You may well be aware of Abraham Maslow’s ‘hierarchy of needs’, which he created in 1943 in “A Theory of Human Motivation.” The basis of the hierarchy is that there are some basic areas an individual needs to meet to survive, while the meeting of other needs moves the individual along a spectrum towards full self-actualisation.

The same should be the aim for an MSP. If we take the five basic levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, we can map areas that an MSP should fulfill to match them:

5 levels of MSP service

1. The base level is physiological needs. Maslow saw these as the main physical requirements for human survival. For an MSP to survive, it must have: a valid platform, WAN connectivity, services to sell, and a means of selling it. All pretty basic – and if you aren’t managing these basics, why are you reading this?

2. The second level is safety needs. Maslow saw these as being a mix of personal, emotional, financial, and health needs. For an MSP, this can be seen as making sure that you have a brand, that you are perceived as being fair, and that there are no real perceptions around any financial problems to do with the company.

So far, so good – these first two levels are basic hygiene factors that are table stakes to actually be in the business. Now, let’s move up to see what should be in place.

3. The third level is social belonging. Maslow saw this level as how people have interpersonal needs met, which leads to a feeling of belonging. As an MSP, how does your salesforce operate? Do the prospects believe that they are buying in to the prospects’ problems? Do they offer real help and insights? If prospects see them as coin-operated sales machines, then you are failing at this level. Similarly, is your help desk viewed as being truly helpful – or as a “have you turned it off and back on again?” last form of defence system? Invest in this level and you will find that your customers will become stickier and they can be some of your best marketers by spreading your capabilities via word of mouth.

4. The next level is self-esteem. Maslow views this level as the human need for the obtaining of recognition, status, or importance from others. It’s likely that you already provided some basic form of recognition – meals out or golfing for decision makers, for example – but is this enough? These special events are often part and parcel of the sales process. If the sales people are viewed as the coin-operated machines mentioned above, then this level has already failed.

Do you, as an MSP, look for customers who are doing something special using your services? Do you give them recognition for this with things like a write up on your web site, a ‘prize’ of some sort (e.g. a plexiglass trophy), or similar? How about bringing them on stage at events – not as a mouthpiece for your company, but as a recognition of theirs? Do you say that those who are spending the most money with you are somehow special – Gold or Platinum customers, for example? 

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5. This then brings us to the fifth and final level – self-actualisation. Maslow saw this as the pinnacle of what could possible be for a human: as he aged, he nuanced its meaning into whether an individual could transcend their self through, for example, altruism. As an MSP, it is always worthwhile finding how you can viewed as altruistic. If you are a fairly local company, is there a charity in your area that you can donate not just money, but time, and real effort to? If you’re a national MSP, what national organizations are close to your heart? If international, should you choose international charities or a mix of local (and therefore possibly more meaningful) ones?

For such altruism to be regarded positively, it must be seen as coming from the heart – at both the corporate and individual level. A big risk here is that the altruism gets associated with the CEO or founder – and is then perceived solely as a personal, not corporate thing. However, if just left to corporate messaging, it loses personal touch.

Make a point to involve people: employees, people associated with the charity, and anyone who can add positively to the overall story. Sure, have the CEO have input as well – but as just one of the peers involved, not as the driving force.

By seeing how an MSP operates within the concept of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you can build on what is already in place. You can also create what prospects, customers, the public, and other stakeholders start to see as a company that stands for something, not just its business interests.

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Photo: bonandbon / Shutterstock

Clive Longbottom

Posted by Clive Longbottom

Clive Longbottom is a UK-based independent commentator on the impact of technology on organizations and was a co-founder and service director at Quocirca. He has also been an ITC industry analyst for more than 20 years.

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