The price is of leadership is criticism

Episode 11: The price of leadership is criticism

Paul Green

Paul Green's MSP Marketing Podcast
Paul Green's MSP Marketing Podcast
Episode 11: The price of leadership is criticism

In this week’s episode

  • As your MSP grows and you take on more staff, there’s an increased chance you’ll be criticised by those that work for you. Paul explains how this can actually be a good thing for your business and leadership
  • Also in this week’s episode, how a simple paperclip can keep your business on track; details of a monthly pack of marketing material; and James Newell joins Paul to share some amazing advice about improving sales techniques
  • This podcast is fully interactive and listener Sam has a great question about how an MSP owner can force clients to stop bothering them with historic technical support!

Show notes

Episode transcription

Voiceover: Made in the UK for MSPs around the world. This is Paul Green’s MSP marketing podcast.

Paul Green: Hello, I’ve got a great one for you today. Here’s what’s coming up.

James Newell: You might be too embarrassed to question me on what that actually means, and I’ll lose the sale because I’ve assumed that you know what I’m talking about.

Paul Green: We’re also going to explore a very simple but very powerful idea that will help you and your team to do the things that grow the business every single day, even when they’re jobs that no one really likes doing. And I’m going to answer a question from an MSP about how you stop your clients coming to you personally for tech support when there’s actually a team that they should be going to.

Voiceover: Paul Green’s MSP marketing podcast.

Paul Green: I was catching up over the weekend with a really good friend of mine, John, who is a business owner as well. He has some kind of engineering business. I don’t quite understand what they do, but we were talking about the burden of staff and they’ve all worked together for a long time. And something happened to him a couple of weeks ago, which really has bothered him at quite a deep emotional level, which was he became aware that two members of his team were discussing him on WhatsApp. And I can’t remember the details of how he found out. I think someone might’ve referenced it or something. He certainly hasn’t seen the chat, but it became clear to him that actually there is a degree of criticism that’s happening between a couple of members of his team about him.

Paul Green: Now let’s put this in perspective. He’s actually… It’s his business. He owns that business. He benefits from that and is also burdened by it at the same time, and only another business owner would know exactly what I mean by that. But because these people have worked for him for some time, it’s really bothered him that they are criticising him and they’re objecting to some of the decisions that he’s making. Now it’s bothered him even though it’s his business. And he loses his house if that business fails; they only lose their jobs, and they can go and get other jobs quicker than he can get another house. And he’s quite happy to stick with the decisions that he’s made, but it’s still bothered him at quite a deep level.

Paul Green: And the conversation that we had at the weekend was that actually the price of leadership is criticism. It’s something that I had to come to terms with and I had 15 staff, of which about 14 were criticising me at any one time. You probably yourself have either come to terms with this or you’re realising, yes, do you know what? As soon as you have employees and as soon as you set yourself up as a leader, you have to expect that kind of criticism. Because when we run the business, and when we own that business, we have to be the leaders.

Paul Green: In fact, the risk is if we’re not the leaders, we leave a leadership void. And I’ve met many business owners where the business owner is introverted and they’ve shrunk away from being the leader. And the business has ticked along and it’s done okay, but there is a leadership void. There’s no one saying, “Hey, this is where we should go. This is the vision for the future.” And in a leadership void like that, someone, a strong personality on the team, will rise and will take a position of authority, if you like, within the business.

Paul Green: They’re not the owner, they’re not the manager, but they assume a de facto leadership position and can actually take the business off in completely the wrong direction. So you want to be the leader within your business. You want to rise up and you want to paint that vision of the future and say, “Hey, this is the way we’re going.” And most of your staff, most of the time, want you to be the leader as well, because it’s deeply ingrained into our ancient human psychology to expect leadership. We look for people to fall behind. We look for people to tell us a way to go. But that doesn’t mean that we have to accept every single thing that our leader says.

Paul Green: One of the downsides of doing business in 2020 is we’re much more enlightened these days. It’s not like it was 150 years ago, where the owner, the boss, said, “This is what we do,” and everyone just had to do it and couldn’t have an opinion. These days we want collaboration, we want engagement, we want all of these things. They’re seen as good things. And they are, but they have a price, and that price is criticism. Engaged, collaborative employees criticise the leader.

