Dig Deeper with Your Cloud Distributor
As an MSP, you’ve got a lot of options when it comes to buying cloud products. It makes sense to consolidate your cloud licensing to a single source to reduce the number of vendor relationships you have to juggle — but most cloud distributors offer similar portfolios of core technologies. So, when it comes to finding the right place to buy cloud solutions, what should really be driving your decision?
Go beyond asking “what discounts can you get me?” to press in on how they’ll help make your day-to-day life easier, save you time, and be there for you when things go wrong, such as billing issues or technical problems. A top distributor should also have programs in place to help you actively grow your business, win new clients, and upsell/cross-sell within your existing client base.
The 13 questions below can help you evaluate cloud distributors where it matters most to your business.
1. Did they build their cloud program from the ground up, or adapt legacy distribution methods to cloud distribution?
There’s a lot to be said for starting from a clean slate. Legacy distributors who had to adapt their hardware distribution methods to be able to offer cloud products are often burdened with clunky ordering, slow provisioning, and complicated billing.
Ask your distributor how they developed their cloud program — a distributor “born” in the cloud will offer much more efficient cloud buying, selling, and management processes since they were built specifically to optimize cloud distribution.
2. Are invoices and billing cycles split by products and purchase dates or do they have a single integrated monthly invoice?
Inefficient product billing can waste hours of your business’ time. If a distributor generates separate invoices for every product you order, or billing cycles are kicked off by purchase/provisioning date, you’ll have a billing nightmare on your hands to manually untangle each month.
Billing should seriously be one of your top selection criteria — many MSPs who use a distributor with a single monthly invoice claim to save 5 to 6 hours of time a month on billing. That’s nine business days a year that could be spent on mission-critical projects and objectives instead of wading through invoices!
3. Do they have a modern ordering, provisioning, and management platform? If so, what features are offered?
You’d think by 2020 you could expect cloud distributors to have an intuitive platform that makes ordering fast, easy, and simple. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case with some of the outdated, clunky portals out there.
Ask for a demo of the portal or platform you’ll be using to order, provision, and manage cloud products, and take your time to compare the interface design, ease of use, and user friendliness. Your team will be working inside this tool often, so make sure it won’t be a source of frustration!
4. Does their partner program require quotas or minimums?
It’s simple – if a distributor’s partner program requires quotas or minimum order sizes, move on. You have the right to buy only the number of licenses you need, without any pressure.
5. Do they have PSA integrations? If so, for which tools and what level of integration?
Ask if their platform integrates with your PSA tool and how deep those integrations go. Can you do things such as browsing products, placing orders, updating seat counts, managing and importing company data, and customizing billing data? Your day-to-day will be much more comfortable if you are able to work from the convenience of your preferred PSA tool.
6. Is their technical support US-based, live, and 24/7? Are they able to resolve most support tickets in-house, or do they escalate most tickets to the product vendor?
You’ll find out if a distributor is going to make your life easier or more difficult the moment that problems arise. Reliable, responsive support is critical. Truly live, 24/7, US-based support is rarer than you might think, so really dig into what their technical support experience is actually like. How quickly do they answer the phone? Do they follow up on issues to close tickets in a timely way?
You should also find out if they have the expertise and capacity to solve technical issues in-house before escalating to the vendor. After all, what’s the point of calling in, only to be shuffled off to wait on hold with a vendor? You need to feel confident that you can count on their technical support when it matters most.
“Legacy distribution is like a black hole where you never know when to expect a response or whether the response may provide a solution. We cannot count on them for support or a returned phone call,” says Christopher Wing, President and CEO of Purely Cloud.
7. Do you have direct access to a dedicated account manager who knows your business?
You should always feel like your business matters to your cloud distributor, not that you’re competing for attention with huge enterprise accounts. You deserve personal care that caters specifically to MSPs!
Will you be able to talk to a dedicated account manager that gets to know your unique needs and is able to offer recommendations to help you strategically grow your tech stack and your business? Do they have solution experts and cloud engineers who can help you choose between similar products and answer questions?
8. Does their vendor marketplace cover comprehensive IT needs and include industry-leading solutions that are in-demand with your clients? How do they curate their vendor linecard?
Their cloud marketplace should include top brands that your clients recognize and ask for. It should also cover the full range of IT needs across categories like security, productivity, infrastructure, continuity, and communications.
Are they continually adding solutions, and if so, how do they vet new vendors to ensure they provide value to an MSP’s stack? There’s a balance between offering a portfolio that’s comprehensive enough to cover all the bases but curated carefully enough to ensure that each solution is worth selling.
9. Do they invest in education and enablement events and programs?
One way to find out if a distributor really has your best interests at heart is whether they invest heavily in educational events and programs to enable you to learn about products and help you sell them. Do they put their money where their mouth is with a range of training events, online learning courses, and webinars? Do they offer any white-labeled marketing materials such as email templates and infographics you can use with your clients and prospects to sell? Do they try to help you find products to add to your stack to upsell and cross-sell?
10. How deep is their Microsoft expertise? What is their relationship with Microsoft like?
With Microsoft as the cornerstone of most business technology stacks, finding a distributor who has a close relationship with Microsoft and a deep bench of in-house Microsoft expertise is crucial to growing your business. Do they try to help you sell Microsoft solutions by offering deep-dive education on in-demand Microsoft products like M365? Do they have training or engineering support for complex products like Azure?
It can be all too easy to leave money on the table with Microsoft’s CSP Program, so find out if they can help you choose a Microsoft competency and optimize your incentives and rebates to earn more.
11. What is their reputation in the MSP community?
Honestly, finding out their reputation with other MSPs might be the one of the most important things to uncover about a potential cloud distributor. What’s their presence at industry events? Does their partner program ever win awards? Do they have case studies and testimonials from partners available to read? Do they have ambassadors in the MSP community? What is said about them online forums such as the r/MSP subreddit? Do they have advisory panels or other forums to gather feedback from partners?
Gathering social proof and word-of-mouth from peers will tell you what you really need to know about whether a cloud distributor is designed for MSP-specific needs like yours.
12. What kinds of innovations are they making in the industry?
The cloud landscape is constantly evolving, so you need a cloud distributor that strives to keep up with trends and stay on the cutting edge. Are they constantly improving their platform and partner experience? Do they have thought leaders who speak at industry events and write in publications? Are they continually growing their company and their vendor linecard? Are they leaders in the cloud space or just followers?
13. Do they offer Professional Services?
Professional Services are a great bonus for a distributor to offer. If you ever come across complex cloud projects that your team doesn’t have the time or resources to handle, having a stable of cloud experts available to augment your team (with prices low enough to still earn you a great margin) can help you capture more revenue.
Can Your Distributor Do That?
When push comes to shove, a cloud distributor should offer a modern cloud buying experience and personal, responsive care. They should support you in ways that help you shine to your clients, while saving you time throughout the entire ordering and provisioning process.
At Pax8, that’s what we call the Wingman Experience — our platform and our people, working in tandem to simplify the way you buy, sell, and manage cloud solutions and helping you grow your cloud business along the way.