The MSP’s ultimate guide to keeping staff engaged, motivated, and selling

The MSP’s ultimate guide to keeping staff engaged, motivated, and selling

Paul GreenUncategorized

Your people will help you achieve your marketing and business goals. In this ultimate guide, you’ll discover how to get the very best out of your team.

The phrase ‘our people are our most valuable asset’ is undeniably true. But they’re also one of your greatest sources of stress.

On one hand, they help us to build amazing businesses. Let’s face it, if it’s just you in the business, then it’s not really a business: it’s a well-paid job. A well-paid job that will never allow you to ever have a day off, never mind a proper holiday.

On the other hand, staff can hold us back in so many frustrating and pointless ways.

Despite that, we need them. And so, we put loads of time and money into training and developing our people. And our reward is a business that thrives without us.

The key to better staff is engagement with what they are doing. But this gets harder the more staff you have. If it’s you and a bit of help, then you’ll probably have a very engaged team. But if you’ve got ten or more employees there may be a level of disengagement creeping in.

Staff are expensive to replace, too. It’s not just the cost of recruitment and training, it’s also the effect staff turnover can have on staff morale and team dynamics. That means your team are very much worth looking after.

Provided you have the right people.

So, how do you ensure your staff are engaged, motivated and selling? Let’s take a look.

The three types of staff

Since the 1990s, analytics and advisory company Gallup has conducted annual employee engagement studies. Over the years they’ve discovered that there are only three types of employees: engaged, not engaged, and actively disengaged.

Let’s take a closer look…

Engaged staff are the superstars. They’re the ones who treat the business like it’s their own, in a good way

Not engaged staff make up the bulk of any workforce. They turn up, do what they’re supposed to do and go home. They would jump ship and work for someone else if they were offered a good pay rise or more flexible working hours

Actively disengaged staff are the worst ones – we call them the ‘internal terrorists’. They are the whingers, the moaners, the ones who are most resistant to change. Once someone has been actively disengaged for a year or more, there is normally only one outcome for them.

Engaged staff

Engaged staff – your superstars – make life so much easier.

They take their job seriously. They can be trusted to work as hard when you’re not there as when you are. You can rely on them to be innovative, entrepreneurial and dependable. You definitely want more people like this in your business.

The key to getting more superstars starts at the recruitment stage.  That means you may need to change your mindset when it comes to how you select people.

Chances are you currently hire based on skillset. Most people do, not least because training is expensive. But it’s a better idea to hire for attitude. That’s because someone with the right attitude can always improve their hard skills, whereas the reverse is not true. You can’t train for attitude. The only person who can change someone’s attitude is themselves. And attitude is the secret ingredient when it comes to superstars.

Staff who are not engaged

Within your business right now you have people who are not engaged but who could rise to be superstars if the circumstances were right. You can probably name some of them.

So how do you gain their engagement?

Easy. You make sure their reasonable needs are met. Because these people have demands.

They want:

  • To be well rewarded. This is a high consideration, but not the only one and not always the predominant one
  • A leader they can trust to do the right thing, be truthful and treat them fairly
  • A stable and exciting business to belong to
  • To be part of something that matters

Give them all of these things and they’ll be happy. Happiness leads to increased engagement, which can make your staff retention excellent.

Continuous development is also critical to them, and the best development you can give to your superstars-in-training is your time. Let them have a regular, quality one-to-one with you, ideally off-site, and that time can become the most valuable investment you make.

We’ll talk more about this later, but basically, through the power of osmosis, in a one-to-one you teach them how you think and act, and how that affects the results you get.

You will:

  • Paint a picture of what the future could look like
  • Teach them to lead
  • Help them develop their decision-making abilities
  • Teach them that it’s a natural part of the learning process to make mistakes (so long as you learn from them)

And above all else, you will demonstrate your faith in them.

I know your time is precious and scarce and this is an extra activity you need to spend it on, but every hour you invest in your superstars-in-waiting now will be returned to you multiple times over in the future.