Paul Green: It’s part of the process for them of coming to terms with the lack of control that they have within the business, because they don’t really have any control at all. You do. You have all the control. You’re the owner. You’re the decision maker. You decide exactly what the business is going to do or not going to do. You have months to think about things, to ponder ideas, to move them around in your head, and then suddenly you announce something to your team almost out of the blue. And for them it’s a bit of a shock. So they have no control whatsoever. You do as the leader. No wonder they’re going to criticise you.

Paul Green: And do you know what? I think you should expect that criticism and actually accept it, because strong leaders are confident people, and confident people allow others to be critical, especially the people that they’re leading. In fact, strong leaders, I believe, make constructive criticism a part of the whole organisational culture.

Paul Green: I run a Facebook group which is just for MSPs. You can go and find it in Facebook. It’s called the MSP marketing group. So if you go into Facebook and type in “MSP marketing”. at the top and go to groups, and that’s my group and we’ve got more than 500 people in there, all MSPs from around the world. Come and join us in that group.

Paul Green: And every now and again I’m criticised in that group, and there’s two or three strong personalities in there that criticise something I’ve written or my opinions on something. And I could, and it does cross my mind now and again that I could just kick them out of the group, but what would be the benefit of that for me and my personal growth, and what would be the benefit of that within the group?

Paul Green: Because even if they don’t have a shared opinion that the whole group shares, actually that criticism makes me a better leader. I try very hard not to address that criticism defensively, but actually to have an open conversation about whatever it is that they’re criticising me for. Because if that’s their opinion and they’re accepting me as a leader, even just in a small way in just a Facebook group, then I’m very happy with that, because to me, being criticised shows that actually my leadership is being accepted.

Paul Green: Because you need to keep criticism in perspective. Obviously I don’t get emotionally bothered by being criticised in a Facebook group, but I have a team still. It’s only a small team now and when my team do criticise me and I encourage it, I have to assume that, do you know what? Maybe they’ve got something here. Maybe they’re criticising me because I’m making a mistake. Maybe this is not the right thing for the business. Sometimes I ignore that criticism. Sometimes I go with it. What do you do in your business?

Paul Green: You have to be careful not to give too much weight to one particular criticism that you miss what everyone else is saying. So it’s almost like looking for trends. If the people you trust the most in your business are criticising you and their majority are criticising you, then maybe there’s something in that. Actually if it’s one or two lone guns, then maybe it’s just a different perspective which you should take into consideration. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that as leaders of our businesses, we should actually appreciate criticism. We all want to be strong leaders, which isn’t something we’re born as. We have to grow and learn and train to become a strong leader. And strong leaders openly and quickly admit when they’re wrong.

Paul Green: Because we’re not perfect. You and I, we’re not perfect. We never will be. We will make mistakes in the business. Even when we’ve done 40, 50 years running businesses, we’re still going to make mistakes. And part of that is accepting the criticism from the people that we’re leading, because it’s somewhat of an early warning that we’re getting it wrong.

Paul Green: So I wonder if off the back of this, maybe you put in place something formal to try and draw out the criticism from your business. And this is what I recommended to my friend John. Because if they’re chatting about him on WhatsApp privately between themselves, maybe you should put something in place for them to formally have an opportunity to critique what it is that he’s doing as the leader. So we stop it being criticism and we turn it into a critique. And we went through a couple of different ideas, having formal meetings, team meetings, which I don’t think is the right forum.

Paul Green: And we settled on one-to-one individual conversations: coaching conversations, as it were. If he could sit down once a week, or once every couple of weeks, with every single member of his team, and have a one-on-one conversation, that’s an opportunity for there to be a two-way critiquing. He can critique his staff, because of course he’s got plenty to criticise about their performance, but also they can critique him as well. And he will do with that is start to draw it away from the private WhatsApp conversations into actually very useful feedback conversations between him and individual members of his team. It’s a very powerful concept. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you could do that in your business?

Voiceover: Here’s this week’s clever idea.

