MSP Experts interview with Stuart Selbst

Stuart Selbst is a trusted business advisor and MSP Business Coach. With 22 years experience inside the industry, Stuart started his own managed service practice in 2002. Five years later, he sold it for a hefty profit. Since then, he’s been consulting and working with MSP’s from across the globe.

Listen to the full interview.


Key takeaways:

  • Cloud is the biggest trend in the space at the moment. Stuart recommends also tapping into print and telecom services. An MSP should look to try position themselves as a company that offers  the full circle of services.
  • Companies don’t want to manage 800 different vendors, you do it for them.
  • The best MSPs are engaging and educating their customers, not just selling.
  • Stuart tells his partners to separate themselves by writing an article. Write an article and get it submitted to your local paper. Do something out of the box.
  • Nobody can sell your brand better than you. Stuart says, “I don’t care if you are huge or little or one person”.


Book recommendations:

Important links and social profiles:

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Full Interview Transcript:

Please excuse the odd grammar error, this is only a transcript.

Ross: We’re here with Stuart Selbst, for our MSP Expert section. Let’s start with just tell me a bit about yourself Stuart. What you do and your experience within the industry.

Stuart: I’ve been in the industry for 22 years; worked in the enterprise as a network engineer, security engineer. Got kind of bored with that, to be really honest, and in 2002 I started my own managed services practice. Five years later I sold it for a very hefty profit. Since then I’ve been consulting and working with MSPs on a global scale. We help them grow. We help them learn. You kind of consider me now as a coach; a business coach. I take a very client-benefited approach to the MSP business. While I work with MSPs around the world, the best ones to work with are the ones who are typically truly engaged, who show up, and things along those lines. That’s kind of my background, kind of what I do; if that’s what you are looking for Ross.

Ross: Yeah definitely. When you say a real benefit approach, what do you mean by that?

Stuart: I like to take technology out of the equation. So many MSPs will market or sell on the technology. My belief is anyone can provide the technology. The client can go out and find the technology. The benefit approach is what is the benefit to the customer, to the end customer, to work with you? Anybody can support the technology because most MSPs don’t develop technology. Microsoft does, Intel does, companies like that they write code and build hardware. They’re the ones developing technology. MSP is the one supporting it. I’ve always said, for as long as I have been consulting even when I was in MSP, is it’s about the client. It’s always about the customer. We support people we don’t support computers. The great Simon Sinek likes to talk about what is our why? Our why should always be about the client. We take the client benefit approach to the MSP business and we achieve tremendous success.

Ross: That makes a lot of sense. What trends do you see in the industry? Say we’re going to be broadcasting to a lot of small, sort of medium, MSPs around the world, what should they be keeping an eye out for over the next year to five years, is there anything in particular you’re preaching?

Stuart: Well, cloud. We’re all talking about the cloud, but how do we do the cloud? The cloud is today what managed services was probably three or four, five years ago. People were saying, “Hey do you manage services, you’re going to fall away go away.” That’s not necessarily true. Just like there’s still [inaudible00:03:07] fix and bars out there that are not doing managed services. They’re not getting the market share that they want but I think that today is the cloud; the cloud, printing, and telecom. Those three are the major things that MSPs are missing out on. The printer guys, the manage print guys, are going after the MSPs business. The teleco guys are going after the MSPs business.

The reason I know that is I sit on the Channel Partners’ advisory board and that’s all that’s ever talked about at meetings is how can teleco guys sell more managed services. I actually did a session, half day session, at Channel Partners in Vegas in March on how to sell managed services and I had 280 people attend. They are making a play for the data MSP. If the data MSP isn’t looking to the cloud, isn’t looking to teleco, isn’t looking to print, I truly believe that they’re going to be missing out on a major opportunity to service their client. Remember I said that it’s always about the client. The client wants one throat to choke they don’t want to manage 800 different vendors. If you can be that single point of contact, that single point of failure or single point of success, what I like to call is take over operational ownership of the client’s technology, it gives you an advantage.

The trend that I’m seeing is you must engage the cloud; don’t just be a reseller. Buy a couple servers, collocate it somewhere, build out your own. If you need help ask for help. Engage with a teleco vendor. Be an agent, don’t be a subagent, but be an agent. Start doing managed print services because people are still using paper. If you’re not using paper you’re using some type of document management. Still manage print and fine document management somehow because people still have paper. Doctors still have paper. Lawyers still have paper. Mortgage companies still have paper. Car dealerships still have paper, it’s 100% electronic, you still need a paper trail. Those are the trends that I’m seeing.

