Make no mistake: The managed IT services business is very different from selling printers and copiers. The sales approach is more consultative with a much longer timeline to close, most likely requiring a separate sales team. The biggest difference, however, is the investment and skill required to evaluate a customer’s needs, design a solution, and then deliver the services.
This is why dealers who have successfully added IT services to their offerings say it took a lot of time and suffering before they broke through to profitability. The difficulty of that process can be lessened–but not eliminated–by partnering with outsourced service providers.
These providers offer the following advantages:
- A nationwide network that can implement and support the services being sold
- Programs that allow dealers to select the level of services they outsource depending on their own capabilities and market approach
- Resources to help dealers better sell, market, and price IT services
- Help with developing business plans and organizational structure
In some cases, outsourced service providers can help match the dealer with third-party partners to provide specialized hardware or services. “Continuum can point dealers in the direction of how to align themselves with hardware companies,” said Michael Amiri, director of dealer services at Continuum, an IT management platform provider. “It’s very similar to the types of relationships they have with their current copier partners. It’s exactly the same kind of relationship they’ll have with Dell, HP, or whoever their IT hardware partner will be.”
Some dealers feel it’s important to build relationships with local IT service providers. It’s an advantage when they are ready to sell their business for those dealers looking to grow through acquisition. Those providers might also be a good source of leads as well. The Swenson Group shares leads with a few local IT services providers who don’t typically work with hardware, for example. “They’ll call us with leads to support their clients for MFPs and printers,” said Dean Swenson, president of The Swenson Group. “They know we’ll do a good job and we’ll work with them ensure a smooth installation.”
Reasons for a Do-It-Yourself Approach
Some dealers have built their own implementation and support capabilities in house. Impact Networking, for example, has its own engineers, a virtual CIO who works directly with clients, and a help desk. Why do companies like Impact Networking make such a big investment: To be absolutely sure they could offer the same level of service and support as they do with their traditional copier and printer business.
For dealers who pride themselves on service, it’s hard handing over that part to a partner regardless of the partner’s reputation and capabilities. They are still one step removed from the customer. This is especially true for cases where the dealer supports the customer directly for its printer fleet, but through a third party for IT services.
The liability risk also concerns some dealers. A copier going down for a day is an annoyance for most businesses. If it’s entire network fails and the dealer can’t bring it back up quickly, the customer loses business and productivity. For that reason, some dealers want direct responsibility for maintaining the systems they support through their IT services offerings.