Paul Green: We all have little daily jobs that we really, really should do because they move the business forward, but they’re painful. For example, ringing prospects. You might have hundreds or thousands of prospects in your audiences connected to you on LinkedIn or in your email list. And it’s a really good idea to just call those people now and again, because the phone moves those conversations forward. But none of us, none of us like picking up the phone and calling people in our network. It’s a horrible, horrible thing to do. So here’s a way that you can game-ify it. Make it fun for yourself, but also trick your brain into getting this work done.

Paul Green: Now it’s such a simple idea, and all you need for this is three things. First of all, you need two glasses. Any two glasses will do. Just to make sure they’re exactly the same glasses. Get them out of your cupboard, put them on your desk. And the next thing you need is a bunch of paper-clips. Now the number of paper-clips will depend on how many things you want to do. So let’s say today you want to do 50 dials, you want to pick up the phone and you want to call 50 people. Well, you’re going to attempt 50 calls, anyway. We all know that those 50 dials will actually turn into about two or three conversations. So it’s a pretty good target for a day.

Paul Green: So you start off with the 50 paper-clips in one of the glasses, then you pick up the phone, you do a dial, and as you’re doing the dial, or as the call’s connecting, you move a paper-clip from one glass into the other glass. So you’ve now got 49 paper-clips in one glass and one paper-clip in the other glass. And then as you did the second dial, you move the second paper-clip over, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Can you see where this is going? So very quickly, you get five, six, seven, eight calls in and you can see at a glance through the glass exactly how many calls you’ve done and roughly how many you’ve got left to do.

Paul Green: And there’s some satisfaction in getting that number down. Well, this is the game. This is the gamification part of it, where you’re encouraging yourself to keep going because every single time you pick up the phone, the clips are moving over from one glass to another. So you get to about 10 or 15 left in one glass, and you’ve only got another 10 or 15 dials to do and you’ve hit your target for the day. How amazing is that? And your brain is going to want you to finish.

Paul Green: Because it might not seem this way most days, but our brains are desperate for us to finish jobs. Our brains hate it when we don’t get jobs finished properly. So when it sees that there’s only 10 paper-clips left, it wants to finish that. It wants to get it complete and it’ll give you a little burst of the feel-good. I forget what it is. Is it endorphins that your brain gets when you do that last paper-clip over into the other glass? You get that burst of, let’s say, endorphins. You feel great because you have finished a job.

Paul Green: Now the numbers game says if you attempt 50 dials in a day, you will have one, two, maybe even three conversations. In fact, imagine if you did that every single day. Every single day you picked up the phone, you dialled 50 people, that’s 250 attempted dials a week. You’re going to be having up to 10 conversations a week. Somewhere in there, someone is going to be ready to sit down and have a conversation with you about switching from their incumbent MSP to you, just because the numbers game says that is the case. It might not happen every week, but it will happen most weeks and it was made to happen through the paper-clips method.

Paul Green: Very, very simple. Because it works on all our basic psychological actions such as gamification and such as starting a job so that our brain wants to finish it. One thing: don’t try and do this with sweets. I did have someone that replaced paper-clips for sweets and unfortunately more of the sweets went into their mouth than actually went into the other glass. So you don’t have to use paper-clips. You could use anything. Just make sure it isn’t something that you can eat, as you will find yourself eating to cheat.

Voiceover: Paul’s blatant plug.

Paul Green: So I was just talking there about building multiple audiences for your business, which is a great marketing concept. You get people to choose to join your email list, to connect with you on LinkedIn, maybe even join a Facebook group if you’ve got a clear vertical that can sustain a Facebook group. And then once you’ve got these people, you educate them over a period of time how to pick a good MSP. Because at a cognitive level, they don’t know the difference between a good MSP and a bad MSP. So they’re making the decision emotionally. Now the best way to educate them is to be constantly sending out content. This is the core crux of content marketing. You send content out to them on social media on a daily basis, and on email on a weekly basis.

Paul Green: And I have a service that can help you to do this. It’s called the MSP Marketing Edge. And what we do is every single month we give you brand-new content that you can use in your area. And only one MSP can use it per area. So every month you get an educational guide. Literally it’s a PDF in lots and lots of different formats that you can use either as a PDF or you can get it printed. Then you’ve got an educational video teaching them about technology. You’ve got social media content for every single day of the month. You’ve got emails, versions for prospects and versions for clients as well. And you’ve got a press release to send out to your local media, because there’s no better credibility than being featured in your local media, plus a sales letter that you can send out to prospects in your area.

