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When and Why Vendor-MSP Partnerships Fail

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A hodgepodge of misunderstandings keep many vendors and MSPs from growing strong relationships.

MSP partnerships with suppliers often flounder due to neither party taking the time to understand the other, according to Channel Mastered's Erick Simpson and Rich Freeman.

Simpson and Freeman point to several "usually preventable" reasons why these relationships sour. In many cases, vendors haven't built out the correct features in the platforms or MSP-friendly models. But in the case of MSPs, many aren't paying close enough attention to the perks, services and training their vendors offer.

Those are just two of the things Simpson and Freeman will say in their upcoming session, "Vendors Are from Venus, MSPs Are from Mars" at the Channel Partners Conference & Expo and MSP Summit, March 11-14, at the Venetian Las Vegas.

They fielded questions from Channel Partners about their talk track.

Channel Partners: Do you have any examples of MSPs and vendors being ships crossing in the night?

Erick Simpson: We’ve got too many to list! We’re constantly talking with vendors that underinvest in support or sell direct to end users, and then wonder why they’re having such trouble getting traction with MSPs. Conversely, a lot of busy MSPs who ignore the emails their vendors send them and never attend vendor conferences wind up complaining about what a bad job the vendor does of communicating new product features, licensing changes and sales promotions.

Rich Freeman: It’s frustrating for us, because we know a lot of vendors and we know a lot of MSPs, and they almost always go into potential partnerships with good intentions. When they end up unhappy with one another, it’s usually for preventable reasons. There would be a lot less dissatisfaction between vendors and MSPs if they understood each other just a little bit better than they currently do.

CP: What’s one way MSPs can fundamentally misunderstand what vendors do, and how can that impact the relationship negatively?

ES: Research from Kaseya says that the No. 1 customer acquisition challenge MSPs face by far is insufficient sales and marketing. A good vendor will collaborate with you on lead generation by providing MDF and collateral for example, but they can’t do your lead generation for you. Yet it’s not uncommon to hear MSPs criticize vendors for not sending them lots of pre-qualified leads.

RF: Here’s another one: I regularly interview channel chiefs who tell me they invest their resources most heavily in MSPs who invest in them. Then I’ll talk to an MSP who scatters their business across four competing vendors and rarely engages with their partner account manager, yet can’t figure out why friends of theirs in the industry get better discounts or early access to new solutions and they don’t. It’s not enough to be a member of some vendor’s partner program. You’ve got to be an active, engaged partner to get that vendor’s attention.

CP: The same question, but the other way around!

ES: We could probably spend a few hours on this one, but let’s just start with the fundamentals. You’d be amazed how many vendors don’t have multitenant products, don’t provide subscription pricing that aligns with an MSP’s business model, don’t offer an intuitive billing process, and don’t integrate with RMM or PSA systems. These are table stakes for MSPs, and if you don’t have them you won’t have success recruiting MSP partners no matter how great your solutions are.

RF: Along the same lines, vendors have a tendency to shower MSPs with speeds-and-feeds talk, when what the MSP most wants to understand, especially early in the relationship, is how the vendor delivers business value and enables business outcomes for both MSPs and their clients. Training is another good example. Research from CompTIA found that insufficient training is the top impediment to adding new services for MSPs, yet you’d be surprised how many vendors provide very little sales or technical training.

CP: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

ES: I guess I’d just say that as with any other relationship, you’re only going to get out of a relationship with an MSP or with a vendor what you put into it. The better you listen, the better you communicate, and the more you engage, the more success you’re going to have. It’s a two-way street.

RF: Vendors tell me all the time that they can’t grow unless their MSP partners grow, and MSPs can’t grow without great solutions, services and tools. Vendors and MSPs need each other, so it’s truly a shame when they let each other down due to miscommunication, misaligned needs and misplaced expectations. That’s why we decided to host this session.

Channel Partners Conference & Expo, MSP Summit