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ConnectWise CEO Jason Magee: ‘Doubling Down’ On Partner Support

O’Ryan Johnson

‘We are making investments into making that experience better. Not only from a people standpoint, but if you look at where we started the year, in terms of our support for resources to where we are now, we’re 60 to 80 resources greater than where we were in January,’ Magee tells CRN.

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ConnectWise partners and company CEO Jason Magee agree: communication and support have to improve -- or users will drop the industry-standard MSP platform and IT Nation will become a ghost town.

“There used to be a feeling that there was a community. There was a vibe,” said one partner. “Once that’s gone, it’s just a piece of software that can be replaced with another piece of software. They lost their mojo.”

Partners said whether blame for these ills lies with the economic impact of COVID-19 -- which Magee said is responsible for a recent four-percent cut to jobs -- or with private equity firm Thoma Bravo’s influence over management, or the ongoing security issues on the tools inside the platform, the company needs a strategy to win back the hearts and minds of customers who, as one put it, now feel more like “a profit center” than a partner.

“The turnstile that seems to exist at the position of our relationship manager, I think I’ve seen four in the last two years,” another partner said. “We had one from the time we first came on, for six years running. With each change, there seems to be less of ‘I actually sound like I care’ and more of a ‘How much software do you want to buy?’ mentality. It’s not about listening to what I have problems with and helping me solve them, its more, ‘Hey do you know that we do cybersecurity now?’ This isn’t Sam’s Club. Stop doing that.“

Magee said he is listening to partners and has “doubled down” on support, bumping up the number of Tier 1 staff from 150 a few months ago to 225 now, by retasking former Continuum resources in India to help with ConnectWise products. Magee said they have only come online in the last 30 to 60 days.

“Internally, someone asked what are we doing to make support better? I asked them if they knew how many resources we had when we started the year? How many resources we are at currently, and they had no idea,” he told CRN. “So we’re not even just not good at communicating externally, we have the same internal challenge. That’s where we definitely failed in this aspect.”

But that is changing with new initiatives such as “Voice of the Partner,” which he said will allow ConnectWise to measure how it is improving partner support, customer satisfaction, and provide the company with a customer effort score, which determines how much effort it took for a partner to “track us down.”

“We want that to be minimal. We want our partners to come back and tell us ‘It was great, thank you.’ We are doubling down,” Magee said. “We are making investments into making that experience better. Not only from a people standpoint, but if you look at where we started the year, in terms of our support for resources to where we are now, we’re 60 to 80 resources greater than where we were in January.”

Partners who spoke with CRN balked at the idea of overseas support for ConnectWise products, saying the timezone differences, the distance from US customers and markets, as well as the complex nature of software make it difficult for even the most capable IT professionals to get a handle on. However, two of ConnectWise’s leading competitors, Kaseya and Solarwinds MSP told CRN that they too rely on employees overseas, for around-the-clock help desk needs.

“At the end of the day it’s not outsource. They’re ConnectWise colleagues,” Magee said. “We acquired those colleagues with the acquisition of Continuum. Candidly, they’re great colleagues. Based in India, through the merger and acquisition of ConnectWise. We’re located in 16 offices globally. ConnectWise has also been in India for some time through a partnership, and through an acquisition of what became the ConnectWise India office. So India is not new to ConnectWise. Its definitely not new to Continuum.”

Some partners speculated that ConnectWise’s decision to rely more heavily on help desk support in India, as well as the recent round of layoffs is due to the influence of its owner, private equity firm Thoma Bravo, needing to extract its share of the profit. Magee disputed that. He said Thoma Bravo -- which bought the company in February 2019 for an undisclosed sum, then merged it with Continuum, in October – actually increased ConnectWise budget by tens of millions.

“P/E doesn’t hold a gun to my head,” Magee said. “(Thoma Bravo) and other P/Es they bring a tremendous amount of value. I’ll give you an example, its north of $25 million to $40 million dollars in additional money, they have allowed us to spend, that we’re investing in our platform and the infrastructure of the company so we can better support our partners.”

CRN spoke to six ConnectWise partners for this story, but not one would agree to use their names on the record because they said they fear retribution from a company that has threatened legal action against those who speak in ways the company deems harmful.