Paul Green: You get all of that new every single month, on the first of the month, and you can use it in any way you fancy in your local area to find prospects, to warm them up and ultimately to get a meeting with them. Because that’s the goal of this, isn’t it, is to get them on the phone and to get the meeting with them. That’s how we get the sales process started. So I’ve made this incredibly cheap as well. In the UK it’s £99 plus VAT every month. And in the US it’s $129 a month. And there’s a nice easy trial period for you as well. Your first month costs you very little to try it out.

Paul Green: So all you got to do now is check out if someone else has beaten you to it in your area. If you go to, you can go in, check to see if your area is still available, see all the details and get started with your trial month. It’s a very powerful way to market and grow your business.

Voiceover: The big interview.

James Newell: My name is James Newell. My company is Clear Sales Message, and in a nutshell I help businesses to articulate what they actually offer in the marketplace.

Paul Green: My guest today has an incredible skill. He can take that complicated beast of sales and make it very, very simple for you and for anyone to understand.

James Newell: The classic mistake that most people make, and we’re actually naturally programmed to do this, is we sell the wrong thing. So it’s a classic features and benefits scenario. The example that I always use is airline adverts. So when you see an airline advert on TV, on a bus, or on the tube or anywhere like that, you very rarely see a plane or a plane seat on the advert. What you’ll see is a family on the beach, a Christmas scene or whatever. The airlines intrinsically understand they need to sell you the destination, not the journey. So nobody’s actually buying what they’re buying, they’re buying the end result that they’re after, thanks to something called the false consensus effect.

James Newell: The false consensus effect, which is a cognitive bias. It’s a way of thinking. We focus on ourselves first. So easy for me as a sales person and MSP to talk about what I do and how to excite and get really techy and jargonistic straight away. But the client’s sat there thinking, “Well, I couldn’t really care less, will it get the end result that I want?” So to use computer parlance, we change the syntax of the conversation, change the order of the conversation. We’ll talk first of all about the end result. So “This is what an MSP will mean for you,” and then we’ll go back to explain what it is. And I would try not to use the term MSP too much because I’m sure there’s lots of people who don’t even understand what that term means. Even that simple acronym.

Paul Green: What you’re saying there is essentially you sell the sizzle, not the sausage.

James Newell: Yes.

Paul Green: Which is another way of saying the same thing. How do you practically do that though? Because again, most of the owner operators that would listen to a podcast like this would be technicians or would have started off as technicians, and obviously they’ve got a real passion for these incredible solutions that are out there to fix people’s problems. How do you then translate that into the destinations, as it were, that the decision-makers are looking for?

James Newell: Well, really simply, so we judge the world very, very harshly when we buy things, whether it’s MSP services, anything like that. The question we’re trying to answer in our mind, which we would never overtly ask is, “Well, why should I care? Why should I care about an MSP and what you do?” So if you’ve got a particular piece of technology or service that you’re offering, think about the end result and the context for the client. Does it give them peace of mind? Does it make them money? Does it save them money? Does it get them a speed advantage? Whatever it happens to be, relate it to them and their business and their context. And that’s how you find in. And you have to be mindful that whatever you’re selling, we’re always speaking with humans.

James Newell: So people make decisions based on emotion, not logic. We make emotionally-based decisions and rationalise with logic. So if I talked to you about the peace of mind you’re getting knowing that your systems will be supported and backed up and you’ve minimise your downtime, et cetera, et cetera, and I can talk in those quasi-emotional feeling terms, I’m going to connect with you. And then I can bring it back to the logical world of, “Okay, this is how we deliver that, and that’s how that would work.”

Paul Green: Do you think people who do selling over a number of years forget this because they’re absorbed every single day in their world and their product and what it does and what it doesn’t do? Do you think it’s easy for them to forget that actually the prospect that they’re sitting down with doesn’t absorb themselves in this, and will perhaps be exposed to it once or twice in a 10 year period?

