Your MSP service manager survival guide

Todd Schorle, Lead Executive Coach, Pax8 Academy
The service manager survival guide blog

There’s massive opportunity right now in the managed services industry for those interested in becoming a service manager. Moving from an engineering role at a managed services provider (MSP) to a service manager role can be an important step in your career journey, but it also comes with its fair share of challenges, and the role and responsibilities are quite different than you may be used to.

If you’re curious about becoming a service manager, are already in the role and could use guidance on best practices or are looking for help on better managing or reporting to your service manager, read on. In this blog, we’ll cover how to structure your time effectively and how to develop a long-term plan for success. We’ll also address common pitfalls and discuss the key areas of focus to make you more effective at your job.

The role of a service manager

As a service manager, your primary responsibility is to manage the activities and responsibilities of the service delivery team. You report to the director of operations and oversee the administration and management of RMM (remote monitoring and management) and PSA (professional services automation) tools. The role requires a high level of independence, strong client service skills, and the ability to provide accurate reports and metrics to company management on the status and budget of ongoing projects and agreements.

Before you embark on becoming a service manager, you should ask yourself a few questions: Are you ready to trade your focus on technical expertise for developing people skills? Are you OK with letting engineers take the credit with your clients when things go right and taking the blame when things go wrong? Are you comfortable discussing difficult topics and managing conflict when needed? If the answer is yes to these questions, you may be ready to take the plunge.

Job clarity and communication

Two common traps that service managers often fall into are a lack of job clarity and avoiding difficult discussions. It is crucial to define your responsibilities and what you’re accountable for on paper. Be sure to review this with your leader, define a way to measure your progress, and address any conflicts that arise, even the small ones. One way to set this standard early on is to request weekly one-on-ones with your manager where you can ask important questions, such as if you are meeting expectations and if there is anything that your or your team could be doing better or differently. It will also give your manager the chance to review your proven track record of results, and the better documentation you can provide in this regard, the more defensible your position and performance are.

Additionally, managing up is an important aspect of the role. Your manager isn’t always right, and it’s your job to be a good leader even in the absence of good leadership. Be diplomatic, use the company’s vision and core values to guide leaders, and establish clear boundaries with your manager and your direct reports.

Changing focus for effective service management

To be an effective service manager, you need to shift your focus from being the best, and most efficient, technician possible to making everyone else better and more efficient. There are three main areas you should focus on for a successful career in service management: employee management, client management, and financial management.

  1. Employee management: It all comes down to this: Care for your people, and they will care for your clients. Instead of solely focusing on productivity, concentrate on helping your team members become the best technicians they can be. Invest in their development through reviews and training, teaching them how to overcome and remove their own obstacles, and connecting your tactics to the company’s strategic vision by over-communicating the “why” behind the “what.” Conduct regular one-on-one meetings with your engineers—and if you don’t have time because you have more than seven direct reports, you should work to build leaders within your team to help share the workload. By creating enough gross margin to add additional team lead positions, you’ll empower the organization to scale and avoid burnout amongst employees.
  2. Client management: Client satisfaction is paramount in the MSP industry. Maintaining client satisfaction means you have to manage service level agreements effectively, maintain open and transparent communication with clients, develop internal processes to improve efficiency, and continuously strive for improvement. Learn from mistakes, be transparent, and create a positive client experience by going the extra mile. For instance, ask your clients questions at regular review instead of only when things go wrong, such as how you can update your processes to make things better. After all, if you don’t adequately service your clients, they will find someone who will.
  3. Financial management: Financial management is often overlooked by service managers, but it is perhaps the most important aspect of the role, especially for a small to medium-sized MSP, where you may not have a CFO or other financial manager. It’s up to you to develop an understanding of pricing, including project scoping and intentional profitability vs. accidental profitability, as your sales team will sell services based on your financial model for profitability. You’ll have to measure and manage agreement efficiency, such as whether your team actually worked for the number of hours that was billed, determining who your easiest and most troublesome clients are (and developing plans accordingly), and optimizing services based on who your most productive team members are. This will also help you determine how your fixed-fee agreements are faring and whether you’re investing the proper amount of effort into them. You’ll also have to manage margins by measuring key metrics; aligning your team’s efforts with the financial goals of the company, holding quarterly business reviews (QBRs) with your clients to discuss results, satisfactions, and ways to improve service delivery; and occasionally fighting to raise prices accordingly. It’s no small feat to manage all this, which is why it’s often the most challenging and underestimated part of the job.

Getting started

Being a service manager in the MSP industry requires a diverse skill set that goes beyond technical expertise. While no one should scare you off from becoming a service manager, it’s important to be aware of these challenges ahead of time or get a handle on them if you’re currently in the throes of the role. By cutting through the noise and focusing on the three key areas of focus—employee management, client management, and financial management—you can excel in your role and drive long-term success for your team and your organization.

Pax8 is here to help you get started or improve your skills as a service manager. Sign up for the Pax8 Academy Service Manager course; you can also sign up for a service manager Peer Group or Business Coaching for a more curated approach. With demand for skilled service managers skyrocketing, you’ll be succeeding in your dream role in no time.


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