While winning a new client is a scenario all IT solution providers and managed service providers (MSPs) relish, the real work always starts during onboarding.

Documenting the client’s IT infrastructure, shoring up existing systems, and eliminating any immediate and urgent issues you spot can be a challenge. You want to make a great first impression, and you definitely don’t want them to experience issues or outages within their first few days of working with you.

Taking on a new client can be therefore be stressful. But there’s one scenario that seems to heighten stress levels to the nth degree for many MSPs.

When taking on a new client, how do you deal with inheriting a bad IT setup?

When IT advice goes wrong

Unlike the accountancy, law, or health professions, there are few professional qualifications necessary for entering the IT industry.

As a result, it’s all too common a scenario for your MSP business to take on board a client whose IT infrastructure seems to have grown as a result of advice given by:

  • the warehouse manager
  • the local laptop repair shop
  • the boss’s nephew who is “very good with computers”

Sadly, there’s also one very familiar culprit for poor advice: an incumbent IT provider who didn’t really know what they were doing.

Most often, the advice your new client received from their previous IT advisors wasn’t given with any malice intended. Many IT part-timers have great experience with PCs and perhaps even small networks, but find themselves out of their depth when offering advice to help a growing business meet their technology needs.

The result? A mish-mash of technologies your new client has somehow limped along with.

When looking at this hodge-podge, your first instinct as a professional IT advisor might be to take a broom and sweep everything away. Starting fresh with a new business-grade, fit-for-purpose IT infrastructure can seem easier and better than trying to rectify the multitude of sins you’ve inherited.

But tread carefully when laying out plans for any new IT infrastructure. It’s easy to cause offence to your new client, even if none is intended.

Don’t call your client’s IT systems ugly!

If you wade in and tell your new client their existing system isn’t fit for purpose, it’s worth being aware that you’re not only belittling the infrastructure your client already owns, you’re also belittling the people who made the decisions to buy or implement that infrastructure.

While the advice for the purchases may have come from a third party—the IT part-timer, the incumbent IT provider, or even the boss’s nephew—remember that only one person gave the go-ahead for those IT purchases: your new client.

If you choose to tell your client their existing IT infrastructure is rubbish, you’re taking a risk that what the business owner or decision-maker hears is, “You’ve made some bad decisions.”

While some pragmatic decision-makers might appreciate such a blunt approach, the vast majority of us don’t like our poor decisions being highlighted by others. Would you? Most of us hate the idea of writing off investments made poorly, and we often cling to these “sunk costs.”

At best, you’ll find you experience resistance to your ideas for new infrastructure. At worst, you’ll find you alienate the decision-maker and they dig in their heels in, insisting you work with them to remediate the existing setup.

Either way, you’re in for a very frustrating experience.

Be tactful when discussing new IT infrastructure

No business owner makes decisions they know aren’t right for the growth of their business. Likewise, very few IT advisors give advice they don’t believe is in the best interests of their client.

With this in mind, don’t go in all guns blazing and belittle the previous IT advisors. Don’t bad mouth them. Don’t point out how they offered poor advice. Nobody appreciates this.

Likewise, don’t tell your new client they’ve made bad decisions with their IT. Don’t highlight how they’ve wasted money, made poor choices, or listened to idiotic advice.

Instead, appreciate the reality of the situation—your new client sought the best advice they could find at the time.

They implemented systems they felt would suit them for their immediate needs.

They purchased the equipment and software they felt would work for their business at the time.

When approaching the conversation about the client’s existing IT infrastructure, start the conversation by acknowledging that you can see how the client made the choices they thought were best for them at the time. Point out that their existing IT infrastructure has brought them to where they are now, but they’re clearly looking to work with a new IT advisor—you—for a reason.

The bottom line here is not to make the client feel stupid for taking bad advice or making poor purchasing decisions. They did the best they could with the information they had.

Now, however, you can work with them to implement new IT infrastructure that will help their business as it is today. New IT infrastructure that will help their business overcome the pains and irritations they’re experiencing today. New IT infrastructure that can help their business grow.

Don’t focus on how poor the existing infrastructure is. Instead, work with them on the goal of building new infrastructure to support them today and into the future.

By doing so, you’ll find a lot less resistance to change.

Prove you’re a partner

It can be frustrating for you as a professional, progressive MSP to inherit IT infrastructure that, quite frankly, stinks.

While you might be bemused—or worse, professionally offended—that anybody could have suggested IT infrastructure that clearly isn’t fit for purpose, you’ll do yourself no favors by highlighting this fact to your new client. After all, they’re the ones who gave the go-ahead for the infrastructure to be implemented.

Put ego to one side. Resist the urge to prove your technological and business superiority to the client’s previous IT advisors.

Instead, acknowledge that the existing IT infrastructure grew as it did out of choice—and those choices seemed like the right ones for the client at the time.

Prove to your new client that you’re their partner as they grow their business, a partner who can be trusted over the long-term.