ChannelTrends: Eating Your Own Dog Food in a SaaS-Oriented World

Eating dog food

Trust is a value-add in the business community. People buy and develop long-term working relationships with those they feel comfortable being around and know will do the right thing. That’s no secret, but in an era where almost anything can be procured, paid for, and delivered without a single human interaction, we tend to overlook the value of trust in business relationships.

The tech community is the perfect example. Our industry is moving in several directions at the same time, but the one thing that remains constant is the trust factor. Business owners expect their tech partners to align their portfolios to meet their operational needs and to deliver solutions and support that best fit their long-term goals.

Ten years ago, that usually involved a standardized set of deliverables. The hardware, software, and management tools that VARs and MSPs offered, implemented and mastered. That process typically started out with providers adopting those technologies in their own businesses before rolling them out to their customers.

“Eating your own dog food” basically became the standard for rolling out new solutions. Step one in the adoption curve was “beta testing” every device or application before offering it to the first client. In other words, they delivered few if any solutions to their customers without all the kinks worked out beforehand and the support procedures in place and fully documented.

That still happens to some degree, and the vetting process helps instill confidence and trust. Customers know that anything those providers delivers is already “fully baked” so it should perform up to their expectations. Part of the "trusted adviser" experience is having confidence in the solutions being delivered since MSPs and VARS are consuming those services themselves. That subject matter expertise can be an invaluable part of their customer value proposition.     

Building Trust in the New Tech Environment
With the continuing commoditization of many current technologies, as applications and hardware components become virtually interchangeable ‒ the channel is at a pivot point. Business and delivery models are rapidly transitioning as providers respond to the continually changing needs of their customers. In many cases, they are being forced to rethink their sales and support strategies, pitching their services to a growing base of end users and department heads, as well as the business owners and their IT teams.

SaaS, apps, and IoT are disruptors, as are the younger generation of workers who grew up in the computer age. In general, Millennials have fewer qualms uploading new applications themselves without going through the IT procurement process. Department heads are making similar pushes, using their budget dollars to implement their solutions with less input from tech professionals, including channel firms.   

Vendors are in transition, too. Consolidation is leading to larger tech platforms offerings on the mature end of the channel spectrum, while a plethora of new SaaS, IoT, and cybersecurity support companies are gaining traction in the community at the entry level. The number of transformations affecting the channel is astounding.

Those changes are good, but they do make it harder for channel professionals to build trust with their customers and partners. How can they standardize solutions and gain expertise on each platform when end users are making tech procurement decisions? Will businesses rely as much on the expertise of managed services or cloud providers as SaaS becomes more prevalent? And how can providers “eat their own dogfood” when their clients are looking for more specialized applications and solutions?

Building Trust in a SaaS World Won’t be Easy
With the tech procurement and support model turned upside down (or backward, in some cases), every channel company needs to rethink its value proposition and services portfolios. Businesses still need someone to support and secure their infrastructure and fulfill all their operational needs and compliance requirements. The opportunities may look different, but the revenue and profits are there for those who can build trust with their customers.

It’s not easy to develop strong business relationships with so many dynamics in play today, but companies that can meet the shifting needs of their clients are in a better position to succeed. They listen more and only make promises when they can deliver.     

For example, an MSPs continue to offer core technology portfolios that their teams fully implement and maintain. Those packages are considered their trusted hardware and applications, including the management tools used to simplify and solidify their support processes. Thoroughly vetted and tested, the “eat your own dog food” philosophy can still work with these trusted parts of their portfolios.

If they have vertical specializations, providers may beta test new solutions with one or more of their most loyal and best-supported customers, closely monitoring the results and collecting feedback and information from all involved. Of course, backup plans are still essential in case things don’t go as planned. But the emphasis should be on full disclosure and trust. If these solutions pass the test, providers can confidently roll them out in their “trusted” portfolios to their entire target market.

The wildcard for MSPs are unknowns such as “rogue IT” and one-off line-of-business SaaS applications that providers have little or no control over, yet may be expected to support as part of the corporate infrastructure. Full disclosure of potential risks and threat and network assessments are great places to start. That’s why many channel firms are offering their clients more consulting and management options in place of comprehensive “one size fits all” support packages.  

MSPs should be extremely careful making promises around the SaaS applications their team members have little or no experience with, especially solutions downloaded from unfamiliar websites or supplied by unknown companies. Over promising and under delivering is a sure way to lose customer confidence and future sales.

Finding that balance of support between a fully maintained offering and managed solutions is crucial for driving new revenue and creating a value proposition based on that key element ‒ trust.

Brian Sherman is president of Tech Success Communications, a channel-related content and social media development firm. He served previously as the chief editor at Business Solutions magazine and senior director of industry alliances with Autotask. Contact Brian at Bsherman@techsuccesscommunications.com