The first piece of advice the rangers gave us at a Northern Ontario canoe camp our Boy Scout troop attended was most memorable, “if you come across a bear that doesn’t flee, don’t run.” The best course of action, according to the high-adventure mantra, is to stand as tall as possible, raise your arms and make noise. That action is supposed to intimidate a bear, causing it to consider you as a sizable threat and make its own escape. To the dismay of many of our scouts, we didn’t get to try out the method—but I confirmed its effectiveness with several hunting and camping experts.
That “act like a bear” advice isn’t lost on the business community, especially when determining how small companies can compete with “the big boys.” This is a common problem in the IT channel, with large regional and national solution providers challenging less sizable VARs and MSPs in many markets. With extensive product and service portfolios, and well-developed technical support resources, these enterprise organizations point out their superior capabilities. Does this mean they are they can better support your clients? Not necessarily, but that’s a hard argument to win with some prospective clients.
Bigger isn’t always better, especially if those companies don’t provide local support or understand the specific issues facing your clients. But they may have more marketing and image power than a typical solution provider does. So what do you do to put yourself on an even playing field in those areas? As I alluded to earlier, “act like a bear.” Make changes within your business to make it appear as large, or larger, than your competitors’ organization—especially to your clients and prospects!
It’s the same philosophy we heard at Boy Scout camp, but you’ll want to do it at all times. Your competitors may stress that their organization employs more people and has ten times the annual revenue but, if you provide the same (or better) level of service and offer the portfolio of offerings your clients need, their position is severely weakened.
Talk the Talk
The easiest part is to appear as large as “the big boys.” Do your website, client-engaging employees and vehicles look professional? That doesn’t mean you have to move, hire a new team and buy a fleet of new trucks, but it might be time to refresh each. This doesn’t have to be a costly investment either. Just because some of your competitors have more employees, it doesn’t mean their brand is top-line (or that you need to mimic them). The focus should be on developing a successful and professional appearance, but if you go too it may cause clients to think they’re paying you too much.
Do you have a website that has been updated in the last six months, if ever? Most of the “big boys” have dynamic sites, with content that changes regularly and graphics that appeal to business customers of all sizes. Just listing the portfolio of services and products isn’t enough if you want to compete with the national companies, a website needs visual appeal and messaging that attracts prospects. Video and flash options are easy and inexpensive to implement. It’s a simple as hiring a professional who can make your site (and your company) look like a multi-million dollar MSP.
Next, take a look at what your tech and sales team wears to meet with clients and prospects. Do you have dress code or a standard uniform? The policy could be as basic as a branded polo and khakis, but their attire should convey that your employees are part of a professional IT organization. It sounds strange, but just having a company logo on a collared shirt gives the impression of a larger company (even if you’re a one-man shop). No deception, just perception.
The final way to improve professional appearance is to ensure the employees who make onsite service or sales calls have respectable vehicles to use. If you have a company truck or car, make sure it’s clean and undamaged, either with a company logo or non-descript— like an undercover police car. Many companies prefer not to brand their vehicles for insurance or legal liability reasons, but the transportation should be business-oriented.
If your employees use their own vehicles, do you have standards? It’s not an easy discussion to have with your team, but if you’re paying a mileage allowance, minimum requirements on aesthetics and paraphernalia should be established. For example, I have a friend who had to tell his technician to remove an objectionable bumper sticker from his car after getting complaints from a client. The intent is to always appear to be the professionals that you are, just like the “big boys” do.
Walk the Walk
Just looking like technical experts is one thing, but your organization must be able to support that image with its actions. Can you provide the service level and portfolio that a national MSP can? That’s a differential claim these companies can make to your clients and prospects; that they have the willingness and ability to handle all their business needs.
In addition to 24/7 support, businesses want to speak to a live person when they call in with a service need. The “big boys” often claim that only organizations of their size and scope can offer both. There are two ways you can counter that argument.
- Hire a number of technicians, engineers, sales and support staff to offer and manage a more comprehensive collection of services and products than you currently offer. Of course, you’ll need to train them too. That’s a costly endeavor to support current clients or business you haven’t secured.
- Leverage outsource partners to supply the technical resources needed to expand your portfolio. That allows you to grow your services incrementally, only paying for the support your clients need, and focusing your own team on the areas where they are truly needed. For example, contracting with a 24/7 helpdesk to manage first call support and handle frequent issues will free up your staff to help sales close new deals or respond to a critical problem with a key client.
While 24/7 support is a benefit most large competitors tout to their business prospects, it’s not an offering you can’t give your customers—especially if you rely on help from partners like GMS Live Expert and other professional help desk providers.