Neil Clark Howard, the founder of eHarmony, knows a lot about compatibility.
This best-selling author and Ph.D. disagrees with the oft-repeated line “opposites attract” and instead believes the best predictor of long-term relationship success is having more in common rather than less.
His book Finding The Love of Your Life has a fifty-item list of helpful marriage similarities. And he gets surprisingly granular about which categories need to align.
While socio-economic status, intelligence, formal education, and verbal skills rank as the top four variables, he doesn’t fail to mention taste in household furniture and preferences for thermostat settings. (No stones are left unturned.)
Neil’s relationship model is much more exhaustive than the topic of today’s discussion. However, there are theoretical parallels that apply to any professional services relationship, especially the MSP space where people and culture are such a big part of the deliverable.
The goal of this article is to help you identify five critical cultural factors that can make or break your business partnership with an IT services provider.
1 - Values
Similar values create a trust connection that transcends the products, services, and technology involved.
Although it’s ideal when each element converges, it’s not uncommon to see less qualified, smaller vendors serving much larger companies because they have an authentic bond with the decision-makers.
The right values will inspire a provider to tell a client what they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. They might be more solution-oriented than sales-driven.
Values-driven companies also have a knack for attracting like-minded team members and efficiently eliminating the toxic ones. The bad apples tend to self-select out because they don’t fit in.
Do you know what your IT partner holds near and dear to their heart?
Learn More: ProviDyn Values
2 - Mission & Vision
Can you clearly articulate your business model, operating objectives, and approach? Do you have a desired future state in mind?
When this is spelled out, it’s a lot easier to craft a blueprint with potential vendor partners for the journey.
Since I mentioned “journey” rather than a quick sprint, it’s critical to find an MSP who is similarly enlightened and intentional in their approach.
When an organization says something to the effect of our IT needs to be secure and available 24/7 to ensure the safety of at-risk kids, the IT decision-maker is not going to be splitting hairs over the nominal cost differences between various versions of Microsoft 365.
It’s all about the children, and a few extra dollars are trivial. If you operate in this manner, you’ll probably want to be supported by a company that is equally endowed with clarity of purpose.
Learn More: Bain & Company
3 - Corporate Structure
Does your company have a top-down pecking order with a complex chain of command (and potential bottlenecks)? Sorry, Freudian slip.
Are you organized (process-driven) with granular visibility into all parts of the business, or is it a free for all?
Maybe you’re organized by functional departments, each with dedicated budgets and the autonomy to make buying decisions.
Two disorganized companies may be an exceptional cultural fit, but at some point, an imbalance of outcomes will require a reset.
4 - Industry
Residential real estate, independent mortgage brokers, and digital marketing firms have unique cultures that differ from ones you may find in healthcare and banking.
Some industries skew younger, have lower barriers to entry and more turnover, while others have loftier educational requirements, longer-term career paths, and stricter regulatory guidelines.
The IT industry is highly fragmented with “IT guys” (and their stereotypical trucks), mom and pop shops, boutiques, regional IT providers, and national MSPs owned by copier companies. Their personnel is just as varied as the companies they serve.
Your average break-fix IT guy may be perfectly happy playing second fiddle to an in-house IT department largely serving upper-middle-class female realtors, aged forty to sixty, with tactical support details.
However, the same individual would not be able to compete with a full-service MSP in the absence of an in-house staff who does most of the heavy lifting.
Plus, the real estate agents might not like the new arrangement if their normal routine changes too dramatically.
Learn More: Four Different Types of IT Support
5 - Stage
Are you a tech start-up with dreams of being acquired by a larger software company in five years or a multi-generational private wealth management boutique that plans to keep everything in the family?
The former is probably going to love advisory services with plot points around operating maturity and digital transformation, while the latter may think that kind of consulting talk is way too hip for the room.
Whether you’re more entrepreneurial (and frequently chaotic) or more corporate (and mostly orderly) will closely inform who you feel most comfortable working with.
Can they keep up with you and vice versa?
The MSP space is being transformed by a flurry of merger and acquisition activity. Cultures change (for better and for worse) with new ownership arrangements.
Learn More: MSP Buyouts
While there are clear lines in the sand that distinguish various classes of IT providers from one another, when all things are equal, you’ll be well-served to consider the significance of cultural fit.
What is your gut telling you? Have you toured the facility of the new MSP you’re considering? I’d encourage you to get a better sense of who you’ll be interacting with when things are going great as well as when problems arise.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like some of the related content in our free eBook.