Matt Grainger talks to Paul Tomlinson, founder of Milton Keynes based solutions provider Mirus IT Solutions, about the value of community participation, both locally and within the channel.
How did the company come to be founded?
Basically I returned from working for an IT company in Dublin. I’d been there for four years, came back to Milton Keynes and I could see there was a massive gap for an IT provider for SME business in the area.
There were a few established companies but none were doing particularly well and none had a large concentration of customers in the locality, so I thought ‘there’s a gap here so let’s do something with it’.
How did it develop in to what it is now?
I took a contracting role with a company in Bedford that predominately dealt with AS400s. They needed someone to help with Intel platforms, email migrations and that sort of thing for customers who had AS400s but also had normal IT equipment as we know it – so Microsoft type networks.
I started off doing contracting for them, those contract roles became support contracts and it just went on from there. We employed sales people, started focussing on chamber events, other networking events locally, started developing our own website, doing leaflet drops and today we have about 400 customers, of which around 200 are in the Milton Keynes area.
What kind of size company are you?
Since 2002, we’ve grown to turn over about seven and a half million, we think, and in terms of staff we’ve got around 75 people.
That’s quite strong growth – what do you attribute this to?
Well, we do a thing every month called a ‘win and loss sheet’, which is a way for us to track our progress and look at what’s gone right or wrong. A large proportion of the business we win comes from referrals, and then we win that business based on customer testimonials or just by being able to demonstrate that we are the right partner for them.
You’re quite active in the local area. Is this something that’s helped you grow? What benefits has this brought?
It’s made a massive difference to our growth. Obviously with local businesses – we’ve actually just come from a meeting with the Milton Keynes Business Resilience Forum so we were just talking about trying to help them and position Mirus as the trusted experts in Milton Keynes. We’ve not agreed anything yet but we’re hoping for something in the next few weeks.
With other things like being a Milton Keynes Chamber of Commerce Technology Partner, again it’s about trying to position ourselves as experts and tying ourselves in with creditable establishments like that.
It portrays a good image of our business and I think it makes a massive difference to customers when we go and see them. If we do a cold call to someone, they’ve probably already heard of us beforehand, which gives a good impression rather than if someone’s never heard of us.
The case studies we have are of local, well-known businesses too, which also gives a good impression before they make a decision.
We also do a lot of charitable events in the local community, which helps get our name out there and makes a real difference given our local focus.
You mentioned that you had around 400 clients, and you offer solutions from small business right through to larger enterprises. How do you manage to scale your offering in this way?
With great difficulty! Until Kate Cash, our marketing manager, joined the company we were everything to everyone in our communications, which made it difficult for us to differentiate. The range of people and skills we have are dedicated to looking after specific customers and technologies and we are beginning to capture that in our marketing.
We’ve almost ended up creating different divisions within the business to allow us to do that. Trying to send an engineer out to provide an MPLS solution for one customer and then doing a five-user set up the next day, well, that engineer isn’t going to stay with the business very long.
So it’s segmenting the business off. Another thing is cloud computing – we know we’re going to have to offer something around that as well. So we’ve started to establish something under a different brand, called Vivositi, which is really a cloud focussed business, so that we’re not trying to dilute our message, Mirus primarily being an on-premise sort of company. It makes it a little bit easier for Kate too, I think.
So how were you able to identify a need and go to provide that?
Well, it’s actually down to a lot of different things but our membership in CompTIA has been really useful. With industry networking events, you get to know what’s going on, you get other people’s views with what the market’s doing and you get the opportunities before they get away.
So it’s really about active involvement within the community. I’ve been helping Autotask and Kaseya with selling their product for the last three or four years, which has allowed me to talk to a lot of people with similar businesses to my own, which is a huge help.
know you mentioned cloud, but what would you say is your main growth area in the next few years?
In the next two years, I see two areas for growth. Obviously there’s cloud, particularly around Office 365 and other cloud offerings.
The other is virtualisation, so we’re working with VMWare to develop a VMWare View platform and really focus on selling virtualisation solutions to our customers. So I think these are going to be the two biggest areas in 2012/2013.
Just to touch on Office 365 – do you think that vendors are making the most of resellers?
I don’t think so. I think we’ve all got to accept that’s the way it’s going to go. Generally if Microsoft decide it’s going to do something then that’s the way it happens. It’s changed the reward models to try and encourage people to get the solution and we’ve seen customers go out and buy the solution whether or not we’re involved.
So rather than fight it we’ve kind of taken the strategy that we want to be the people recommending the solution where it’s appropriate.
I think it’s a great product in the right circumstances but it’s not right for certain customers. It’s up to us to look at customers and advise the right solution. If you give people the right advice then you’re going to keep that customer for a lot longer. If you don’t then you’ll lose that customer for life.
And finally, what advice would you give to someone else starting out in managed services?
Well two things. One is to get involved in peer groups because you’ll learn so much from being involved. The first time’s a little intimidating but they’re all friendly and they’ll look after you.
The second thing, particularly in managed services, is with service level agreements. With everything that we do here, we’re trying to manage the customers’ expectations and the only way you can do that really is to have a service level agreement. Get one organised early on so that you work to that and it’s the foundation of the service you deliver to your customer.
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