Ross: That’s really insightful. I was down in Melbourne for the ConnectWise User Group and I sat in on a session with ConnectWise CEO Arnie and he basically was saying very similar things regarding through MSPs to really keep the stranglehold to keep their clients they need to start integrating all these services. Exactly like you said the manage print stuff, the telecos, be that one-stop shop for everything IT.

Stuart: I don’t like the term one-stop shop. I don’t even like trusted advisor. Again I am going to quote Simon Sinek about what is your why. Your why must meet up with your clients what or vice versa. Your what, what you do, must meet up with your clients why in business. One of the things that I’ve come up with is a list of ten business goals that most CEOs are looking to succeed with. How can your why match up with these what. If they want to increase stock, their stock price or their company value, they want to have a bigger mark
et share, they want to improve their companies efficiencies and reducing costs while continuing to grow.

I really believe if they don’t have the business acumen to look at the goals of the company at the sea level, not at the director level, not at the employee level, but at the sea level because they are driving that business forward to make more money and bring in the services behind it. If they’re not bringing in the services with the business acumen, I wouldn’t say they are going to fail, but I think they are going to get left in the dust. They’ll still have their customers but they won’t have clients and they won’t be able to build on to anything in the next five years.

Ross: I totally agree. I suppose the next question I wanted to ask is you speak of the cloud and stuff but what’s one thing that you find MSPs doing that you’re constantly running into, like a problem, that you recommend that they should be trying to get a bit of a step ahead of the game now?

Stuart: It depends on the size. The little guy, the one and two and three person shop, they have problems just doing everything. They have problems tying their shoelaces in the morning. I think we all have that problem from time to time where we have our clients pulling us 800 different directions. The typical industry I think the problem they have is how to take all these messages from all their vendors, from all the media, and digest it. I’ll give you a perfect example. I was watching a video today, I’m speaking at the Level Platforms Conference in a week and a half, and I was watching the keynote is Robin Robins whom I have a tremendous amount of respect for. She’s great at what she does. I was watching this video that she put on the Level Platforms website about what MSPs should be doing.

I totally agree with everything that she’s done. The reason she is doing these videos and the reason she’s in business and I’m in business is because most MSPs, I don’t care what size you are, they need a little kick in the six in the butt. That’s the problem I see. I don’t care what level you’re at. I used to have a partner that I worked with for the first three or four years I was doing this that went from 2 million to 13 million in a three and a half year period. As we’re exiting out, I do an exit interview one someone leaves me, I say why are leaving me, why’d you buy from me, why’d you stay with me. He says Stew it’s lonely at the top. The reason he left me is because he retired, he decided to retire and sell his business, turn his business over to the president, wasn’t anything I did but it’s lonely at the top.

The biggest mistake that I see MSPs doing today is not having a mentor. Not having someone or a board of directors or a team, even if you go to the ConnectWise User Group or HTG or whatever it happens to be, make sure you get a mentor. Get someone to help you. Bounce some ideas off of them. Hell I even have mentors. I have my board of directors that I meet with whenever I have issues. Hey I have a client that’s having some problems what do you guys think? Get some help. It has nothing to do with technology. It has nothing to do with trends. It has everything to do with how to run your business successfully.

Ross: I think that’s a great point. Mentors can add so much value. I reckon that some people might say, “Hey well Stuart how do I go about getting a mentor?” You mentioned get involve with some of the ConnectWise, HTGs groups, is there a best practice that you like to use in terms of trying to bring someone aboard because it’s all about adding a bit of value trying to not take too much of their time but still seeing if you can get something out of it. What’s your best approach?

Stuart: My best approach is I had a business coach when I was a MSP and even now that I’m a “business coach” or business consultant I prefer to be called, is make sure the personalities fit. Ask around, ask people about the person. When people come to me everyone asks for references even though they can read testimonials or whatnot on my website. Say the industry says great things about me obviously I’ve been named to so many top whatever lists for the last five years.

Ross:  Including this one.