It’s also necessary for your superstars; for all they’re dependable, they need an amount of recognition and attention, too. And once you convert superstars-in-waiting to fully fledged superstars, you can’t just drop them!

Disengaged staff

These are the people you and your staff tend to find yourself working around. They are the barriers to progress. They are the wasp-chewers who spend more time whinging than working. And they have the potential to pull everyone down with them.

I’d go as far as to say it’s virtually impossible to dramatically grow an IT support or IT consultancy business with people like this inside it. It’s attitude, not aptitude, that determines altitude. And it’s their bad attitude that makes these staff so dangerous.

This might sound harsh, but what you need to do with these people is manage them out of the business. Treat them fairly at all times, that goes without saying, but use your existing disciplinary process to herd them towards the door.

You won’t need to do anything but keep on top of what’s happening – they’ll do it all for you with the way they behave.

If their behaviour is sufficiently extreme, terminate their employment immediately. If not, make sure you don’t shy away from starting them on a path of verbal and written warnings – whatever it is you have in place.

This could be for inappropriate behaviour, failure to hit targets and KPIs, or however else you manage and measure workplace conduct and performance.

I can’t stress enough that you must be fair at all times. Part of being fair is not to tolerate poor behaviour or performance from problem staff. If your other staff see this tolerated, they will either stop trying as hard or else leave.

And speaking of leaving, if actively disengaged staff start being obliged to behave, they will very often remove themselves from the picture. And that’s a positive result.

There’s a balance

Most of the MSP owners I work with have a good balance of these three types of people. It’s critical, because the quality of your people directly affects your culture and performance (and therefore your results). However, the balance is generally all wrong when it comes to the time spent dealing with them.

You can trust your ‘engaged’ staff and even your ‘not engaged’ staff to get on with things. It’s easy to ignore them and focus instead on the ones who don’t, because they are the ones that catch our attention and cause us problems.

That means many of us spend the majority of our time dealing with the worst staff… when we should, of course, be investing that time into growing and nurturing our very best staff.

The warning signs your staff are disengaging

As we’ve discussed, there’s no room for long-term actively disengaged staff (aka internal terrorists). They must be managed out of the business or, if warranted, fired by you and/or your HR person. It’s a short amount of pain to protect your MSP long term.

Actively disengaged people are easy to spot. A harder problem is the not engaged staff who are slipping into disengagement territory.

Why does it happen?

Disengagement is a crippling problem in any small business. And it’s probably caused directly by you.

Tough words to swallow, but very likely to be true. Because you’re so busy running and growing your business, it’s hard to find the time and energy to keep your team fully engaged.

Working on staff engagement is easy when there’s you and two or three staff; you’re a small team and there’s nowhere for anyone to hide. Issues are there in front of you and get dealt with as they arise.

It’s harder to spot disengagement when there are five or six staff and you’re no longer part of the team on a day-to-day basis.

Once you’re up to eight or nine staff plus, your team can hide disengagement from you. But, there will be signs…

The 3 scariest things your staff can say to you

There are three things that unengaged staff commonly say. Hear these things and let a chill go down your spine, because they are symptoms of lack of engagement.

‘But we’ve always done it that way’

This is actually a demonstration of resistance to change. It’s another way of saying they can’t be bothered to go through the hassle that the change requires.

‘But the clients won’t like that’

What they mean is that they don’t like it, but by projecting it onto the client, they know it will hit deeper into your fears.

‘That’s not going to work’

When engaged staff say this it’s for the right reasons, and it’s accompanied by ideas to make whatever it is work. When disengaged staff say it, they’re doing so with folded arms and a sour look on their face, and they have no intention of finding a way to make things work. It’s an out-and-out display of a bad attitude, a total, absolute refusal to change.

