I sat down with one of our MSP partners last week to talk about their carrier services sales strategy. At the beginning, the general attitude was that carrier services were an afterthought. Essentially a deal would have to hit them in the head for it to get real attention.
I explained that one of the reasons that approach isn't a good idea is that carriers are increasingly competing with VARs and MSPs. Folks in that space would be wise not to send their customer to a potential competitor to complete the solution. You may not want to get your hands dirty in the MPLS circuits, but can you really count on the MPLS carrier not wanting to get their hands dirty managing the LAN? The answer is no.
This partner seemed to acknowledge that competitive threat, but I could tell it wasn't something he considered pressing. When I got back to the office, I did a quick competitive run-down of a few major carriers to get an idea for exactly what VARs and MSPs are up against. It's not pretty, at least not for VARs and MSPs.
The point of the list below isn't to scare people, it's to drive home the point that the boundary between communications providers and IT providers is not just blurred, it's gone. It won't be long before the markets for IT support and voice and data services become one. If they want to be competitive, VARs and MSPs have to provide total solutions including connectivity.
Verizon and AT&T
These two carriers are the big boys, representing nearly 80% of the business telecom market, so I figured I'd address them together. Not surprisingly, both have deep managed services offerings. Verizon's Managed LAN service is a direct competitor with most VAR/MSP service sets.
While AT&T makes it a lot harder to find on their website, they also offer a support service for the SMB market. Their Tech Support 360 product may be a little more flimsy than the Verizon offering, but it ticks all the boxes and could give some MSPs a run for their money.
Earthlink Business has been working for a few years on integrating MSP services into their portfolio. They've hit quite a few speed bumps, but we're seeing more and more traction. They've acquired dozens of IT companies and have a coherent managed LAN and cloud platform, even if it's still being polished. Most importantly, they've ramped up the marketing of their TechCare support service, positioning it as a way to displace companies' VAR/MSP relationships.
While their offering is decidedly small-business focused, for many VARs and MSPs those small accounts are bread and butter. Given Windstream's increasing focus on managed security, cloud, and hosting solutions, I expect them to further develop their Premium Tech Support service.
Savvis / CenturyLink
On the other end of the spectrum, Savvis is targeting the mid-sized and enterprise customer with their Enterprise IT Outsourcing Solutions. They consider their competition to be more the HP's, IBM's, and Accentures of the world, but for large regional MSPs with key enterprise accounts Savvis can pose a serious threat.
Cable companies are starting to get more respect in business market. Comcast in particular has made great strides and is now offering their Signature Support services that offers a few options at a range of price points. Jokes about cable customer service aside, these guys have a huge marketing machine at their disposal. Expect increasing pressure from them.
There are dozens of smaller hybrid carriers that offer similar services, and the explosion of cloud providers means this trend will likely increase. So how do VARs and MSPs combat these competitors?
Easy — control the entire solution. When your customer needs connectivity, don't send them to your competitor. Integrate it into your solution. Not only will you earn more money, you'll be providing your customer a more comprehensive solution.