Early Discussions

people-notes-meeting-team-7095It’s pretty much a given that at some point early on, you’ll sit down with your prospective client and discuss what services they’ll need, but what information should you actually get from your prospective client, and how?

First, remember that while this early meeting is about getting the information you need to take care of your client, you don’t want them to feel interrogated. Even if they’re clueless or deliberately evasive, if you have a list of what you need to know, you won’t be put off guard.

Second, it’s also about presenting your services, but don’t make an exhaustive sales pitch of all your offerings unless you are asked to. If the deal is already pretty certain, don’t oversell. If it’s not, don’t feel pressure to make offers of service or discounts. Speak plainly about what you could do for them and be frank if you need to think about anything.

Third, realize that sometimes you’ll deal with the owner and sometimes you’ll deal with the office manager. The latter is the more valuable contact at this point, because office managers usually know more about the office’s needs than owners do. Even if there is no office manager, there’s usually a secretary or associate who handles the managerial end of office duties.

Fourth, try to get a walking tour of the office. It’s a great way to sense the intangibles of an office. You can learn a lot from seeing how neat the place is, how employees interact, whether they have personalized their space, and whether people look up from their work to acknowledge you.

You can also learn a lot about the computers from seeing them in person, like how personalized the desktops and physical systems are, whether there are passwords posted everywhere, whether they’re neatly set up, whether they’re numbered/labelled, and so on. Even a quick tour gives you details you can’t get from a list of their systems and services, and those details will help you decide whether you and this client will be a good fit.

Fifth, and obviously, ask about the services and support they get from their current MSP, if they have one. The odds are that they don’t know some or most of what they’re paying for, especially regarding software licenses, so you really need to have your own checklist of items to inquire about.

Sometimes they’ll break out a bill and be willing to share it, but you can’t really ask for one.

Remember too that some business owners don’t care about the details of their tech services: they just know that they pay and that they are taken care of, or that they don’t like x, y, or z about their current provider. That’s good insofar as it may indicate they’re willing to pay if you’re willing to do what they need, but it means you have to be very careful to understand their needs.

On the other side, be wary about people who spend too long ragging on their ex(provider). It may be a sign that they’re impossible to please or constantly hopping from provider to provider, and probably aren’t worth the hassle as a client.

Sixth, at this phase of your partnership you need more information about your prospective client’s network and they would probably appreciate an independent, objective analysis of their network. Network assessment tools can quickly give you a lot of raw data about their network and systems and give your prospective client an unbiased assessment of their security needs. There’s also something about a hefty pile of charts that tends to persuade clients, many of whom often minimize their needs, that properly taking care of their office is a lot of work.

There are a couple caveats to these assessment tools, though:

  • They’re usually paid for on subscription, so you’ll pay for it when you don’t use it.
  • They may scare off paranoid prospectives, who won’t want you to run anything on their network

Seventh, you have to talk money a little bit. If you refuse to give an estimate, it may look like you’re hiding something. If you give an estimate, often that will be all the client remembers and they’ll etch it in marble. So feel free to give one, but be clear that it could change and don’t be bullied or cajoled into offering prices or services you haven’t fully considered.

Finally, suggest a period of weeks or months for getting on the same page and leave them with a copy of your contract that you’ll expect them to sign after that. This is a pragmatic move because it shows them that:

  1. since you’re willing to put something in print you’re not trying to hoodwink them
  2. you’re not a pushover and you know to protect yourself,
  3. and that you’re not too eager to get them on the hook.

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