James Newell: 100%. It’s called the curse of knowledge. So when you know something, you tend to presume that other people know the same things that you do and they see the world from your point of view. So the maxim for my business when I first began was: if they don’t understand it, they can’t buy it. So my avatar is the next person that walks past you, whether you’re at work, whether you’re out and about, as long as they’re an adult and as long as English is their first language. How do you explain what you do in the most basic terms possible? Just so they understand, because they have to understand first before you can then engage them, but you have to remember if they don’t understand it, they can’t buy it. And if I’m throwing terms at you like MSP, et cetera, et cetera, you might be too embarrassed to question me on what that actually means, and I’ll lose the sale because I’ve assumed that you know what I’m talking about. And I always say to my clients, that assumption is the mother of all lost sales.

Paul Green: There’s another way to end that isn’t there?

James Newell: I know. I put that on a slide once. It didn’t go down well.

Paul Green: This is just beautiful to hear this because the world of the MSP is so full of acronyms and technology and new things that people are inventing every single day. The person who’s doing the selling has to be a filter, and you have to filter out all of that and let just the emotional message and the outcomes get through.

James Newell: Think about yourself as an interface, that data is transitioning between yourself and the person that you’re selling to. And we have to recognise that human beings have, on average, an eight-second attention span. So every eight seconds you’re cycling your environment for movement, for change, for threats. So we only pay attention for eight seconds at a time. We’re completely self-absorbed and looking out for what’s in it for us. So why should I care?

James Newell: And interestingly in the UK, we have the average reading age of a nine year old. And that’s an average, so some people are above that and some are below it. The Sun newspaper is written for 10-year-olds and The Times for 12-year-olds. So what it tells us is we need to use fewer words, simpler sentences, less complicated sentences, and just have a much slower cadence and walk people slowly into the information rather than bombard them. But in terms of the MSP world, if you just think about you are an interface for data transfer essentially between you and your prospect, they are a machine for processing information. If you feed it to them in the correct way and in the correct order, you’ll maximise your chance of them understanding and then engaging.

James Newell: I always say to my clients that selling is essentially a conversation with money at the end, and if we bear that in mind, then we lose the nervousness that comes about. We feel that we have to become a salesperson. If you Google image-search “sales man”, “sales woman”, “sales team”, the imagery that comes up, this is the general consensus of how we view selling. So we become nervous, because we feel like we have to be pushy and greedy and money… And “I’ve definitely got to sign it before we finish this podcast”, et cetera, et cetera. And it’s just not how things work, unfortunately.

Paul Green: Just before we started recording this podcast, I complimented you on your website, James, and having just heard what you’ve just said, I understand now why that website works so well. It’s very simple. It’s very clear and it immediately positions you differently. Tell us what the website address is and tell us how we can get in touch with you.

James Newell: Yeah, sure. So my website address is I’m very active on LinkedIn, so the best thing to do is to connect with me on LinkedIn and follow me there. I share an awful lot of actionable tips and actionable content that comes from the books and courses that I’ve created. And one thing I would say is the word “clear” is actually an acrostic. So that is a five-step system to know if the next email, you write the next letter you write, the next web page that you create, is clear: client-focused, logical, engaging, accurate, results-driven. If you hit those five markers, you’re in the best position to succeed with the next piece of communication that you send.

Voiceover: Paul Green’s MSP Marketing Podcast. Ask Paul Anything.

Sam Veillet: Hi, it’s Sam Veillet from Calibre Connections IT Ltd. I’ve got this client that I’ve looked after for a number of years. I don’t do that in the business any more, and the client insists on only speaking to myself. How do I best deal with this?

Paul Green: That’s such a great question, Sam. Thank you. And it’s a classic one, isn’t it? Because you start the business, in the early days you’re happy to go out and meet with the clients and fix their stuff and get under their desk, and then as time goes on and you employ staff, you just don’t want to do that any more. And the thought of someone saying to you, “My printer doesn’t work,” or “My computer’s slow,” I know, it strikes fear into your heart. And yet the clients, they want to keep asking you, even though they know you’ve got a team, it’s you. They see you as the tech person.