Other symptoms of disengagement to watch out for:

  • Clock-watching
  • Excessive breaks (either number or length)
  • Skipping group gatherings
  • Unprofessional behaviour – this can show up in small ways, and so be tricky to spot
  • Solo mode – where people become distant from others, as they are busy doing their own thing (watch out for people starting a side hustle on your time!)
  • Moaning, bitching, whinging, finger-pointing

When you spot these symptoms, they have likely been caused by one of the following three problem areas: you and your management team; lack of purpose, meaning or buy-in; or a lack of opportunity to grow and advance.

Problem area 1) You and your management team

When it’s a small business people work for people, not the company. Engagement levels are dictated 100% by you and your management team. (This includes anyone who is close to you, whether they have a formal position of power or not.)

This means you can kill engagement incredibly easily, and generally not through something big you do, but rather through the cumulative effect of a series of small actions or inactions.

For example, displaying a lack of trust is a killer. When someone works for you, at a deep psychological level it’s the same as being in your tribe ten thousand years ago (our brains are still wired that way).

When you show you don’t trust them, it forces them into action.

Ten thousand years ago, being pushed out of a tribe meant certain death. Humans were not at the top of the food chain back then, and there was safety in numbers.

In today’s workplace, being pushed out of the tribe disengages staff, and they start to look for a new tribe to belong to. This happens at an emotional level first (they start feeling uncomfortable at work), then it becomes a cognitive action (that’s the point at which they start actively looking for a new job).

This is explained very well using a concept called the Circle of Safety in Leaders Eat Last, by Simon Sinek. As Sinek says: ‘Only when we feel we are in a “Circle of Safety” will we pull together as a unified team, better able to survive and thrive regardless of the conditions outside.’ When the circle is broken, it becomes all about ‘me’ and not about ‘us’.

Something else you and your management team might do is handle change poorly. And, as much as change inevitably makes people uncomfortable, it’s often not the change itself that’s the problem – it’s the way you communicate it.

You have the luxury of spending days and weeks letting a new idea sink into your brain. You are in full control of whether you act on it or not.

Then you call a staff meeting, introduce that idea to your team, and expect them to get it and buy into it in a few minutes.

It’s like smacking them with a big stick and reminding them they have very little control at work!

A smarter way to introduce a big idea is to get them involved. Call a staff meeting, discuss the issue, put the idea you have to resolve it in their heads, let them roll it around a bit, flick through a series of options and ideas – they’re at the sharp end, they might come up with an improved solution or be able to contribute something you knew nothing about – and get some level of involvement in implementation.

Involvement equals engagement. It becomes something ‘we’ are doing together rather than something ‘they’ are doing to ‘us’ (or ‘me’).

Problem area 2) Lack of purpose, meaning, or buy-in

From your team’s point of view, why does your business exist?

It’s not to prevent tech problems or fix them. That’s just what the business does.

But why does it do it? And no, it’s not to give you a better lifestyle.

You and I know that’s one of the real reasons to grow your business, but your staff think you’re already rich. They’re not that motivated to make you even richer!

Another Simon Sinek book – Start With Why – explores the need for every business to have a ‘why’. Because it helps staff understand why the business exists.

Elon Musk has clear ‘whys’ in all of his businesses. For example:

  • Tesla exists to make affordable but exciting electric cars the norm for every driver
  • SpaceX exists to back-up the species to Mars

In my healthcare marketing business, which I sold some years ago, the ‘why’ was helping business owners who were trapped in a prison of their own design to unlock the cell and find freedom. That was a great motivation for my team.

Maybe your ‘why’ is about beating a common enemy (another MSP that doesn’t do things as well as you do). Maybe it’s about helping businesses enter accelerated growth by giving them all the technology and support they need to thrive.

In an ideal world, you will find a ‘why’ that can’t be copied by your competitors. That unique ‘why’ will keep your staff engaged because they’ll be on a mission, not just turning up for work and passing the time until they can go home again.

The power of committed and high-performing teams is amply demonstrated in Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine. Two teams working within Data General Corporation in the 1970s risked their health and their sanity to create the next-generation microcomputer – they had a ‘why’ and they were fully committed to it.