Stuart: Including this one yeah. I’ve never been in the top then I don’t think. Ask around, ask people, ask for references. Make sure they’re on the same page as you. I’ve had clients come and go because it just didn’t fit. Just like when you’re being hired by a client they are interviewing you. When you look for a coach or mentor or consultant interview them; make sure their expectations meet with your business goals. I try to set the expectation with my clients from the word go. I always tell them, we’re not going to do the work for you. We’re going to make you do the work. We’re going to help you do the work. I’m going to help you call plays but I’m not going to do it for you. I’m going to help you. If they are calling for me to do the work for them, it’s going to cost them a lot more money because I don’t want to go and be someone’s employee. If I wanted to go work for someone I would come work for you Ross.

Ross: We could deal with that.

Stuart: I would work for [inaudible00:11:51] or Microsoft or something like that. I would go do sales for them, but I don’t’ want to go work for someone. For me to go work for someone is very expensive. My job is to help. They have to engage in their business or it’s like the old adage, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make them drink. You can give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day but if you teach him how to fish he’ll eat for the rest of his life. I want people to be able to eat for the rest of their lives. Make sure their goals are on the same page as the expectations.

Ross: I think that’s great advice. I suppose the next one I really want us to get to in regards to questions is, and I know you’ve probably touched on it a bit in these last ones, but what really separates the exceptional MSPs from the average ones? You’ve mentioned a few things in terms of utilizing a mentor and whatnot is there anything else you can add to that?

Stuart: Absolutely. I like to call my clients the one percenters. I think they’re the one percent of the industry, they may be small and agile and flexible whatever you want to call them, but I think they’re the one percent of the really the folks that want to make a difference. I believe the best in class MSPs are truly trying to make a difference. Not only in their business but more importantly their client’s business and their community, and I see that from my clients. I see that from some of the MSPs that I have a lot of respect for. They’re not just talking about the technology. They’re not just selling crap for lack of a better term. They’re really just trying to engage with businesses and educate them.

Just like I do in my business; I tweet about cool stuff and I used to find a really cool quote of the day to tweet out. It’s not for me to go and find you business. If somebody says, “You know Stuart I like your take on that can we engage can we have a conversation.” I’m always open to having conversation. I also see with my clients who I believe are best in class, they’ll have a thirty minute to an hour conversation with any business or anybody to help them out; even if it’s their competitor down the street. It doesn’t matter because you’re really not going to come across them. Back when I was in MSP I had some really good friends here in Phoenix that also had an MSP and we met through the Chamber of Commerce or BNI, some networking group. We became really good friends. We would sit down and have coffee and talk about our businesses.

In five years that I was in business I never once ran into one of their clients. It m
ay be a small world, but it’s a big market. You’re never going to the guy down the street, and maybe you can share some secrets and work together. I’m a big believer in collaboration. I think the best in class MSPs have learned to collaborate with their people.

Ross: I totally agree. I think especially in these recent years, last three to five years, with the rise of the internet and everything is getting so crowded and there is so much material out there, it’s the ones that can collaborate and build those relationships with you that you end up trusting and doing business with.

Stuart: One other way that I tell my partners to separate themselves, write an article. Write an article and get it submitted to your local paper. Do something out of the box.

Ross: What’s your take on the online space with the blog? We do a lot of blogs over here at Client Heartbeat to engage the key influences in our target market.

Stuart: Absolutely I am a big fan of blogging. I am a big fan of social media. I use a lot of it. I tweet and I blog. I have been pretty bad about blogging for my own company over the last six months, but I’ve got a director of communication coming on 17th of June. We’ll be doing a lot more blogging about that. I’m a big fan of it. A lot of my clients use a company to outsource their marketing. I will give my buddy Herman a free shout out at Vertical Action. A lot of my clients use Vertical Action for their online marketing, their website, the social media, the blogs and things like that.

I always tell my clients, who even use Herman and his group, write something original. Write something from the heart. Write something that’s going to help your client. Nobody knows your client better than you. Herman and his team don’t know your client but you do, and that’s who’s looking at your blog. That’s who’s talking about you. If you just write one original article a month. That’s twelve a year. If you do it on a Saturday morning or Saturday afternoon drinking a beer on the patio just write something. If not, pay someone to write something original for you but write something and you’ll see a significant difference in how people approach you because it’s …

Ross: Yeah I totally agree. When I first started blogging and stuff I haven’t come from a very strong English, I never got the A’s in school for English so to speak, but I think once you find your voice and you know your target market and maybe have a beer to relax and speak your words it comes quite an enjoyable experience. When you see people actually reading your stuff and commenting on your stuff I think it’s a bit of a tick in a box to know that you are helping them. Coming back to what you were saying before in terms of the top in class MSPs that are out there collaborating and really add value rather than just focus on the end game.

