The Top 4 Traits of Top Performing MSPs

Key Findings from IT Glue’s Global MSP Benchmark Survey

By Joshua Oakes, Documentation Evangelist, IT Glue

The managed services business is reinventing itself, quickly. Companies are starting to realize the value of process and planning. More MSP owners, having been in the game a while, are starting to think more carefully about their exit strategies. In fact, even if you’re just starting out, you should be thinking about how to maximize the valuation of your business. It’s never too early to start building your equity.

For most MSP owners, when it comes time to retire or leave the business, there’s only a couple of viable options – sell the business, or wind it down. The latter option is problematic because all of the sweat equity the owner puts into the business is for naught. The former option is better, but there’s a problem here, too. Only around 20% of MSPs are sold. This makes sense – most MSPs are very small businesses, with their value deriving almost entirely from one or two key people. Buyers are looking for high-performing MSPs that aren’t reliant on key people, especially if those key people are exiting the business. It’s not easy to get into that top 20% of MSPs, but if you understand what those high performers look like, it becomes a lot easier.

So how do you get there? That Golden Quintile of MSPs that are attractive to prospective buyers – what do they look like? The results of IT Glue’s recent Global MSP Benchmark Survey provided us with some great insight into what the top 20% of performing MSPs actually looks like. Size doesn’t matter – great MSPs range from one-person shops to integrated companies large enough to target small enterprise clients. But there are some common traits that they all share:

High Margins

Some MSPs are earning amazing margins. Net margins of at least 20% are required to get you into the Golden Quintile. There are a couple of key implications to this figure. First, it means that the best-performing MSPs aren’t price cutting in order to win business. They are focusing on the value that they deliver to their clients, and charging fees in accordance with that value. They’ve built their entire sales model around being a premium player in the market. For example, when they talk to prospects, they don’t get sucked into a negotiation about price. Instead, they highlight how they will handle tickets quickly, because the value they bring lies in maintaining as close to 100% uptime as possible. Combine this pricing approach with cost control measures, and you’re on your way.

Rapid Growth

The best-performing MSPs not only earn high margins, but they are growing quickly as well. The top 20% of MSPs are earning growth rates of at least 10% compounded annually. There are three keys to sustained double digit growth.

  • Investment in sales and marketing
    • More than half of MSPs report struggling with sales, marketing or both. But investment in these areas is critical to lead generation and sustained growth.
  • Delivering on your promise
    • Selling great service is one thing, but if you deliver, you’ll gain customers who become evangelists. If lead gen is a pain point, these evangelists are critical for helping you attract new business.
  • Eliminating churn
    • Churn is evil – if you churn 10% of your customers every year you need to add 20% just to hit 10% net growth. Nuts to that. Deliver on your promises and you’ll go a long way to eliminating churn.

Process Orientation

According to Greg Abbott of Aabyss, a leading UK MSP, venture capitalists looking to buy MSPs will add anywhere from 5-15% for a turnkey business. If your business depends on you, the owner, and you are leaving when the sale has been completed, then you will not get the premium valuation you want for your business. You need to build a business that can thrive without you, and that means having a process orientation. First, you need to determine the best processes, perhaps by adopting lean methodology or other process improvement techniques. Second, you need to document your processes. If the buyer feels confident that past performance will be replicable without you, your MSP will be more attractive, and command a higher multiple.

Customer Focus

Not to be lost in all this is having a customer focus. If you truly want to deliver value, then you need to know what your customers value. Find out what their pain points are, and focus on the ways that you can mitigate or eliminate that pain. Having a strong customer focus increases the likelihood that you’ll have lower churn, and be able to earn higher margins while maintaining customer satisfaction.

Getting into the Golden Quintile definitely takes some work, but with a better sense of what the industry’s leaders are doing, it will be easier to get there yourself. IT Glue is a powerful IT documentation platform that contributes in many of these areas, especially delivering great service, optimizing your repeatable processes and lowering the cost of service delivery.

Bio: Joshua Oakes is the Documentation Evangelist for IT Glue, where he strives to produce thought-provoking pieces that help IT service providers improve their business, focusing on lean practices and the value chain.