New Server, Paper Clips and a Large Fry Please. That Was Easy!

October 22, 2008 – 12:26 pm

In yet another demonstration of where some in the SMB space believe that IT Managed Services can be commoditized, Staples has jumped into the game.  Staples publicly announced their new Staples Network Services by Thrive, a three tier offering that includes an assortment of SaaS, remote support desk and onsite tech support.  Their goal sounds somewhat similar to the slogans many MSPs display on their marketing material with the following from Small Business Digest.

Jim Lippie, president of Staples Networks Services by Thrive, added, “We’re in the business of providing great customer service and with more than 300 clients, we understand what our clients want.  They want us to take ownership of all the headaches, mysteries, and risk associated with maintaining a company’s IT infrastructure, and make it so they never have to think about them again.  In a nutshell, they want us to make their IT problems go away, and that’s exactly what we do.”

My opinion?  I’ve got good news and bad news for Mr. Lippie.  Good news is that they understand what small business owners want.  They do want IT issues to just go away or be somebody else’s problems so they can focus on making widgets.   The problem is that a large portion of the serious issues faced in managing a small businesses IT infrastructure are not the result of the user or even the technology itself but a result of PPP (that is Piss Poor Planning).  When a starry-eyed new business owner walks into the big-box store and asks the sales associate wearing a blue shirt and a yellow name tag, whom uses a MAC to update his MySpace but is  too young to vote for Obama high school student what kind of server solution he needs to fit his business, the odds are he is not going to get the one thing he really really needs at this point.  He is not going to get the guidance of a caring trusted advisor.   He is about to become a number in a cash register transaction that may has as well occurred on the phone with Dell Direct or at Wal-Mart. 

Choosing the right solution/technology for the right business reason is critical.  Without making the right choice some businesses are destined to face a future of technology failures that go beyond printer jams.  Getting multiple technologies working in harmony to achieve a process to support business goals takes more than just a script for off-shore support operators or training on how to make french fries.

I don’t fault Staples for offering these services.  In fact I think they should.  I just wish they would have kept to offering the commodities such as paper clips and hosted software and left the IT guidance part to trained professionals such as Microsoft SBSC Partners.  Staples will probably succeed as well at this as they do offering printing services.  I’ve gotten copies made at Staples before but who do you know has hired them to design an print marketing campaign?  Get the point?  You see, companies like Staples are designed to make money on volume sales by minimally trained employees of commodities like Mc Donald’s does on french fries.  Their ability to nurture and manage a trusted advisory relationship with small business is just not in their DNA.   It is like asking your dog to hold a bottle of beer in one paw.  Without opposable thumbs it’s just not going to work and the beer suffers as a result.  My hope is that not too many business owners, in financial desperation, buy into a technology services relationship based on price as the primary reason.  That is a business failure waiting to happen.

If you are an SBSC or just an IT VAR / MSP in the small business space you should see this as yet another of countless wake up calls to sell trust and NOT technology.  You have one thing Microsoft, Staple, Dell and the rest can never have.  You have the ability to maintain a persona to person or business owner to business owner relationship with your small business customers.  Cherish it!  And as I’ve said in several prior post, keep your eye on the ball!  Your customer is the ball…

  1. 10 Responses to “New Server, Paper Clips and a Large Fry Please. That Was Easy!”

  2. Let me be the first to comment. Great article! Our only way to differentiate ourselves in this ever-changing climate is to become “Trusted IT Advisors” for the small business owners. This is going to be tough times for those who can’t find a way, or don’t provide that kind of value to their clients.

    By Jamison West on Oct 22, 2008

  3. If a large corporation is providing these services, which technician will take care of ABC company? Joe this time and Thomas next time? How well can they know a certain client if there is a different tech taking care of them every time. All the documentation in the world won’t give you the familiarity with the different systems.

    This is why I don’t think smaller tech firms will ever be ousted. If your company has 5 or 10 techs, you can assign certain techs to specific companies. Doing so breeds familiarity with the systems and the clients. And the bonus of personal familiarity is relationship which brings continued business.


    By Computer Network Consulting on Oct 27, 2008

  4. What if the big box pusher did science out a way to deliver SMB IT the way the SMB wants it, high touch, personal relationship, understanding their business, and seeing the same two to four technicians all the time? Do you believe that would pose a threat to local providers? I did some research on the company Staples purchased to deliver the solution and it seems as if their approach is the “Trusted IT Advisor” approach.


    By Anon on Oct 28, 2008

  5. OK, I’ll bite. “Science out” a personal relationship with a small business? Please give me an example of where that has happened in the past with other large companies in the retail space. If they can figure out a way to do that with thier conflicting business model then I will be VERY impressed and ask them to help me figure out how to science out understanding women and raising children. ;-)

    By Mark on Oct 28, 2008

  6. I respect Big Box retailers and enjoy shopping in a few of those stores (example: Best Buy). But here’s the problem: Retail locations come and go.

    Circuit City’s decision to shut 150 stores will certainly impact the company’s on-site IT support services (FireDog).

    Remember: When push comes to shove, retailers will try to fix their retail locations and online stores before they really polish their managed services offerings.

    Joe Panettieri
    Editorial Director

    By Joe Panettieri on Nov 4, 2008

  7. A glib observation but maybe you should do your homework.

    Thrive Networks was very successful way before they were acquired by Staples. They understand their customer and provide great service to a large community in the Boston area with very little attrition.

    Why do you think Staples bought them? Because they know what they’re doing!

    If Jim Lippie and his team are given room to do things the way they have been, I wager Staples will roll this service out and scale it up very successfully.

    Disclaimer: I run a managed services business so I know something about the biz.

    Good luck to them.

    By Philip on Nov 7, 2008

  8. Hmmm, a tad on the snide side there Philip wouldn’t you say? I’m not doubting the abilities of Thrive Networks’s remenent to do a good job but you your self pointed out the potential fly in the ointment here with “If Jim Lippie and his team are given room to do things the way they have been…”.

    I wish them the best of luck too but have doubts in their success. Please do show me other examples of where this has been successful… Maybe this time it will be the right combination.

    By Mark on Nov 7, 2008

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  2. Oct 22, 2008: Kicking and Screaming I am Bloggin » Blog Archive » Mark Sets the Story Straight
  3. Nov 4, 2008: Circuit City: The Bigger Story for Managed Service Providers | MSPmentor
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