Intermix with Integris #120

To RFP, or to not RFP?

With Jed Fearon
Solution Advisor at Integris
January 18, 2022

Anthony is joined again by Jed Fearon, a Solution Advisor with Integris’ Atlanta branch. They’re talking Requests for Proposals – the good, bad, and ugly of using these documents for IT services.

Check out the transcript below and listen along with the embed, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or your favorite podcast app.


Anthony DeGraw: Welcome to another episode of our podcast. I’m welcoming back Jed Fearon, he’s at Integris Atlanta, and we’re going to talk about RFPs – Requests For Proposals – around IT services. Jed’s done a phenomenal job in producing a very, what I would call, a high value deliverable for anybody out there in the marketplace looking for IT services and wants to go the RFP route.

With that, Jed, I’m going to let you take it away. And we’ll go from there.

Jed Fearon: Thank you so much, Anthony. I appreciate the intro. And I would like to mention to our audience that this has a little bit of a twist. I would call this interaction with us, “to RFP or not to RFP. “And I’ve got three sections that I’d like to cover with you, and there’s going to be three different questions.

Questions to ask MSP before you engage in RFP

Jed Fearon: But the first question is, what are the four best questions to ask a potential MSP before you engage them in an RFP?

Anthony DeGraw: Awesome. Yeah. I love this question. And obviously there’s a, there’s probably hundreds of questions that you could ask and that you probably should ask and that we outline in this RFP template that you can download from us.

But we’ll stay high level here in terms of the four probably most important that I think. Number one I’ll go with is, what makes your organization unique in the MSP marketplace? The reason I think that this one is important is because, we’d like to say, our founder Rashaad likes to say, we don’t sell some special version of Windows Server. All MSPs out there across the country, we all sell the similar tools, systems, of, these technologies that exist. Windows Server, different firewalls. We’re not unique in any sort of way that way. And where we really are unique, or what you’re trying to get at the root of this question is, we’re service-based businesses.

How do you treat your customers? Where are they in the fold of delivering your services? And how do you differentiate from the next MSP down the street? Or in New York City or in some of these metropolitan areas, it could be in every building there’s a Managed Service Provider. And they vary in range from solo providers up to providers with hundreds, maybe even thousands of employees.

So the question is rooted in, how are you different than the next one? And what you’re trying to get out of that answer is you want an authentic answer. “This is how we are specifically different in the marketplace.” And you want to align that with what your business or organization’s needs are. Is that what you’re looking for in your next partner?

So that’s the root of the question and what, how you should think about the answer to that question.

Jed Fearon: I think that would also set the stage where clients who had specific compliance needs might like it, if the MSP mentioned something about NIST or SOC Type 2, HIPAA.

Anthony DeGraw: Absolutely. You could analyze the MSP’s answer in a bunch of different ways.

Hey, we work with small organizations than less than 50 people, and that may fit you perfectly. You may see a different answer of, we work with financial services, or we work with retail, or we work with franchisees, or we work with law firms. We would call that more firmographic data. And that’s the specific response you’re looking for because that’s who you are.

And that’s what’s most important to you. As Jed pointed out, you could be looking for somebody who says “we focus on the compliance side of this business.” “We need a SOC 2 Type Two certified organization based on the industry and requirements that we have.” So yeah, you really want to get the unique answer.

I think if an MSP gives you a generic answer there it’s not a great answer because it’s not really going to allow you to determine, is that really who we’re looking to partner with? On the IT side. And I’ve had that actually a perfect segue, Jed, if you don’t mind into the next question that I think is the most important question, which is what kind of clients are a bad fit for your organization.

Clients who are a bad fit (and MSPs who will tell you so)

Anthony DeGraw: And very specifically, we had the good fit question, but the one I highlighted was the bad fit. I want to know, who’s not a good customer. What does that look like? We We’re all in business to make money. We all understand the marketplace and we’ve had great customers and bad customers. What makes a bad customer? And for the organizations that’s putting this together, why would you want to know that?