Paul Green: Here’s the thing, before we talk about how to fix that, there is a strategic reason why you don’t want to be the technician. You want to be the strategist. And this is just a positioning thing, because the most important role of any business owner or manager within an MSP is up-selling clients. It’s reviewing where they are right now. It’s reviewing where they’re going in the future, and it’s offering new solutions to them. Because they don’t know about all the stuff that’s out there. They’re not tracking how technology is changing and all the different services. That’s your job. And your job is to take their hopes, their fears, their problems, their worries, their needs, it’s to take all of those things and translate them into more monthly-recurring revenue sales for you. You can’t do that if you’re on your knees under their desk plugging a network cable in.

Paul Green: In fact, we have a saying in our mastermind groups that I run in the UK, which is the second that they see your bum-crack, you’ll never going to sell them anything. And you know what I mean by that? You’re on the floor, your trousers are down a bit. Eurgh, none of us wants to really see that. So your job is actually to avoid all technology problems that the clients ring you with, because those kinds of low-level things, uh-uh (negative), there’s someone else that can do that for you, whether it’s your team, or you’ve outsourced it or whatsoever.

Paul Green: So the solution, how do you fix that? Simply you push it back to the clients and you tell them that actually that’s not what you’re good at any more. There’s lots of different practical ways you can do it. So if you speak to the clients and they say, “Oh, while you’re here, could you just…” or they phone you up and say, “Hey, I’ve got this problem. Could you…”, you literally throw it back at them. Now lots of people say, “Oh, let me log that for you as a ticket.” I believe the second you do the stuff for the client, Actually you’re just encouraging them to keep ringing you. So you have to push it back to them and you say, “Oh, thank you so much. Do you know what, we can help with that. It’s not something I’ve personally do any more. I employ people who are so much better than me to do that for me. Could you call the help line on this number?”

Paul Green: Don’t transfer them. Don’t take the ticket and log it for them. Push it back to them. Now I know this is kind of insane what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about pushing problems back to clients for them to go off and ring somewhere else. And you might think that’s not the right customer service thing to do, but it is, because we need to teach the clients how to interact with our businesses. If they’re ringing the boss all the time and the boss isn’t available, that’s not great customer service. We want them to ring the help desk, or better still, press the button on their desktop so they can live-chat the technicians or whatever it is that we want them to do.

Paul Green: Some of my clients have taken this to the extreme that they actually now have two mobile phone numbers. So they have the number that they’ve had for 20 years that the clients always ring. That one, they maintain the number, but it’s never on. Any text messages which come in automatically divert off somewhere else. Any calls that go into that are automatically diverted to the help desk. And if they try and leave a message, they shut off answer-phone. They don’t accept answer-phone messages on it. And then of course they have to go and buy a second number, and that’s actually for their other half and their staff to be able to call them on. But essentially you hide from the clients by keeping the number that the clients have always rung, and you just never answer it. And as long as those calls get directed elsewhere, then that’s fine.

Paul Green: Now, however technically you do that within the business, it doesn’t really matter. The most important thing is you must never do first-line support. You must always push it on to someone else and make sure that the clients know they mustn’t come to you, because you can’t do it and they’ll get a much better service going to your help desk.

Voiceover: How to contribute to the show.

Paul Green: Look, I’m going to level with you now. You know those little recorded questions? There’s been lots of people I’ve met over the last few weeks and months and I’m running out of them. I’ve only got a couple more left. So I could really do with some recorded questions from you. Literally jump on your phone, go on the little voice memo thing. Just record me a question. Just say who you are, record the question, and then can you email that in to me? I’d really appreciate that. Thank you.

Voiceover: Coming up next week.

James Cust: And we’ll be able to see real live data about their estate and see a overview of devices which are in warranty, get an idea of the proportion of their estate, which ultimately is unprotected.

Paul Green: That’s James Cust from Warranty Master. He’s going to be here next week talking about something called asset life-cycle management. It’s basically tracking when your client’s hardware is getting old, to give you some opportunities to sell them some new stuff. We’re also going to be talking about the hassle buckets that every single one of us carries around in our head, and we’ve got an amazing marketing idea, a way to push prospects over the edge and buy from you. It’s called an impact box. I’ll tell you more about it next week.

Voiceover: Made in the UK for MSPs around the world. Paul Green’s MSP marketing podcast.