Five key signs of a bad MSP relationship – and what to do about them

Sometimes, the relationship with your managed service provider (MSP) may not work out long-term. Here are five signs of an underperforming partnership, and how to overcome them

Several forces are working against business success right now: falling investment, global conflicts, inflation driving up costs, and a cost-of-living crisis, to name just a few. So corporate leaders are understandably focused on minimising the impact of these factors on profitability. Using managed service providers (MSPs) can help businesses free up internal resources for innovation and value-added activity in order to build a long-term strategy to minimise the effect of whatever the next crisis will be.

Outsourcing IT infrastructure to an experienced MSP is crucial to such a long-term strategy. A recent Forrester Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) report supports this, with 95 per cent of IT executives agreeing that a strong MSP partner allowed them to take advantage of new growth opportunities while improving efficiencies and cutting operational costs.

Bringing in an MSP, however, requires cultivating the relationship – otherwise, the partnership can become yet another thorn in the side for businesses to fret over. This is a worry that a firm can ill afford in the current economic climate. Companies cannot afford for investments to perform below the required level; here, we will detail the five signs your MSP relationship is underperforming and, more importantly, what you can do to fix it.


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1. Impersonal service

Some of the key benefits of engaging the services of a larger MSP are the plethora of specialised services and rapid response times available. However, this can lead to problems with an impersonal service. Classic signs of this include the same issues coming up repeatedly, or not being addressed fast enough and a gap between your business goals, and your MSP’s ability to meet them.

To overcome this, ensure you have multiple communication channels with your MSP. Ensure you have a direct line to your MSP, specifically to the person overseeing your project/service.

2. Unreasonable and/or rigid contract terms

Red flags to look out for here include overly long and unnecessarily complicated contracts. These are often signs of MSPs making lofty promises, trying to tie you into a longer project, and pre-emptively trying to raise bureaucratic walls to make accessing the services you are entitled to more complex.

The advice here is simple – don’t rush the contract signing. Instead, ensure that the draft contract is passed through the necessary channels, so that all stakeholders have complete oversight. Also, do not be tempted by outlandish promises; think pragmatically about what you want to achieve with your MSP relationship, and make sure the contract reflects your goals.

If you’re already locked into a contract, consider renegotiating specific terms. A dissatisfied customer is as bad for MSPs as it is for your business. MSPs may be willing to cut down on the services included in the contract – potentially saving you money and beginning to mind the relationship.

3. Not the right partners

A key benefit of engaging an MSP is its access to specialists and cutting-edge technologies that would otherwise be out of your price range. This partner ecosystem can be a gamechanger to support your business in reaching new customers and growing your offering to potential clients. However, it is vital to understand if the MSP has the partnerships to match the needs of your business.

Not all MSPs are the same. Some will provide services, others will not, and different MSPs will cater towards different market segments. Doing your due diligence and checking that your chosen MSP and its partners are right for your business goals is integral.

4. Communication, communication, communication

Whatever your reasons for engaging the services of an MSP – be it large-scale IT projects or more mundane day-to-day troubleshooting – open communication channels are vital for success. If you find that when you try to communicate with your MSP you are passed around with no resolution, this can be a sign that your MSP is not communicating adequately with you externally, or internally. 

As with the point on impersonal service, MSPs must provide a variety of channels and touchpoints for you to communicate through. They need to be accessible, active, and reliable and most importantly, the issues raised through them should be dealt with transparently and as quickly as possible.

5. Absence of project management skills

The issues we have mentioned so far are all things that MSPs might be lacking in their offerings; however, whilst some MSPs offer diverse partners, reasonable contracts, and attentive service, without the necessary project management expertise your MSP project is doomed to fail.

If projects are moving behind schedule and issues are coming up regularly, this is a sign that your project lacks true project management leadership. Of course, both parties will need some time when the project starts to get processes running smoothly, but if you’re deep into a contract and still experiencing delays and setbacks, this is a sign that all is not well at your MSP.

Addressing concerns as soon as they present themselves is an excellent way to avoid snowballing issues. In a worst-case scenario, raising issues with your MSP might even lead to being released from your contract if you feel they can’t achieve your goals and are consistently underperforming.

Taking action

None of these potential challenges should detract from the potential MSPs provide to businesses. Think of this guide not as an attempt to put you off MSPs, but as a resource to get the most of your MSP relationship. Everyone wins when the MSP relationship operates at a high level of mutual efficiency. The best MSP should be your trusted partner, seamlessly integrated into your operations, and accelerating growth and driving revenue from day one.

Howard Malloy is senior vice-president and managing director of Europe at Ensono.