Well, maybe I am, because they don’t know my business. They don’t know who we are as a customer. What we’re looking for, they may define us exactly as a bad customer fit. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s best for both parties to know that upfront. And it’s better for the Managed Service Provider to tell you who’s a bad fit for them because they don’t know you as good as you know yourself.

And you may say, yeah, that makes complete sense. I understand why that would be a bad fit for them. It’s not what they focus on and we can move forward with them. Or they may define your company exactly, or your needs exactly. And say, yeah, we have needs that are, let’s say 24/7 across three different times zones.

And they can’t fit that bill. That’s okay, but at least that upfront. So that’s the root behind, who is a bad fit for your organization?

Jed Fearon: I love it when people are very straightforward and transparent in the process, I’ve actually made friends who didn’t become clients, but I’ve had prospects that I got to know say, I think I would be a terrible client.

And we ended up cracking up and we stayed in touch, but it’s a lot better that you get that out in the open and not go through the exercises and the pain and drudgery of having to, sever a relationship that was doomed from the start.

Anthony DeGraw: Absolutely. I think it’s just best for both parties, right? If we’re really focused on service and making our clients happy and providing white glove support, we’re not going to be able to do that with a client that isn’t looking for the way we do things.

And I think it’s just so much better for both parties to be able to say, this is what’s a good client. This is what a bad client look. Where do you fit in that? And now let’s continue the conversation.

Jed Fearon: Absolutely.

IT strategies to benefit you

Anthony DeGraw: The the next question I had on my list here, Jed, was how do you implement IT strategies to benefit your clients? And the root of this question, IT strategies to benefit your clients, to me anyway, is how are you going to align with my goals as a company, I’m looking to grow my business, how are you going to help me use technology to grow my business? I’m looking to better service my customers. How are you guys going to help me align with that business outcome? Of using technology to better service my clients.

I’m looking to automate or looking to streamline tech, different business processes to become more efficient, produce a higher gross margin, which relates in a higher profitability with the same number of people, but with the better output. How are you going to help me evaluate that?

And for an MSP, we can’t do it all, right. There are specific things we focus on in terms of infrastructure, cybersecurity compliance. But our strategic services team, which are led by vCIOs, they have a breadth of knowledge across hundreds, if not thousands of clients that they see these business problems all the time and they have to tie it to technology.

So the root of this is really to understand, does your MSP that you’re looking to partner with have a business mindset around technology or is it they’re just going to implement technology for technology’s sake? They really just want to implement the next shiny object, the newest, greatest thing that came across their desk.

And that’s the root of that question.

IT strategies tied to a business goal

Anthony DeGraw: And you should be very clear on your business outcomes, around technology. You should communicate those. So that way, the MSP can come to the table and say, we can help you do that as part of our process. Or they can define, we can help you do X, we can’t help you do Y. You would need to look elsewhere for that.

Jed Fearon: I think strategy first is a great piece of advice, because from there you can create a blueprint and then all the other recommendations are tethered to a goal. We got a new client about five years ago, that’s a nonprofit. And what they do is they vet the need of various individuals in need of non-profit services, but they match them with the right non-profit because if the resources are wasted when a child has sent to an organization that cannot help him or her. And they said to us, no one else had talked about strategy, but you. If we get our technology right, we can be more efficient and get kids the help they need right away.

Anthony DeGraw: Absolutely. So the fourth and final question. It is a question, but I’m going to preface it with one item, it’s around process.

“Describe your onboarding process”

Anthony DeGraw: So the specific question I highlighted was, describe your process for migrating new clients to your MSP services platform.

Jed Fearon: So we’re talking onboarding here, right? That’s another term.

Anthony DeGraw: Absolutely. Yeah. How are you going to onboard me? This is great. Everything sounds perfect. You’ve answered all my questions.

Your references have checked out. Everything we see in the RFP responses is great. And we’re going to move forward with you. How are you going to onboard me? Well, what is that experience going to look like? How are we going to inform our end users? How are we going to migrate technologies and subscriptions and all of this kind of stuff, credentials.

