May I Take Your Order?

Last week our company president, Lawrence and I had been collaborating on a large scale project for a client.  It’s been a little difficult to be sure, but enjoyable and suitably challenging.  What caught our attention and inspired me to write this post, was when the client asked us to provide a comprehensive list of all services we offer, in full detail.

This wasn’t an unusual request for either of us, we frequently list our services during sales meetings with potential clients.  However, we tend to focus more on what that person is looking for rather than boring them with a list of things that they don’t need.  So this week, we created a shared Excel document and began adding each item line by line, being as detailed as possible in every possible service that we can provide.

I was furiously adding line after line with names of services and descriptions of each one.  Meanwhile, I watched a different colored icon moving around the page as Lawrence did the same, occasionally battling each other for occupation of a line or editing each other’s description of a service.  When we were satisfied that we were finished, we spoke on the phone and reviewed our list.  I was shocked to see thirty-six lined items with full descriptions.  This may sound strange, but I actually had no idea we offered THAT many services to our clients.

When I talk to people about their needs and how we can help them, I tend to generalize.  An IT manager doesn’t need an explanation about what constitutes Virtualization – He or she should already know what it is.  And a non-technical person doesn’t need to hear my spiel about the ins and outs of Virtualization either, it’s usually unnecessarily complex for a non-technical person.  So I tell them the service and its benefits and try to ensure that I touch on the services they are interested in.  If somebody wants a basic web protection and monitoring system, then they don’t need to hear about our Tier 4 Data Center and how awesome it is with its retinal scanners, armed security, rack upon rack of servers, private work areas and such.  That said, it is pretty awesome!

Now I find myself wondering if other organizations are aware of just how comprehensive their list of services is?  Now that I have a list, I intend to use it in the future for meetings and marketing purposes, which will be very useful.  It’s now easier to pin-point a certain service to a client’s needs and filter this spreadsheet as a quick cheat sheet.

The second obstacle in this project we are working on is the cost.  We’re used to saying to our clients “Ok, you want X, Y and Z and they all come bundled together, so our cost is always this…”.  It’s different when you line item everything.  We have to dive deeper and examine what something actually costs us and therefore our clients.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t know what things are costing us – Actually, Lawrence and I are all too familiar with our operational costs.  It’s because everything is always bundled, always has been.  How much does one Terminal Server in our Data Center cost us per user, per Gigabyte of RAM, per day?  These are things we have never had to calculate before.

This leads us to another situation.  If you take the lined items in the spreadsheet and starting using the SUM function in Excel, the cost starts to rise dramatically.  Actually, it’s a real eye-opener when we look at how much every single service (large and small) costs versus how much we charge our clients.  In fourteen years of operation, we’ve always offered excellent value for money in our services to clients.  This is the biggest reason why our clients are so loyal to us and renew their agreements with us year after year.  However, managed IT services aren’t always cheap.  If you Google long enough, you’ll probably find a cheap managed IT service provider, but in this industry “Cheap” and “Good” don’t go together.

This is something I find myself asking people (and sometimes myself) in everyday life.  “Do I want cheap, or do I want good?”.  Case in point:  I work out of ETTE’s Bolivia office.  The cost of living in Bolivia is relatively low, and items such as clothes, food and other supplies is also low cost (Not electronics, but that’s another blog post entirely).  But they’re not always great quality.  I recently asked a friend who is in Miami to bring me some Nike sneakers when she returns because regular tennis shoes in Bolivia are reasonably priced (Less than $20) but they last me about three months before they fall apart.  I could buy Nike products from special outlets here, but they would cost me upwards of $80, which in this part of the world is too much.  So I opt for someone coming back here from the US with a pair of $30 tennis shoes which last me a year or more.

However, there is a big difference between some shoes I need for the gym and IT services.   In the argument of “cheap vs good”, what exactly are you paying for when you choose “good”?  Although nobody has ever asked me this, are you paying for the energy consumption in our Data Center?  The salaries of our Help Desk staff?  Are you paying for the licenses required for specific software which is protecting your network?

Well, yes.  Some of the money you pay goes towards those things.  But here is the key difference between “Cheap” and “Good”.  Your money is paying for the four years each of our technicians spent in college, earning their degree and training themselves in the world of IT.  Your money is paying for our high-tech servers which run 24/7 and manage all of your company network, users and data – keeping it secure, backed up and moving smoothly.  Your money is going towards the hours upon hours of training our Technicians needed to become a Microsoft Certified engineer and therefore, someone you can depend on when you reach out to them when you have a problem.

And for our clients who pay a little extra for 24/7 support, your money is paying the compensation we give to our technicians who give up their weekends and evenings to assist a client with a critical issue.

We aren’t an expensive Managed IT provider by any means, but we are good.  Our staff are amazing, our technology is top quality, and our clients are more than satisfied.  So far, we’ve catered to every request, no matter how strange that our clients have of us.  And in some cases, we start providing a particular service as standard because one client requested it.  So the list keeps growing.

While “Cheap” managed IT service providers will give you a quick run-down on what they can offer you, their list won’t be as comprehensive as ours.  The “Good” MSP’s can give you bundles of services and their costs.  Moving forward, we will be happy to cater to any request from a client (Within reason).  Whether they want to pick and choose each service, or have the typical full-on bundle most opt for, I’m actually looking forward to my next sales meeting.  Needless to say, my cheat sheet will be there with me.

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