When researching the use of the word "partner" with IT Companies, it's clear most (including us) over-use the word, and we're not doing a good job justifying the applicability in the client/vendor relationship. Just because you sell products or services to someone doesn't make it a partnership. The default is "client and vendor relationship".
Here are some IT Company taglines we've seen:
- "Your single-source partner from beginning to end."
- "If your business is looking to partner with a local IT support company that will learn the intimate details of your business technology and process (..)"
- "For a better IT experience, with a knowledgeable partner who makes IT easy, choose (..)"
- "When you need a real partner for your business for the long-term, give (..) a call."
It is my opinion that the majority of IT Companies that target Small Businesses for IT services are misusing the word "partner", and its use is purely for marketing purposes.
We see two methodologies on how IT Companies "partner" with a small business -- "inch-deep partnership" and an "actual partnership."
Inch-deep partnerships, which we believe represents the majority of IT Companies and IT Guys (based on our experiences), actually represent the partnership as:
- The name "partner" is purely a marketing term. Things you'd think a "partner" would do never happen or come up after you put ink on paper.
- The IT Company's leadership are hard to get a hold of or unresponsive. "Hey, our marketing said we're partners, but we'll never talk unless you're down and yell the loudest!".
- They don't want to talk to your other vendors, ever. "Unless this directly impacts our revenue, don't involve us!".
In the above cases, the IT Company or IT Guy is just a vendor, and a low IT Maturity Level one at that. Read our blog: Three Stages of IT Maturity in Small Businesses to learn more about IT Maturity levels.
An actual partnership, which we strive for, looks like this:
1. Realized and aligned goals.
We want to define as many aligned goals as possible. You grow? We grow. You're down? We're down a tech until you're up. A fixed-fee support agreement is another excellent example. No revenue-generating activity for technical support issues allows the IT Company and client to align on something: we all want FEWER technical issues. Fewer issues reduce IT Company’s labor costs, and clients have less frustration and productivity loss. Alignment!
2. Open and frequent communication.
We reach out to our clients frequently in order to keep an open line of communication where any issues with our service or a new solution they’re wanting to add to the environment can be easily brought up. A new client may start out warning us the day before a copier is being installed. A client that understands our alignment on this will send us the proposal knowing this doesn't cost them anything, and it's looping us in early (just how we like it!).
One of our biggest wins internally was implementing a platform that allows clients to schedule themselves on our calendars to talk about anything, automatically. Thinking of buying a new shiny toy or application that impacts IT? We want to be in that conversation early and won't charge a dime for those calls. Why? We're both aligned on preventing or at least minimizing issues. Changes to your environment can generate issues that we want to prevent or mitigate as much as possible on the front end -- cooperatively. Also, as we have your best interests at heart, if it's a solution that we foresee causing heartache, we’ll chime in.
3. A matter of trust.
This one is on the "fuzzy" side, but it's the most important. Do you trust your IT Company to have your best interests at heart? What does that even mean? You’ll need to define how you "gut-check" IT Companies. We recommend beginning by assessing their IT Maturity level. From there, it’s relationship building and deciding if you believe they're ethical and trustworthy enough to help your business.
How we operate is illustrated in two examples regarding this topic.
- Example #1: If I were you (client), I would choose one of the following solutions: X, Y, or Z. Our revenue would increase with X (we’d resell it), but Y and Z are being offered directly from the vendor, and if you choose Y or Z, we wouldn't hold it against you. Here are the benefits of going through us vs. them -- you pick.
- Example #2: Saying "Wait, let's think about it" in any service request. The client asks, "Hi, our vendor needs administrator access to the server to install X solution." With your best interest at heart, we ask why and what they're trying to do, as it impacts our aligned goals and is possibly not in your best interest. In our experience, new clients are not accustomed to looping in the IT Company early, having an open line of communication, understanding the aligned goals, and aren’t aware of our deep-rooted culture of having our clients' best interests at heart.
Finally, a significant component in partnering with an IT Company involves the client's commitment to the partnership. The IT Company can live up to #1-3 above all day, but we'll share a few scenarios where the client's actions tell us we're a vendor, not a partner.
- Not looping us into an ongoing internal project or initiative that impacts IT in any way early.
- Consistently blowing off our calls, scheduled calls, and ignoring our emails.
- Consistently circumventing our procedures, such as requesting support by calling or emailing techs directly.
- Not reporting technical issues until they're a significant problem that requires immediate attention.
- Ignoring recommendations, such as following an IT lifecycle plan and implementing security solutions to meet compliance requirements.
With that said, we're a small business, and we've been working with small businesses for over ten years. No one is perfect. Missing a call or emailing a tech directly doesn't mean we're not partners. It's about keeping an open line of communication between each other and agreeing we'll both make mistakes and learn from them.
It's also important to note: not all small businesses are capable of partnering with IT Companies, and not all IT Companies are capable of partnering with small businesses -- despite what their marketing says! The IT Maturity Level of the business and IT Company come into play. If your IT Maturity Level is misaligned with your IT Company, the higher maturity company could become unhappy and leave.
We recommend doing a small engagement with a prospective IT Company before going all-in with them. See how they handle #1-3 during this engagement and make your choice based on the data. We always begin with an Assessment Project, and it helps us understand each other and sets up our relationships for success.
PK Tech wants to be your partner, but to us it's a lot more than words -- it's a relationship that means something, and it requires things from both the Client and PK Tech to be successful and mutually beneficial.
Please reach out if you have any questions here.