Beginner MSP’s Self-Assessment for Selecting Products & Vendor Partners

VARs and MSPs evaluating vendors and services should use this self-assessment to ensure the decision-making process yields the best-fitting partnership.

Whether you’re just getting started with offering managed IT services, or you’ve been in the game for a while, selecting your vendor partners and products can be an overwhelming proposition. At this stage in the evolution of managed services, countless mergers and acquisitions make it a challenge to research companies that have been acquired or are acquiring others.

The continually shifting landscape isn’t the only challenge you’ll face. Most products have years of refinement behind them, creating an exhaustive feature set you’ll need to understand to ensure your needs are met.

To make the evaluation process go a little easier, we’ve come up with the following self-assessment. While we don’t claim this resource to be the only tool you’ll need to make your partner decisions, it’s a great starting point to get you thinking the right way.

Define Your Business Requirements
  • What services will you offer? Create a list of your services that will make up your initial offering. Create a list of tangential future services to consider offering.
  • What’s your customer “size?” What is your expected average customer size? What is the biggest customer size you expect? Size can be any combinations of the total number of users, amount of storage per user, bandwidth per user, number of devices per customer, etc. This will help you understand your costs and pricing later.
  • Identify special customer requirements. Do any customers have extremely large files they’ll need to back up? Are there extraordinary security concerns? Are your customers required to meet compliance regulations within their industry? Do the vendors/products you’re evaluating address these needs?
  • What’s your target profit and expense reduction? Since delivering IT services is highly reliant on leveraging automation tools to reduce expenses and increase profit, you’ll want to understand how each service you add affects your bottom line. Many providers include calculators that allow you to measure your total cost and savings.
  • What financial restrictions do you have? Many solution providers ease into managed services, adding services as they grow. Each vendor will have its own minimum requirements concerning costs. Some require one-time fees, some next to no start-up costs, and some are “pay-as-you-grow.” A big part of your selection decision could come down to how much the service will cost you just to get started.
Considerations/Additional Factors
  • Look for vertical expertise. Ask the vendor if they have other VARs and MSPs working in your vertical. Also, ask about unique product functionality built specifically for your market.
  • Ask about an advisory board. Vendors who rely on advisory boards are typically building products and solutions based on a roadmap of features and enhancements that fit the exact needs of the market. If you operate in a niche market, ask if any advisory board members have been advocating for your needs.
  • Know the location of support. It might not matter to you, but many solution providers want to know the location and availability of support.
  • Research the stability of the company. Do some research to determine how long a company and product have been around, what sort of ownership structure is in place, and how likely the company is to be around five years from now.
  • How easy is the service to use? For solution providers new to offering services, one of the most significant hurdles is adopting the necessary tools to deliver the service. If the product is complex or requires special skills, you’ll want to know that in advance. While some products are easier to use than others, you will be required to invest time in training. There’s no getting around it.
  • Does the vendor offer any value-adds? Some vendors will provide additional services that might be important to you. For instance, some vendors include NOC technicians that can offset your helpdesk expense. Some include antivirus software for free with their monitoring tools. Knowing these value-adds can help you manage your costs and increase profitability.
Define Your Integration Requirements
  • What integrations already exist? Start with your PSA and RMM tools, the backbone of any services-based solution provider. If you’re still making that decision, make sure the two tools have a proven integration (i.e. interoperability) that has no shortcomings. This is not the place to make concessions; they must work together seamlessly. Beyond that, using the list of services you plan to offer (and might offer), determine which integrations exist.
  • Is one-stop shopping possible? In the early days of managed services, most vendors provided one arrow in an MSP’s quiver of services. Today, after years of acquisitions, several companies offer suites of products and tools. In short, it’s possible to address multiple service needs (with confidence in working interoperability) through a single partnership.
  • Special integration needs. In some cases, you might require tools that don’t have direct integrations to your PSA and RMM. Ask about SDKs and potential middleware that can help you bridge the gap and get the services working together.
Run a Demo/Trial
  • Be methodical. We can’t think of a vendor that doesn’t offer some trial or demo of their solution. Take advantage of these opportunities. Before you start your trial, use this worksheet along with any additional requirements you might have to ensure that you’re doing a thorough evaluation. Take notes so you can compare the various products.
  • Test their support. While undergoing your trial, if you have questions or needs, test the vendor’s support offering. If the vendor doesn’t perform well while they’re trying to earn your business, how will they perform once they already have your money?

By keeping the above questions/considerations in mind with each service decision you make, you can significantly increase your chances of selecting a partner and product that will not only address the needs of your customers but put you on a path to greater success and profitability.

Mike Monocello

The former owner of a software development company and having more than a decade of experience writing for B2B IT solution providers, Mike is co-founder of Managed Services Journal (formerly XaaS Journal) and DevPro Journal.