Problem area 3) Lack of opportunity to grow and advance

This is an especially big problem in small businesses, where there is no clear growth path. First line support, leading to second line support, leading to business owner one day, maybe, isn’t that motivating a concept for your average 23-year-old.

There are two ways to fix this.

First, I recommend you invest in formal training for every single member of your team.

Allocate £1,000 per person, per year, for training courses. They can be directly related to tech work, or ancillary stuff (like improving their people skills). Importantly though, your team should be free to pick their own training.

If they are throwing themselves into it with passion, you will get the benefit from that.

Second, as I mentioned earlier when we talked about your superstars-in-training, I highly recommend you conduct coaching one-to-ones with members of your team. Twenty minutes per person, once a month will do it. We’ll go into the detail of how you conduct these one-to-ones in a little while.

How to engage your staff

There have been entire books written about this. Now, before we get into what does work when it comes to engaging your staff, let’s slay a dragon: appraisals don’t work.

‘Appraisals don’t work’ is a bold claim. Here’s another one: most of us absolutely hate formal appraisals.

In fact, isn’t that one of the many reasons we continually put up with the hell of being a business owner? Because we have 100% control, we can choose never to be appraised, or to have to perform an appraisal, ever again?

Appraisals are not really a relevant tool for an MSP the size of yours, anyway. They’re a tool for big businesses with hundreds, maybe thousands, of employees. In those circumstances they allow the people at the top to have some perceived level of control over the people at the bottom (but everyone still hates them).

A small business like yours is different and yet you have the same core problem as a huge corporation: the team don’t do everything you’d like them to do, in the way you’d like them to do it.

Why don’t your people do what you want?

There are lots of reasons why this happens:

  • Everyone’s too busy
  • Training is a nice idea, but, er, everyone’s too busy
  • Your team can’t do what you do. And they don’t think like you do. Oh, and they’re also too busy

Now, that’s absolutely true, but it’s not the full story. Because actually, one of the biggest reasons they dont perform as you want them to is that you dont tell them what youd like them to do. And you dont tell them how youd like them to do it.

Come on. Deep down, you know this is true. It’s also perfectly normal. It happens because we assume that other people know what we know. When of course they don’t.

So, what does work?

Monthly one-to-ones are the answer

What I’ve found over the years is that giving staff monthly one-to-ones is the key to increasing engagement. We’ve mentioned these a couple of times already: this is how to conduct them.

How to conduct monthly one-to-ones

These one-to-ones need to be done with someone who matters. It needs to be either the owner of the business or someone in the management team, ideally the person who is their boss.

You sit down for twenty minutes, preferably off site – a coffee shop will do nicely – and you have an informal discussion about the business, the clients and them. While it’s an informal process – not an appraisal form in sight – it has a very clear structure.

You ask them three key questions:

  • Since we last met, what’s gone well?
  • What hasn’t gone so well?
  • What should you do differently next time?

These questions set a powerful and flexible framework that allows both you and your team to talk about the things that really matter. For them it will be problems and issues. For you it will be performance and efficiency.

Everyone gets a fair hearing

Remember, we tend to focus our attention and spend our time on the problem staff, and leave the rest to get on with it. But everyone loves some one-to-one time with the boss and this ensures everyone gets a fair hearing.

The engaged staff – your superstars – thrive on it and their performance gets better.

The not engaged staff will also benefit, and each time you meet, their engagement will start to improve.

The actively disengaged staff will realise there is nowhere to hide their poor performance any more. It can help you to manage them out of the door if that’s what is needed. Some will up their game and engage, which is a positive outcome. Others will see the writing on the wall and leave of their own accord, which is also a positive outcome.

Remember, we should never be scared of bad staff leaving. In fact, you should be more scared that your actively disengaged staff STAY. They can be toxic to a committed team working towards a ‘why’.

No quick fix

One-to-one meetings are not a quick fix, they are a long-term investment in improving performance and net profit.

You get to tackle all the things that annoy you, in small chunks.

Staff get the valuable guidance and feedback that they crave from their boss.