And to me, where I want to back up a little bit on that, is the question around process for onboarding is a general thing of ” what are your processes around?” A lot of things, not just onboarding. What about documentation? What about how were, my SLAs and guaranteed response times? What about my strategic services and consulting?

What about my documentation on backup and disaster recovery and business continuity. What are your processes around these main items of IT to once again, help me get those business outcomes and not be left behind by technology. So in our RFP template that Jed has created here, that’s downloadable via the website.

You’re going to see a lot of process oriented questions in there that you should be asking. And I think a lot of organizations don’t ask them because they don’t know to ask them. Which I think is a huge value of this RFP template that Jed has created because they’re in there. So the main question there is, I want you to focus around process-based questions. And a operationally mature MSP is going to be able to easily communicate to you their processes around all of those things that I just mentioned. An organization, an MSP that is not operationally mature, not sophisticated, doesn’t have enough bandwidth from talent or team members, or just doesn’t focus on these things, is not going to easily be able to answer those questions, or they may respond to them, but it will be somewhat broad. And what I want you to get out of that is.

You can really determine an MSP’s operational maturity in how they answer these questions and to the level of depth that they answered these questions at.

Jed Fearon: Absolutely. And another thing I’d like to tag onto your comments is that if you get the onboarding you have it set up where the incumbent MSP stays in place for a little bit of a crossover.

So you’re not just pulling out the rug and you get a 30 to 60 day window because the client might be getting services from the incumbent MSP that are still under a subscription, and you wouldn’t want them to get a penalty, but when people can show you how the various pieces fit together and how you will play well with the outgoing provider. We’ve actually made friends with MSPs that we gained clients from because we’re all professionals and want to uplift the MSP industry. But that’s really big because an onboarding, isn’t just flicking a switch. It’s something that kind of, it’s a little bit of a a tight rope routine.

Anthony DeGraw: Absolutely. Yeah, there’s a lot that goes into changing providers. I say, clients don’t switch MSP providers, like they switch their car insurance every other month or every six months. It is a big, heavy lift. It involves a lot of people and it can affect their customer base and their users in how they’re delivering services.

So you definitely want to understand how that relationship is going to start. Who’s going to be affected and who’s going to own that project. At the end of the day, it’s a project to get you from one place to another successfully. So yeah, that’s, those are great questions to ask. I highly recommend you’re analyzing the details in which they’re providing in those answers.

Jed Fearon: And what I’ll do in some of the companion blogs that go with a downloadable RFP, is I will be highlighting the importance of each of the questions so that, the reader, the MSP evaluators will have a real context for why that’s a good question. Now, the next two sections are related to one another. I’ve different sides of the same point.

Argument for requesting RFP for IT services

Jed Fearon: I wanted to get your opinion on what is the argument for requesting an RFP for MSP services?

Anthony DeGraw: Absolutely. So I’m going to answer this in two different parts.

What’s the argument for requesting an RFP, not the-

Jed Fearon: -conditions that make it right.

Anthony DeGraw: Exactly. Take that one is that you will have government organizations that are required by their law, that they have to get multiple bids for anything that they do. So obviously I’m going to push that whole all the way to the side because they have to do it.

Jed Fearon: That’s a different animal. That’s really a different animal.

Anthony DeGraw: Now we have a lot of private businesses, so privately owned businesses, or even nonprofit organizations that don’t necessarily have to get multiple bids. So let’s focus on why do they do it? Why should they do it? The number one answer is the process.

This is a complicated process. It’s a complicated service offering and they’re trying their best to compare apples to apples, right? That everybody has a different way of doing, providing this type of service. They have different language around it. They have different contract terms, pricing terms. And I can understand the mass confusion that could cause in trying to analyze such an important part of your business or your organization.

Number one, I think is that you’re trying to get to apples type of comparison. The next reason is one very specifically, pricing. I want to be able to compare multiple different providers to their pricing based off a standard set of data that I have sent them. And I want to understand the matrix of them, how that works and all of that.

Those to me are the two top two things of why. The other thing is they want to not have one-off conversations or multiple conversations with each party. So if I’m going to go out to market and I’m going to reach out to four different MSPs in my area based on reviews or whatever the case may be, they know that they’re probably going to have two or three conversations.