CRN asked Magee if partners should fear legal action for speaking up about issues they find on the platform.

“My preferred approach is that they come to us and give us an opportunity to talk through it, right? To me, that’s very constructive,” Magee said. “We love that feedback, because that will make us better. I guess, the moral of my story is, if they give us an opportunity to work with them and really try to help make it better, I’m good with that. I’m good with it all, but I guess there’s different approaches and styles that I prefer. But I think that’s any business. Even our partners. I would hope they want their customers coming to them before taking things to public forums.”

In September, cybersecurity firm Bishop Fox approached ConnectWise about several zero-day vulnerabilities it found in the platform. When it informed ConnectWise it was planning to adhere to responsible disclosure guidelines, essentially giving the company 90 days to fix the bugs before publicly disclosing them, ConnectWise threatened to sue, Bishop Fox said. Magee has since called that a miscommunication between the two companies, however partners remain unconvinced.

Recently, in an online forum where MSPs go to talk about ConnectWise, a partner shared a note he said he received from a Partner Success Manager. The MSP had asked if ConnectWise had a non-disparagement clause in its partner agreement that would prevent him from saying critical things about the company on social media. He was given a legal interpretation of the partner agreement that told him such talk is not allowed.

“By sharing negative information, you would be attempting to induce or influence other partners to leave ConnectWise,” the partners success manager wrote. “Furthermore pursuant to article 13.10 Interference and Competition you are prohibited from ‘induc(ing) or influenc(ing) any employee of ConnectWise or any other person or entity to terminate their relationship with ConnectWise.’ By sharing negative information, you would be attempting to induce or influence other partners to leave ConnectWise.”

Three ConnectWise partners each said in separate conversations that they had seen this message, and it had made them feel that they were risking legal action if they were to voice their concerns about ConnectWise. Magee said that is not the image he wants the company to project. He said partner success managers should not offer partners any legal interpretations of the contract.

“I would look at what you just said and if I peeled back the piece that said ‘Partner Success Manager interpreted,’ my Partner Success Managers, and account managers, and what not, they’re not legal people,” he said. “So if that is happening, we’ll take a look and make sure we reinforce that ‘Hey, you guys are not lawyers. So don’t throw legal stuff out there.’ ”

According to the master agreement, legal disputes between ConnectWise and its partners fall under the jurisdiction of Hillsboro County courts in Florida. While Magee stopped short of saying the company would not sue its customers for their public comments, a search of online court records between 2001 and this week shows ConnectWise has not brought a civil suit in that county, during that time. Reached by phone, a clerk at the courthouse said she also found no record of them as a plaintiff, bringing suit against any person or company in that county.

A CRN review of federal court filings in U.S. District Court Middle of Florida, where the company is based, and nationwide also produced no results that show ConnectWise has brought suit against customers.

A partner, who has been a ConnectWise customer for years, compared it to being a carpenter.

“If my hammer isn’t working, I don’t yell at my hammer. I get a new one,” he said. “I think what people are regretting is that it used to be a community. It’s a tool for me. My car is a tool. My phone is a tool. It’s a tool for me. I’m not emotionally invested in my tool. But people are. The lesson is: you can’t fall in love with a product.”

When asked about recapturing the company’s “mojo,” as another partner said, Magee said some of that is in the plan that ConnectWise has developed and will begin rolling out this year.

“Do we have to get our mojo back? I don’t look at it that way, as we’ve always got to stay on top of our game,” he said. “We’re always going to be pushing ourselves to be the company that everyone in the industry looks up to. Do I feel like we’re there? No. But I don’t feel we’re ever there. I’m always going to be pushing to make sure we’re mentioned in the same line as Microsoft, Salesforce, ServiceNow, Amazon, and some of the other major tech companies out there. That’s where I want to work with our partners, and get ConnectWise there.”

Learn More: Cloud Platforms
O’Ryan Johnson

O’Ryan Johnson is a veteran news reporter. He covers the data center beat for CRN and hopes to hear from channel partners about how he can improve his coverage and write the stories they want to read. He can be reached at ojohnson@thechannelcompany.com..

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