How Does an Onboarding Project Make or Break a Managed Service Relationship?


September 10, 2015

When you start with a new managed service provider (MSP), you expect the transition to be smooth. For the MSP to provide a smooth transition, it must have experienced people with the right skills, and a comprehensive onboarding process.

While many MSPs have experience and expertise, few have a comprehensive onboarding process. Sometimes their new-client onboarding goes smoothly, sometimes it doesn’t. You may not see the effects of lax onboarding specifically, but you can feel it in the overall quality of service you receive over time. The MSP never seems to really know you, your company and your people, much less the technologies you have and how you use them. Naturally, this has a negative effect on the overall quality of service you receive.

Before you sign up for managed services ask the MSP to describe their onboarding process. (Here’s our process: 10 Steps to a Great Onboarding Experience with MyITpros) For comparison, here are seven key areas from the twelve phase scope of a comprehensive Onboarding Project:

1. Call To Review Any Questions And Determine a Start Date For Services

This simple step is often overlooked. I’ve heard of technicians simply showing up unexpectedly to install agents.

A prospective client recently told me, “Our MSP never called us. The only time we ever spoke was when we called them.” His frustration was not unusual. Clients want any professional services provider to communicate effectively.

Good communication habits begin with the very first conversation and are solidified in the onboarding process. The best managed service providers look for ways to communicate early and often.

2. Establish Forms of Payment And Ensure Proper Communications Between Financial Departments

An MSP might do a great job of setting expectations for ongoing services, but completely drop the ball when it comes to billing and payments. It doesn’t happen often, but we’ve seen client relationships that were excellent in every respect but one fall completely apart over accounting.

This task starts in the proposal process and lands smoothly as part of the onboarding project. By the time the first invoice is received and the first payment is made, surprises should be few or none.

3. Assign Account Manager And Schedule Initial Meeting

This step is telling. Will you be assigned a single technician or a team? Will you have an account manager? If so, is account manager a sales role or a technical role? The relationship could be fine either way, but approaching account management from a sales perspective is completely different from that of IT planning and management. The question is, which is best for you?

At MyITpros, every client is assigned to a technical team of four to six people. The account manager is a systems administrator or engineer from your team, who is guided by the best interests of your business, not a quota.

4. Conduct Onboarding Meeting And Determine Timeline for Existing Issues

The onboarding meeting should be at the client site, and it should include the sales person and the account manager from the MSP. On the client side, this meeting should include the person who will be the “technical point of contact” between the business and the MSP, plus any other important stakeholders. These are often the CFO, COO, CEO or owner(s) of the company. Having key decision makers in this meeting can save a lot of time for everyone, and goes a long way to leveling expectations and getting the relationship off to a strong start.

5. Visit Client to Deploy Managed Services Agents And Gather Network Information

In most cases we don’t need to be onsite to deploy the managed service agents on any server or user computers. We come onsite to do this because it’s a perfect opportunity to learn a lot more about the IT assets and the people who use them, their ongoing challenges and immediate needs.

Documentation is key to success over time. We even take pictures of network devices and server closets and post them to our wiki, which is an internal website our teams use to share information and documentation about all of our clients.

Getting service personnel to document and maintain comprehensive client information is a constant challenge for MSPs. We hear peers struggling with this issue at every industry event we attend. It was a struggle for us too, for many years. The solution is a mix of interdependencies requiring the right people in the right seats doing the right things the right way. Easier said than done, but we know it’s doable with good people, systems and processes.

6. Document After Hours Protocols

Different clients have different preferences for how we handle service outside of business hours. In the client onboarding meeting we will have determined how we should respond to after hours outages, server down alerts, user service requests, and so on.

One client with an all-inclusive plan and a real need for 24×7 uptime may give us key cards or codes and ask us to respond onsite at any hour to address a server down situation if it can’t be resolved remotely. Another client may have a lower cost plan and ask that we call a certain person before incurring after-hours charges.

Documenting these preferences during the onboarding project ensures the best possible outcome when IT things go bump (and crash) in the night.

7. Discuss Future Network Recommendations For The Next 30-90 Days of Service

Sometimes upgrade or replacement projects are required immediately, but we always encourage our new clients to hold off on projects if possible until the onboarding project is completed. This is because a solution that appears to be a good one when you sign your agreement may turn out to be inferior to other options once we’ve done a deep dive into your business needs and your IT situation. There may be a web of interdependencies that are not immediately evident until we’ve been working with you for a few weeks, and implementing a project too soon can be more costly in many ways.

Sometimes our discovery process results in a number of recommendations, and it may not be feasible to do them all – or all at once. Taking time to consider all factors, risks, and risk mitigation can make a world of difference when it comes to projects. Emergency projects are always more expensive, and in the worst cases can cascade into a series of emergency projects.

The onboarding phase is a great time to look at any improvements that could be made, while you have the time to consider options from a long term business perspective.


Hey, you made it to the end! Thanks for reading this. The information is given in the hope you will have a great experience the next time you sign up with a new managed service provider. And if you’re an MSP, we hope this helps you be more successful. You know as well as we do the importance of a first impression. Onboard your clients well and you’ve taken the first step to having a client for life.{{cta(‘fb20a7a3-6090-4af2-bed9-821f074c8cbd’)}}


Chris-BoyleChris Boyle, CEO

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