IT providers challenged to cater to more Canadian SMBs

Managed service providers (MSPs) are chasing Canadian small business clients after a challenge issued by the CEO of Ottawa-based N-able Technologies Inc.

Double the amount of clients you have now by next year’s conference, Gavin Garbutt told MSPs at N-able’s Partner Summit last week in Scottsdale, Arizona.

“This is totally doable if you have a managed plan,” Garbutt told the crowd of international MSPs at N-able’s Partner Summit last week in Scottsdale, Arizona. “Keep it simple… if they don’t value your network and they don’t want to pay for anything, then you don’t want to have those customers.”

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There are many times when a small business should consider tapping the services of a MSP, says Paul Edwards, the director of SMB & channels research at IDC Canada. Hire one when “you can’t meet your business objectives because you don’t have the technology to do so, or you can’t manage your technology because you don’t have the people to do so.”

Small shops often lack IT staff and should consider outsourcing for faster deployment of technology, he adds.

Canadian MSPs attending the conference were willing enough to try and meet Garbutt’s 100 per cent challenge, but say it won’t be easy. They have a sense the Canadian small business market is more conservative than it is south of the border, and wallets just won’t open as easily when it comes to managed services.

“American companies are much easier to sell to. They’re more willing to spend money, more open minded,” says Susanne Boisvenue, sales manager at BSC Solutions Group Ltd. “Canadian companies are pretty conservative… we struggle with that, making customers understand that it’s worth their while.”

The Brampton, Ont.-based MSP hasn’t seen the rampant growth of Garbutt’s examples, says president (and Susanne’s husband) Bill Boisvenue. They’ve seen a reasonable increase of about 25 to 30 per cent of their customer base over the past year.

“We’re also seeing growth into our existing clients,” Bill says. BSC has also been growing through its infrastructure as a service offerings.

Cloud services are a good bet for MSPs, Edwards says. Recent research shows that Canadian small businesses are more keen to buy cloud services compared to other sub-segments of business.

“This certainly benefits the MSPs,” he says. “SMBs would rather think about a monthly fee to gain access to server capacity, or some kind of software.”

A high percentage of small businesses are planning to deploy software as a service in the near future, Edwards says. Many small businesses also are looking to tap infrastructure as a service soon.

Constant C is a Winnipeg-based MSP that has seen a 100 per cent growth in clients over the past year, according to Daniel Kurtz, executive vice-president of services. But the growth has been among smaller shops with around 25 to 30 employees, while he’d prefer to target firms with at least 200 seats.

“They’re frugal,” Kurtz says of his prospective clients. “That’s the Winnipeg way.”

Kurtz was providing managed services with other tools before centralizing around N-central. He’s been upgrading his existing clients to N-able’s products and working on customizing the product.

Garbutt is bullish on growing N-able’s user base, believing its product offerings are more than strong enough to support the effort. “We’re showing up at a knife fight with two big guns right now,” he told the crowd. The key to growth will be an incremental sales approach, he says.

If selling IT is anything like meal planning, then imagine small businesses are on a financial diet right now. Garbutt’s strategy is to avoid trying to sell those businesses a pricey all-you-can eat buffet, and instead offer them an a la carte menu. He calls it “leading with value.”

“There’s a little more resistance on the part of Canadian service providers to really go out and lead with value,” Garbutt says in an interview. “There’s some partners that have overcome that, and those are the partners that are growing like crazy.”

One good case study of Canadian growth comes from Grand Prairie, Ab.-based E.S. Williams and Associates, Garbutt says. The MSP doubled its growth in one year by using a strategy of selling customers an endpoint security solution to start, and then providing detailed reporting to reveal problem areas and compliance shortfalls.

N-able also offers MSPs some free licences for its Essentials package in a “freemium” program. The idea is that MSPs can use the free licences to bring in new clients and eventually up-sell them to other services.

It’s a sound strategy to win over small businesses, Edwards says.

“You can get a client based on one particular service and build it up over time,” he says. “They start to see the value they’re deriving from that service, and start considering others.”

BSC Solutions has won many of its clients by referrals, Susanne says. The MSP plans to try more of the sales techniques using N-able’s a la carte approach.

“We’ve been looking at doing things like just remote help desk and maybe endpoint security,” she says.

Contant C hasn’t met much resistance with this phased approach to selling IT services, Kurtz says. He plans to stick to his guns when it comes to sales techniques.

“I’ve got one simple rule – give the client what they ask for,” he says.

So small shops should remember to ask for what they need when approached by MSPs.

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