Before they ever get to a proposal or pricing terms and they want to eliminate that. Because it’s a lot of work. It’s a lot of time. It involves people that have a normal job. We see a lot of finance professionals are in charge of procuring MSP services, and they have to do their normal job.

So it also helps eliminate that where it’s like, you can get all your answers, all your pricing and all your comparison done in one request. Those are the three Jed that I would touch on immediately.

Arguments against the RFP process for MSP services

Jed Fearon: Okay. Now this is the other side of the coin. What is the argument against going through the RFP process to find a new MSP?

Anthony DeGraw: Absolutely. So the argument against it is, I have never seen a phenomenal RFP come across my desk. I am sure they exist out there. I am sure that there’s a really good versions of this, but to me, the MSP and IT services is such a complicated ball of wax, in terms of users, and line of business applications, and infrastructure, and cloud services, and phone services, and printers, they’re so much in this ball of wax that I’ve never seen one come across my desk where it’s I know exactly what I’m walking into.

And because of that, because I don’t know what I’m walking into. I can’t answer all your questions correctly. I can’t give you exact pricing. If we do win this blind, like we walk in blind, we give you a response and we walk in blind, in six months from now, most likely us or another provider is going to have a hard conversation with you about potentially your aging infrastructure. your out of date cybersecurity, you’re out of date compliance the pricing for the needs of the organization for user support. And to me, that’s where the RFP process, the argument against it is, none of these providers are really walking in with eyes wide open.

And can truly say to you, I know what we’re getting into and I can pack up what I just put in this proposal. And so to finalize that, how do you get around that with the two minutes remaining that we have is I would highly recommend whether you engage with a consulting firm to do this, and you get some sort of assessment done of your current environment.

That’s what I would recommend doing. And then you go from that assessment. To the RFP to accomplish all the reasons for doing an RFP. You communicate that assessment within the RFP document. And now people, even though they didn’t get their hands dirty in your environment, they may have such a broader understanding of what they’re actually working with.

And can give you a more, I don’t want to say honest, because I think everybody’s giving you an honest response. It’s just not, it’s not backed up by anything. So those would be the reasons against it and how I would combat that.

Jed Fearon: Absolutely. Well, I think just my opinion, if you’re going to do an RFP, since there’s such a strong cultural connection required with professional services, businesses, money managers, CPAs, I think you would be very valuable to do an initial vetting.

Half an hour phone call with the principles to figure out if there’s, if y’all will even get along. Cause that would go a long way because everything else might fit, but the culture might be a mismatch and that usually doesn’t work.

Anthony DeGraw: Absolutely. Yeah. I would end on the point of and maybe it’s because we’re doing it. Maybe it’s not.

If we ran an RFP process, we would…

Anthony DeGraw: I think if I put myself in the customer’s shoes, if I was running an RFP process I would highlight, to Jed’s point, maybe 30 minute conversations with four different providers, just to understand, to ask some of these questions we mentioned prior and understand what’s their processes.

And get different understandings. And I wouldn’t hesitate to go with a company that maybe is pushing back against the norms. And what I mean by that is, you may have three providers that are just as you basic questions and are able to flip over a proposal. And you may have another company that says, yeah, that’s not the way we do this.

We actually want to fully understand what we’re walking into and we want you to be able to taste our services as well. And as, as Jed said, us as professionals. And that would, at least for me, that would stick out to me of, “Ooh, that’s interesting. Why are they doing it differently than everybody else?” Maybe I’ll get a different result that I’ve previously gotten in the past.

Jed Fearon: Well, I certainly wouldn’t trust a money manager who took any of my stock picks. Seriously. So to your point, I think I agree a hundred percent.

Anthony DeGraw: Awesome. Jed, thank you so much for the time today and running through this RFP. Thanks for creating it. And I can’t wait to see the value that people get out of this RFP template. That’s downloadable on our website right now. Thank you, Jed.

Jed Fearon: I’m looking forward to helping out. Take care Anthony.

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