What happened to the disruptive start-ups?

As we go through the different generations of technology, various bandwagons have come and gone. Companies starting up with ‘e’ added at the beginning of their name and ‘.com’ added at the end, to name a few, are hard to find, as they’ve had to deal with changes in the technological environment and have either been acquired or withered on the vine.

Sure, there have been major disruptors, such as the tech companies that started the move to the internet as a client model, those that started the move to the cloud, and those that made inter-organizational collaboration and communication easier. However, there are also many that thought that they would be disruptive but ended up as no more than a footnote in tech’s history.

It’s back to basics for would-be disruptors

Even at the cultural level, the number of technology companies that sell themselves on their ‘different’ internal approaches is shrinking. Going are all the table tennis tables, gaming consoles, do-it-yourself barista-grade coffee machines, and so on. Instead, they are being replaced with the staid conservatism of cube farms, corporate policies, and supplier/consumer processes that would be functionally recognizable to someone from the 1950s.

The buying function within businesses is no longer wowed by tech companies that make themselves out to be different. Recently, a certain well-known social media company tried to be completely different and saw users and advertisers depart in high volumes, leaving it precariously balanced as to its very existence.

Business outcomes are winning over company culture

What does this mean for MSPs looking to be different in the market? It means that ‘different’ must be driven by what is offered and the actual outcomes for the customer, not what goes on in the MSP and how its culture operates.

There are a few primary areas where being different requires an MSP to be just the same:

  • The basic platform offered. The platform must be highly available, relatively standardized, and demonstrate elasticity in allocated resources. It must also be demonstrably secure.
  • The support offered. No clever twists, no trying to look quirky. Just a strong desire to deal with customer issues as quickly as possible on a first-contact basis, with fast and effective escalation where required.
  • Clear and transparent cost models. Do not try and create agreements that attempt to be clever. Just keep things simple, easy to operate, and easy for the customer to understand.

These are the basic hygiene factors of being a working, trusted company. Further, as the MSP market continues to mature, the actual differences at a technological level between one MSP and another operating in the same space will narrow.

Differentiation means demonstrating value, not hype

With all these hygiene factors in place, you can start looking at differentiating yourself. This will not be things like “We do AI! See how AI makes you conquer the world!” No – what differentiates you is the capability to solve your prospects’ and customers’ issues better than the competition. As such, your main area for differentiation is far more likely to be around your messaging than your technology.

Instead of messages like “We have a highly virtualized intel-based platform using virtual machines and containers,” maybe something like “Our customers trust us as we provide the right environment for their workloads with enhanced performance and security.”  Still a tad technical, but at least it resonates with the prospects more.

How about “we have the best data analysis engine on the planet!”? Of course not – it does not explain what it does or means. “Our data analysis capabilities enable our customers to take actions that positively impact corporate profitability.”  Ooh – now that could be worth investing in.

Other messages could be along the lines of “Insurance companies find that our analysis engine leads to higher customer conversion rates,”; “Financial customers love us as we enable more straight-through information handling at speed,”; “Manufacturers prefer our services as we seamlessly work with their existing systems.” You’re not trying to be disruptive, but you are showing how choosing you as a partner will make their organization more effective within their market.

MSPs should weigh the risks of being disruptive

Can you be disruptive at all? Possibly – but you need to consider whether the risk is worth it. Newer technologies can be expensive and complex to bring directly into an MSP’s environment. The costs of gaining access to the right technology and the skills to implement and maintain it can be disruptive to the success of your organization rather than to the market.

However, the joys of being an MSP mean that you should be able to integrate third-party technologies into your environment easily. High-risk technologies can be brought in, with a third party taking on the main risk. You will need to ensure customers know the risk they are taking with technologies at the beginning of their life. These can be high-return tactical bets but should be viewed as something other than long-term strategic investments.

It may well be that some of these bets you take on will be disruptive – maybe not immediately- but as the technology matures, organizations may identify how best to utilize the technology and be happy that you offer it at least. A prime example is artificial intelligence (AI) – generally a solution looking for problems but showing promise in what it can do. Being able to offer AI to customers as a testing ground, whether in a sandboxed environment or as a tactical solution in specific areas, is a differentiator. The technology may need to be swapped out for a better alternative over time– provided it is sold suitably.

Photo: Dilok K / Shutterstock

This post originally appeared on Smarter MSP.

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