Good staff get better. Bad staff get fixed or fired. Boom!

Keep the windows mended

Have you heard of broken windows theory? No, it’s nothing to do Microsoft ...

It’s a policing theory that says if you permit small visible signs of crime to remain, they eventually and inevitably lead to bigger, more serious crimes. It was used in the 1990s to clean up New York.

And the theory doesn’t just hold true in the Big Apple.

The tale of the Victorian cottage

I live on the edge of Milton Keynes (the world’s best new city) and my daughter goes to school in a village about ten minutes’ drive away.

For years we’ve passed a lovely little Victorian cottage on our journey. It stood empty but was otherwise fine.

At some point a window was broken by vandals.

This cottage is in the middle of nowhere, and when that first window wasn’t fixed, the vandals soon came back and smashed all of the windows.

Every week as we drove past the cottage it looked shabbier and shabbier. People started dumping rubbish there. Graffiti appeared on the walls. And then broken windows theory reached its inevitable conclusion ... the cottage was destroyed by fire.

I don’t know whether the fire was an accident (such as an electrical fault) or deliberate, but the steady decline of this once-lovely home all started with one broken window that was never repaired.

That sent a message to the vandals: if you do damage here, there are no repercussions.

And this is why you mustn’t let things slide with your staff

Never tolerate a slide in standards

If a technician turns up ten minutes late for work one morning and isn’t challenged in any way, they are sent a message: if you do damage here, there are no repercussions.

So they will do it again. And again. Because they can. And soon, they are late more often than they are on time.

Then other staff notice. They notice that technician waltzes in late all the time and isn’t told off. And some (not all) will copy that behaviour.

I know of a place where times were named after staff who were perpetually late or took extended breaks – I didnt get in until Carrie past nine, or I left at Ian to five! Was your lunch a Harris or the full Whitehead?

That lack of respect for timekeeping leads to excess time off for unspecified ‘medical appointments’, regular Mondays off, and of course a general drop in productivity.

Broken windows theory. In action. In your business.

So, am I saying you need to tell your staff off more?

Of course not. They’re adults, they don’t need to be scolded. But you do need to acknowledge when a window is broken.

You could say: ‘I saw you were late this morning. Can you tell me what happened?’

That’s the boss equivalent of boarding up the broken window. It shows there’s someone caring for the infrastructure.

People want things to be dealt with

According to what I’ve read in parenting books, when the inevitable ‘teenage rebellion staying out terrifyingly late one night’ happens, in a weird way the teenager wants to be shouted at and grounded for a week.

Because it shows someone cares.

Psychologically, your staff are very similar to teenage children, which puts you in the role of parent.

By the way, this means if you suffer from frequent staff behavioural problems in your business right now, then you are the cause of them.

Good news! You’re also the cure.

Do what they did in New York. They cracked down on minor crimes like jaywalking and not paying for subway rides and, subsequently, the rate of major crimes fell.

Crack down on timekeeping and following systems, and watch the overall respect for clients – plus net profitability – go up.

How to motivate technicians to sell

A question that many business owners face is, how do we get our technicians to sell?

If you’re wondering why you’d want to, the answer’s simple: because they’ve got a world of selling opportunities in front of them. They’re sitting there every day speaking to people on the phone, dealing with tickets. And quite often they’re fixing problems that could be dealt with more proactively if the client simply bought a better level of service, or a different flavour of the existing solution.

There are always the odd ones who are very good at selling and who just get on with it.

But, as we know, many technicians don’t want to sell. They don’t see it as part of their remit.

So how do you motivate the majority who hate selling, to actually sell?

Change your viewpoint

You change your viewpoint because, I believe, we’re coming at this from the wrong angle.

As the owners of the business, we all want more monthly recurring revenue. This is the lifeblood of any MSP business and so it’s the thing that we’re focused on when dealing with existing clients.

But from the technician’s point of view, they’re not really interested in helping you to grow your monthly recurring revenue. Many of your staff look at you and the clothes you wear and the car you drive and the house you live in ... and believe that youre rich enough already!

