So you’ve decided you’re ready to hire a managed service provider? Maybe you’ve worked with one in the past and are in a transition period, or maybe you have no idea what to expect. That’s completely okay. To be honest, the IT industry is a confusing industry to work with, but we’re here to help.

The reality is, finding and choosing a managed service provider is a lot like signing a partnership agreement with a fellow entrepreneur. You place a lot of trust in that person, and you want to know you can rely on them to hold up their end of the deal. The same goes for your managed service provider. The IT company you choose to hire will be intimately involved with your business and largely responsible for maintaining the processes and overall efficiency of your company. So how can you know you’re selecting the right company?

You shouldn’t rush this kind of decision. There’s a lot to consider. And chances are, you won’t make your decision after a single conversation. But here’s some insight into how to navigate that initial conversation and ensure you’re making the best decision for your business. We’ve put together a list of the first 8 questions to ask a managed service provider before you hire them. These certainly won’t be the only 8 questions you ask, but they’re the perfect place to begin.

1. What are your competencies?

This is the most base-level of all questions to ask a managed service provider you’re thinking of hiring. Don’t assume all MSPs offer the same services, or that every MSP is equipped to handle every scenario. Each IT company offers its own set of expertise and specializes in some areas more than others. Begin the conversation with this simple question, and you’ll notice a lot of follow up questions will present themselves by starting here.

It’s best to avoid asking about specific services by name at first. Asking if an MSP offers service “X” gives them a chance to quickly say yes when they may not be familiar with that service. Pay attention to what services they mention first when you ask about their competencies. These services will most likely be their specialties, and how an MSP answers this question can be very telling of the company’s approach to IT, culture, and overall strengths and weaknesses.

Quick sidenote: You’ll notice from this list the further you read that we suggest asking open-ended questions. It’s a simple tactic, but avoiding questions with yes-or-no answers give a managed service provider a chance to explain their approach rather than giving quick, nondescript responses.

2. What does your track record look like?

You’ve most likely already read a few online reviews for any managed service provider you’re thinking of hiring. But these reviews can only reveal so much about their clients’ experiences. Obviously you want to know what other business owners have to say about the MSP, but it’s also good to know their track record from a larger perspective. On average, how long do they work with businesses before terminating a relationship? Of the clients they no longer serve, what were the reasons these previous clients took their business elsewhere? Not only do you gain critical insight from the details in these stories, but you can also get a good feel for how much an MSP respects its clients in this discussion.

Additionally, ask for names and contact information of three current clients. Then contact them yourself to ask about their experience. If a managed service provider can quickly provide you with a list of references, that’s a good sign.

3. How will your services reduce my company’s workload and boost efficiency?

At the end of the day, the decision to hire a managed service provider is largely influenced by the potential savings you’ll gain in doing so. Any good salesperson can you tell you why you need their services, but asking for an explanation on how your MSP is going to help you meet your business goals is key. Whether you’re looking to streamline processes, increase employee efficiency, or automate redundant tasks, asking how an MSP can help you with these tasks is a great idea. Any trustworthy IT company should be able to answer this question quickly and easily.

4. What compliance frameworks do you support?

This question touches back to the idea in our first question: not every managed service provider is created equal. Even if you’re not in the medical or legal field, virtually every business nowadays is required to conform to at least one or two compliance frameworks. Your MSP needs to be completely familiar with any and all compliance frameworks (HIPPA, PCI, GDPR, etc.) that are important to your business.

5. What tasks are considered “out of scope,” and what tasks are included in my contract?

Successful business relationships rely very heavily on clear communication and defined expectations. Asking for a list of tasks that aren’t included in your contract is a great way to discern how comprehensive your MSP’s services really are. It also helps to know up front where boundaries exist and how services outside these boundaries will affect the cost your business pays for managed IT.

6. What is your onboarding process?

Once you’ve chosen a company to hire, beginning a relationship with a managed service provider is not always as easy as it sounds. Ask for a detailed outline of your MSP’s onboarding process before you hire them. What information or access do they need from you to begin work? How long will setup take? Do they have a list of tasks to work through during this process? Again, setting expectations is a must.

7. How will you maintain my company’s involvement in our technology?

This question may seem a bit counterintuitive at first, especially if you’re hoping to hire a managed service provider so that you never have to think about technology again. Whether you want to know the daily details or not, keeping an open line of communication with your MSP is critical. Ask about what reports, updates, or meetings you can expect when working together. No company wants to hire an MSP and then feel like they can never get in touch with them. So asking about an MSP’s approach to communication up front is a great way to avoid ending up in that scenario.

8. What kind of support coverage do you offer?

While you’re on the topic of communication, ask for clarification on your managed service provider’s availability. Many MSP’s provide 24/7/365 technical support, and that’s a huge benefit to you as long as their support is reliable. How will you get in touch with support during and outside of normal business hours? What is the process for reaching out to them during an emergency? Are there any dates/times that support will be unavailable? These are all great questions to ask.

This is a great start. But where do I go from here?

If you’ve met with a few managed service providers and asked these first 8 questions, you’ve most likely realized the preliminary conversations don’t stop here. Each business will have its own list of followup questions, but we’ve put together a list of 8 more next-step questions every business should ask once you’ve narrowed down your search for the perfect MSP. Download our guide on how to navigate that second conversation and make the best decision for your business.

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    5: Redundant cloud-based servers in place for all key systems
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