Five critical factors determine whether your MSP is a cultural fit.
Since we’re talking about relationships, I’ll reference Neil Clark Howard, the founder of eHarmony, and his insights about compatibility.
This best-selling author and Ph.D. disagrees with the oft-repeated line “opposites attract” and instead believes the best predictor of long-term relationship success is having more in common rather than less.
His book Finding The Love of Your Life has a fifty-item list of helpful marriage similarities. And he gets surprisingly granular about which categories need to align.
While socio-economic status, intelligence, formal education, and verbal skills rank as the top four variables, he doesn’t fail to mention taste in household furniture and preferences for thermostat settings. (No stones are left unturned.)
Neil’s relationship model is much more exhaustive than the topic of today’s discussion. However, theoretical parallels apply to any professional services relationship, especially in the MSP space, where people and culture are a big part of the deliverable.
This article will help you identify five critical cultural factors that can make or break your business partnership with an IT services provider.
Cultural Fit Factor #1 – Values
Similar values create a trust connection that transcends the products, services, and technology involved.
Although it’s ideal when each element converges, it’s not uncommon to see less qualified, smaller vendors serving much larger companies because they have an authentic bond with the decision-makers.
A values-driven provider will tell clients what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. They might be more solution-oriented than sales-driven.
Values-driven companies also have a knack for attracting like-minded team members and efficiently eliminating the toxic ones. The bad apples tend to self-select out because they don’t fit in.
Do you know what your IT partner holds close to their heart?
Learn More: Integris Values
Cultural Fit Factor #2 – Mission & Vision
Can you clearly articulate your business model, operating objectives, and approach? Do you have a desired future state in mind?
When these goals are concrete, it’s easier to craft a blueprint with potential vendor partners for the journey.
Since I mentioned “journey” rather than a quick sprint, it’s critical to find an MSP who is similarly enlightened and intentional in their approach.
I once heard the executive director of a nonprofit say, “We need 24/7, secure IT to ensure the safety of at-risk kids.”
After they became a client, their finance director never once complained about the nominal cost differences between various versions of Microsoft 365 or any other recommendations.
It’s all about the children for this client, and a few extra dollars are trivial to them. If you operate in this manner, you’ll probably want IT support from a like-minded company.
Learn More: Inspiring Mission Statement Examples
Cultural Fit Factor #3 – Corporate Structure
Does your company have a top-down pecking order with a complex chain of command (and potential bottlenecks)? Sorry, Freudian slip.
Are you organized (process-driven) with granular visibility into all parts of the business, or is it a free for all?
Maybe you’re organized by functional departments with dedicated budgets and the autonomy to make buying decisions.
Two disorganized companies may be an exceptional cultural fit, but at some point, an imbalance of outcomes will require a reset.
Cultural Fit Factor #4 – Industry
Residential real estate, independent mortgage brokers, and digital marketing firms have unique cultures that differ from ones you may find in healthcare and banking.
Some industries skew younger, have lower barriers to entry and more turnover, while others have loftier educational requirements, longer-term career paths, and stricter regulatory guidelines.
The IT industry is fragmented. Players include:
- “IT guys” (and their stereotypical trucks)
- Mom-and-pop shops
- Regional IT providers
- National MSPs (owned by copier companies)
Their personnel is just as varied as the companies they serve.
Your average break-fix IT guy may be perfectly happy playing second fiddle to an in-house IT department primarily serving upper-middle-class female realtors aged forty to sixty with tactical support details.
However, the same individual would not be able to compete with a full-service MSP without an in-house staff who does most of the heavy lifting.
The real estate agents might not like the new arrangement if their routine changes too dramatically.
Cultural Fit Factor #5 – Stage
Are you a tech start-up with dreams of being acquired by a larger software company in five years or a multi-generational private wealth management boutique that plans to keep everything in the family?
The former will probably love advisory services with plot points around operating maturity and digital transformation. At the same time, the latter may think a consultative approach is too hip for the room.
Whether you’re more entrepreneurial (and frequently chaotic) or more corporate (and mostly orderly) will closely inform your comfort level.
Can they keep up with you and vice versa?
The MSP space is experiencing a flurry of merger and acquisition activity. Cultures change (for better and for worse) with new ownership arrangements.
While there are clear lines in the sand that distinguish various classes of IT providers from one another, when all things are equal, you’ll be well-served to consider the significance of cultural fit.
What is your gut telling you? Have you toured the facility of the new MSP you’re considering?
Get a better sense of who you’ll be interacting with, so you’ll know how they’ll respond when problems arise.