That’s because all they see are the rewards. They don’t see the years of risk and hard work, all the sleepless nights. They don’t see the amount of business-related debt that you carry, and the personal guarantees you are burdened with. And they don’t see that for every £1 that comes into the business, only a small proportion actually reaches your pocket.

So you need to stop looking at this from your point of view, and instead try to reposition it.

See it from the client’s point of view

Most technicians, most of the time, want to do a good job for the clients. They want to stop them from having problems. They want to fix their issues when they arise.

And they want the clients to be happy and to say, ‘Thanks so much for that. You did a great job,’ because, as people, we’re quite driven to seek that kind of feedback.

As for the clients, they want the same things. They want their issues fixed, they want to be happy and to be able to say a heartfelt ‘thank you’ when things are sorted out.

If your technicians understand this, and they can recommend something to a client that makes their life easier, they’re much more likely to go ahead and do it – especially when they also understand that, unlike consumers, business decision-makers don’t make all their decisions based on cost alone. If there’s a cost attached to less hassle and better performance, many will happily pay it.

How to do it

You owe it to your technicians to do some kind of weekly training with them to teach them about a specific service that you’re offering; what it costs, what problems it addresses, and what symptoms to look out for to indicate it could help a client. Perhaps you could get them together as a group for Pizza Tuesdays.

In fact, if you did this every single Tuesday for the next year, that alone would help your technicians to sell more, simply because they’ll learn how to spot more symptoms of more problems and to understand that actually there is a solution readymade for those problems.

See it from the tech’s point of view

To do this, you need to answer the question, ‘What’s in this for me?’

Whether we like it or not, many people operate in a very selfish manner. It may not seem that way on the outside, but inside they’re asking themselves, at some level, ‘What’s in this for me?’ and, ‘Why should I do that for you?’

Perhaps the right thing to do is to offer your technicians a little slice of the pie, if they can contribute to the business in a way that helps the clients. The client gets help, the business gets some extra revenue, and they get a top up to their beer and Xbox fund. Everyone wins.

How to do it

You could put in place a very simple scheme, such as they get 10% of anything they sell:

  • If it’s a one-off project, they get 10% of the revenue.
  • If it’s monthly recurring revenue, they get 10% of the first year’s value.

And, of course, they only get this cash when you’ve received the payment, so there’s no risk to you.

The most robust approach

Perhaps the most robust way to approach this is to instigate a combination of the two separate activities – weekly awareness training, backed up with a simple reward scheme.

It’s also worth making sure that your techs are very aware of what your clients are already buying (and not buying). And while that information exists in the PSA, I’m a big fan of dragging it out of the computer and making it physical, by putting it on a big white board or a flip chart in the form of a profit matrix. It’s a fantastic way to increase your MRR.

Beware the Sales Prevention Officer!

An extraordinary event happened one time when I popped into my local garage on the way home. The woman behind the counter was acting in the most peculiar way.

‘You’re the last customer,’ she practically spat at me, pointing with her finger. ‘Then I need to shut the forecourt and stop selling petrol.’

‘What’s going on?’ I asked. I wondered if there’d been a fuel spillage or an accident of some kind.

‘I’ve run out of till rolls,’ she replied.

It was such a bizarre answer, I didn’t understand at first.

‘Sorry ... you’re shutting the whole petrol station because you’ve run out of ... till rolls?’

‘IT’S THE LAW!’ she screamed at me.

By this time there were other drivers standing at the pumps, nozzles in their cars, waiting for her to authorise the fuel.

She was tapping on the window, waving at them, pulling her finger across her neck in a classic ‘dead’ motion.

I tried to help her out.

‘Even if the law says you can’t sell fuel without a receipt, you could always do hand-written receipts for those who want them,’ I suggested. ‘Most people probably aren’t bothered. They just want fuel.’

She was having none of it. And, once I’d paid, she went outside to cone off the entrance to the petrol station and the whole thing was shut down.