Stuart: Right on the money man. Speak your voice. You are a business owner. Donald Trump is a perfect example. He is not a timid little man. He is out there speaking his voice, believing in his product, believing in what he does. I use Donald Trump all the time as an example because nobody can sell your brand or your product better than you. If you look at obviously here in the U.S., Donald Trump sells Trump. Papa Johns is selling Papa Johns. You have the CEO of Dominos selling Dominos. You’ve got Martha Stewart selling Martha Stewart. These multibillion dollar corporations, the top person is selling them.

I still believe, and I always believe, that nobody can sell your brand better than you. I don’t care if you are huge or little or one person. My company, perfect example, Stuart Selbst Consulting, well I’m Stuart Selbst. Nobody can sell my brand better than me and I am my brand; just like Donald Trump is Donald Trump. Martha Stewart is Martha Stewart’s brand. It may be a little intimidating to be Joe’s Computer Shop but you know what Joe is the guy. Joe sell Joe.

Ross: Exactly great advice. We’ll wrap this up with one book. What’s a book or a maybe a video or something that’s hot right now that you might be reading at the moment or you’ve been recommended?

Stuart: That’s a really great question because I’m always quoting my book, but I’ve read them and I’ll continue to read them. There’s a handful of them. Can I go into detail?

Ross: Yeah go for them, I’m sure everybody …

Stuart: I’m actually pulling up my iPad because they are all my kindle to give you all the titles. First one is kind of my Bible, Simon Sinek’s Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. That’s like my Bible. Daniel Pink’s Drive and I highly recommend people Google or YouTube Daniel Pink about motivation. Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us. It’s really very cool because it talks to us in the technology industry. Anything by Michael Gerber; E-myth­ whatnot. The Go-Giver by Bog Burg. Bog Burg is a great man. You can read The Go-Giver; you can email him and he’ll give you a half and hour of his time he doesn’t care. He is just a fantastic guy.

Probably the last book that I would recommend to anybody, it’s probably way out of the ballpark but it’s by a couple named Kevin and Jackie Freiberg. The name of the book is called BOOM! Seven Choices for Blowing the Doors off Business as Usual. I had the privilege of hearing Kevin speak at CompTIA Breakaway a few years ago. It just completely blew me away. Changed the way I looked at business.

I highly recommend ­The E-myth obviously stop being the technician, be the entrepreneur, that’s the whole premise to that book. Anything by Michael Gerber, BOOM! Seven Choices for Blowing the Doors off Business as Usual by the Freibergs, Go-Giver by Bog Burg, Drive: the Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink, and Simon Sinek’s Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. Those are books that are always on my Kindle and I recommend to every one of my partners. It’s almost required reading to work with me. Over the period of a year you will read every one of them.

Ross: I think everybody will definitely appreciate those ones. I’ve read a bit of the ­Go-Giver and I’ve got to get round to reading the rest of it. Well Stuart just to give everybody a bit of extra direction, how can people reach out to you, your website, and twitter profiles if you want to give everybody a bit of a rundown how they can touch base with you.

Stuart: Sure and I will spell everything out because nobody knows how to spell my name.

Ross: We’ll also include it in the little text below.

Stuart: My website S-T-U-A-R-T S-E-L-B-S-T dot com. My twitter profile is @MSPCoach, pretty simple. My blog is My Facebook page That’s pretty much the best way to follow me and hear what I have to say. I have an opinion about everything. You can always email the office, [email protected] */]]> It will come to me and my marketing folks when they come on board. We’re really about helping folks. I don’t care if you sign on with me or don’t sign on with me, if you have a question feel free to ask. There’s not such thing as a stupid question.

Ross: There you go guys. There’s how you can reach Stuart. Thanks Stuart for your time today. I think we’ve got some really good valuable stuff that everybody is going to appreciate. Particularly around the collaboration aspect and having your voice, I like that. Obvi
ously the books they’re always a good one. Cool all right well that’s the wrap up of MSP Experts with Stuart Selbst. Stay tuned for next time.

Gordon Tan

Gordon Tan is an entrepreneur based in Australia who has started and sold multiple technology companies with a combined value of $150m. This included a client satisfaction benchmarking platform which gave him first hand insight into the best practices of over 6,000 businesses. After retiring at 35 he is now a recognised thought leader on winning and retaining clients - His two passions: making clients the heartbeat of a business no matter what the product or service and this blog.

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