own Dog food”. What this means is don’t try to offer a solution to your clients that you don’t use yourself. In the world of IT, that perhaps doesn’t mean you have to use the same CRM package internally that you deploy to client sites – it’s likely that you use an IT industry specific product with CRM-like capabilities such as Autotask or ConnectWise – but it does mean you have processes that support your business internally, targeted and consistent marketing, strong customer management systems in place, and a generally good understanding of the benefits that using a CRM package can bring to a business.

Once you’ve got those things in place, and begin looking at your clients business through new eyes, starting conversations about a CRM solution becomes something that not only you want to do, but knowing the benefits it brings to your client – you can’t help but do.

Back to our list of questions I ask when choosing a CRM vendor. Does the CRM Vendor…

Offer both Hosted and En-Site Solutions

If you work with a vendor who provides purely Hosted based CRM solutions, then seemingly every client you speak to will express concerns about security and ask you for En-Site options.

If you work with a vendor who provides purely En-Site CRM solutions, then seemingly every client you speak to to will express concerns about cost, maintenance and support, and ask you for Cloud options.

Yes, regular readers of this blog will know I’m beating the drum on the Cloud topic again – but the answer remains the same whatever the solution you’re offering. Don’t try to dictate to your client what is best between Hosted and En-Site. Offer them both options and let them come to their own conclusions based on the honest pro’s and con’s.

Offer great levels of support

I define great support as:-

  • The Vendor offers support by telephone, e-mail and managed on-line forums that specifically covers your local hours of business
  • The Vendors Support team understands they are speaking with an IT company, and not an end-user. When needed we can skip the scripts and deep-dive straight into a techy problem.
  • The Vendors Support team offers dedicated implementation help, and doesn’t leave it to the Partner – especially during those first few implementations.
  • The Vendor offers training videos and materials allowing you to learn at your own pace, and regular training webinars and Conference calls which allow you to schedule time for your engineers to learn.
  • When required to and requested of, the Vendors Support team will speak directly with the end-user to swiftly resolve their issue.

Offers Integration with 3rd Party Products

… with popular accountancy packages. Not just exports and imports, but true integration wherein things such as invoices and credit notes are raised and synchronised back and forth between CRM and Accountancy.

If you’re working in the US, then integration with QuickBooks is essential.

If you’re working in the UK, then integration with Sage is essential.

Check with your existing clients on what Accountancy package they currently use. Then make sure the CRM product you’re looking at supports integration with that package.

Check the Integration has been tested as working with the local version of your Accountancy package. QuickBooks in North America is different to QuickBooks in the UK.

Imports and Exports are still important. Can end-users easily export data to an Excel spread sheet to work on, or are you as the IT company going to be fielding a regular stream of 1st Line Technical Support calls on how to do exports regularly?

Offers *Strong* Integration with Microsoft Outlook

Every CRM package integrates with Microsoft Outlook. But not every CRM-Outlook integration actually works. Outlook hanging. Outlook crashing. Add-ins that have to be deployed individually rather than centrally. One way integration rather than two way synchronisation. All these things can cause a head-ache.

If your client is like the majority and uses Outlook as their trusted source for keeping data, then trying to educate them to instead work solely within the CRM instead will be an up-hill struggle. Strong Outlook integration allows the client to dump data in either Outlook or the CRM, and know the data is then synchronised to both systems for future use.

Product is aimed at SMB’s

There are a lot of CRM products that profess to cover both the Enterprise and the Small and Medium (SMB) business space.

In my experience, choosing a CRM product that is aimed specifically at the SMB space alone pays dividends.

Many vendors definition of what SMB is are radically different. Microsoft defines SMB as 5-500 seats. The rest of us tend to speak about SMB as 5-75 seats.

The easiest way to find out where the CRM vendors product sits is to ask them to describe typically deployments.

Typically, SMB CRM products have a much shorter cycle to deploy, and as an IT company you can teach your staff and clients how to use the system at a basic level in a day or two, not a week.

Licensing costs will be talked about in hundreds instead of tens of thousands, and you’ll be able to buy licenses individually instead of in SMB unfriendly blocks of five or ten.

Offers a mutually beneficial Partnership

Before entering a Partnership with a CRM vendor, ask them what their perfect partner looks like.

If the answer is simply “They sell lots of licenses”, then tread carefully. If you’re taking your first steps into CRM deployment, then you might only do one or two small deals initially whilst you find your feet. You don’t want to sell a product and then not appear on the vendors radar because you’re small fry.

If the answer is “Work with us to grow both our businesses”, then we’re getting closer to a good match. The Vendor might offer Not-for-Resale (NFR) software for internal use, regular training, a steady stream of referrals in your local area and marketing development funds. In return you should offer to make up-front commitments to your vendor about training staff, targeted marketing campaigns you will run, case studies you will help them to develop, and sales targets you will strive to achieve.

My thoughts here are that your small business clients probably work with you because you’re an small business too, understanding the problems and challenges that small businesses face. With that logic in mind, you should probably be looking to work with a CRM vendor who values fewer good quality, deep relationships over larger volumes of relationships.

***

So that’s my take! There are many, many CRM packages out there. But remember that you don’t just want to be selling another box of software here – you want to be offering your clients a real value added service that helps you become a Trusted Business Advisor. That means understanding their business and their business challenges, and working with a CRM partner who supports you in that goal.

 

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