That woman was the most successful Sales Prevention Officer I’d ever met, and I’ve met quite a few, and you probably have, too.

She took a small detail of her job quite literally, and rather than work flexibly around it, decided it would be easier to just shut the whole business down for a bit.

Can you imagine how incandescent with rage her boss would have been when he found out?

I bumped into another Sales Prevention Office one Sunday morning, during a long wintry walk round one of Milton Keynes’ lovely lakes.

It’s a habit of mine to pick up a takeaway coffee from a pub on the lake. It’s always busy, with a flurry of walkers doing the same thing on a Sunday morning.

This week, though, as soon as I walked through the doors, a bored looking girl shouted, ‘No coffee, we ain’t got no takeaway cups,’ then looked down at her Facebook again.

Her attitude and that welcome pretty much shut down the alternative of staying in for a coffee, or maybe even having breakfast, as a treat.

I’m sure that by this point she was sick of having to tell walkers there were no coffee cups. To her, this was a hassle, not an opportunity.

Here’s a scary question for you ...

How do the Sales Prevention Officers act in your business? Because you’ve undoubtedly got some.

Why Sales Prevention Officers are a menace

What makes Sales Prevention Officers such a menace is that they think they’re doing the right thing.

It’s rarely malicious. They just exhibit poor thinking and wrong behaviour. The garage lady wanted to not break the law. The coffee server wanted to let people know there were no cups before they got to the counter.

Maybe, in your business:

  • When a first line support person is talking to a client who wants an extra service, they say to them, ‘Oh, you don’t really need that,’ to save them money. What they don’t realise is it damages your relationship with the client because when someone wants something, they will just go elsewhere to get it
  • Your support team only offers basic versions of new kit or services, again based on the absurd idea of ‘saving the client money’
  • When a potential new client phones in to talk to someone, that call or message doesn’t receive urgent prioritisation above all other activity, as people believe everyone needs to be dealt with in turn

In each of those cases, you can see that someone means well and is trying to do what they believe to be the right thing. And this probably all happens without your knowledge or awareness.

How to keep Sales Prevention Officers in check

The way to deal with Sales Prevention Officers is to systemise all aspects of sales – for new clients getting in touch for the first time and for upselling to existing clients.

For example, if you have three versions of a package or service – a good choice, a better choice and a best choice – this allows the clients to pick the option that’s best for them. Sales Prevention Officers can’t screw that up for you.

If you have annual Strategic IT Reviews, you create an opportunity to tell the client what else you can do to make their lives easier. And some will choose to buy more.

If you don’t think you have a Sales Prevention Officer somewhere in the business, you’re probably wrong. And sometimes, you are the worst offender! Because business owners have no accountability, we sometimes act in ways that we wouldn’t accept from our staff. So examine your own behaviour, too, and work your own systems.

Getting back to normal

Working from home is still a big thing, and will be for years (if not forever). But for many, office lights are being switched on again for the first time in ages.

Were you working from your empty office during lockdown? I’ve spoken to loads of MSP owners who did, and they loved the focus zone it became for them.

A focus zone is somewhere you can work on the business without interruption, with your attention solely on growing the business.

But now, as at least some staff are coming back into the office, the focus zone is turning back into the interruption zone.

An interruption zone is a place where you are trapped working in the business, often on the small things that really don’t matter, at the expense of your time, energy, family life and achieving your ambitions.

Some MSP owners have given up on their office to start working from home every day, because they couldn’t bear the bad habits their returning employees immediately dropped back into.

What are those bad habits?

  • Interrupting the business owner for no real reason (they do it just because they’re in front of them)
  • Asking dumb questions, such as, ‘We’ve got no milk, what should we do?’
  • Asking the highest technical resource in the business for help with the lowest technical problems
  • Generally not thinking for themselves

Does any of this sound familiar?

The good news is, the lockdown has given you an opportunity to initiate real change. The bad news is, you only have a short window to implement it in.

Because if your team come back to the workplace and slip straight back into those bad habits, that’s how they’ll continue to behave for years to come. You don’t want that, so what do you do?

Here’s the 5-step process I recommend you follow

1) Discuss the benefits of focused working

Get everyone together on a Teams/Zoom call soon. Get them talking in a structured way about the downsides, then upsides, of working from home.

This can be a great forum to go through your plans for working from home for them in the future.

I would then focus on their perceived benefits of working remotely, where they have talked about being able to focus and get more things done. Have a discussion about how disruptive the office can be much of the time.

This conversation leads nicely into ‘Why?’ What are the things that cause your team to interrupt each other (and by default, you)?

You might agree a list of the genuine reasons for good interruptions:

  • Unhappy client
  • Big tech problem that needs to be escalated quickly
  • Someone’s trousers are on fire

And another list of bad interruptions:

  • An information request for something that’s actually documented somewhere
  • Asking if someone has looked at an item that’s already in process somewhere, such as a Teams discussion – or worse, ‘Did you get my email?’
  • A minor problem such as running out of milk

2) Agree and implement immediate changes

Next, agree how to eliminate the cause of these bad interruptions:

  • Get 100% up-to-date on all client documentation, using IT Glue or some other system
  • Agree criteria for when and how to escalate Teams discussions, emails, etc.
  • Create a written system for each minor problem – or, better still, remove the problem altogether. (Trust me, from bitter experience, if no one buys milk and there’s never any petty cash, just get the milkman to deliver every day. The small cash cost is worth the benefit of lowering your blood pressure!)

Make sure these changes are implemented quickly. Tackle this like you would a technical project. That means resourcing it properly and making sure it doesn’t become too bloated or drag on too long.

3) Answer questions with questions

When a member of your team hits you with a ‘bad interruption’, whatever you do, don’t give them the answer. Never give them the answer.

Instead, ask questions, and stay silent till you get answers from them:

Dave: ‘Boss, we’re out of milk, what should we do?’

You: ‘We discussed this as a team a few weeks ago. What did we agree?’

Dave: ‘Er ... .er ... er ...’

(You stay silent to force Dave to think.)

Dave: ‘Something about ... buying it?’

You: ‘Correct. We agreed some specific instructions. Where would you find those?’

(Dave goes oddly silent and his face turns a funny colour. You worry he’s having some kind of medical event. But then – he speaks.)

Dave: ‘I remember! They’re printed off on the fridge. I get the cash from Susan, and my reward for buying the milk is I can buy myself a chocolate bar up to 70p.’

You: ‘Great work, Dave.’

Yes, this is PAINFUL. But when you answer questions with questions, you eventually teach your staff not to come to you with problems.

You’ll need to teach this superpower to your senior team, too, because when you stop answering questions, they will by default become the next port of call.

4) Use one-to-ones to make the learning stick in the long term

Log each bad interruption somewhere so you know who needs reinforcement on systems and processes during their one-to-ones.

If you’re not doing monthly one-to-ones with your team, you really should start.

5) Find a new personal hidey-hole

As much as steps one to four will help, nothing beats having somewhere to hide. Your own office within your company office is cool, but a place where no one can ever find you is even better.

Coffee shops and hotels are a great place to hide, or else get a tiny serviced office somewhere. All you need is a desk and a chair. You can tether off your mobile. That keeps costs down.

And right now, with lots of businesses looking to downgrade or even ditch their offices altogether, I imagine serviced office owners are very open to deals.

Last words

We’ve covered a lot of ground in this guide. If you’ve read it all you’ll now have a good idea of how to get and keep your staff engaged and motivated, and how to encourage your techs to sell. You also know how to deal with problems, like disengaged staff and Sales Prevention Officers.

You’ve heard about some interesting theories, like broken windows theory, and seen some useful books mentioned, like Simon Sinek’s Start With Why. I would encourage you to get to know more about stuff like this, as it all feeds into your core knowledge about people and business.

If you implement any of the things mentioned – and I urge you to find the time for monthly one-to-ones – feel free to share your experiences and results.

You can email me any time: