10 Questions You Should Use When Evaluating a Business IT Service Provider

By: Dustin Bonn
May 30, 2024

The meeting is finished, and you’ve got a new assignment: finding an IT services provider for your small business. However, you know that service providers are not created equal. You also know that they don’t provide the same services in the same way. 

If that’s your starting point, you’re ahead of the curve! Fortunately, finding an excellent provider is actually pretty easy…you just have to know exactly what to ask, and what a good answer looks like. 

Key Questions for a Managed IT Service Provider

business owner interviewing vendor

To evaluate how effective a small business IT services provider will be, ask your potential candidates these ten questions:

  1. What are your security measures? 
  2. How reliable are your services?
  3. How do you vet your vendors? 
  4. What is your pricing model?
  5. How fast is your typical response time?
  6. How will we collaborate? 
  7. What is not included in my agreement?
  8. Is your help desk outsourced or in-house?
  9. What happens if our relationship isn’t working?
  10. What industries are you familiar with? 

1. What Are Your Security Measures?

Security is a necessity for business, regardless of how big or small. In fact, small businesses have unfortunately borne the brunt of cybercriminals’ attacks in recent years. Ask a provider what kind of MDR and other cybersecurity solutions they provide, if they have people prepared to deal with problems should those solutions fail, and how they protect your information. 

Pro tip: A vague answer doesn’t cut it — not in 2024. Here’s how we’d answer this question at Marco: Our services are designed around the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework to provide appropriate security risk management to your business as cyber threats continue to evolve. And our SOC 2 Type 2 report indicates that an independent third party has verified that we’re consistently following best practices. 

2. How Reliable Are Your Services?

Downtime can be incredibly expensive, so it’s very important that your provider will be responsive when a critical system goes down. Before you sign anything, you should know how quickly they can get you back up and running. 

Pro tip: Don’t be shy! Ask for response time data — the numbers don't lie.

3. How Reputable Are Your Vendors?

Understand that when you select an IT service, you're not just hiring them; you're trusting the vendors they’ve chosen to trust. You want to know that you're working with a company with a good reputation and reliable partners. The best service in the world can’t make up for low-quality technology. Feel free to ask why they’ve chosen to work with their preferred vendors over some of the competition.

Pro tip: Wish there were an independent organization to rank business software developers and equipment manufacturers for you? There is! Gartner typically updates its Magic Quadrants every year, and you can easily find market leaders for almost every solution. 

4. What Is Your Pricing Model?

IT services can be priced using many different models: time and materials, tiers, a la carte, or, in a managed service environment, per user. Only you can decide which method best meets your business objectives and overall technology strategy. However, the pricing model your provider uses can tell you a lot about how they work and what a successful partnership looks like to them. 

Pro tip: Be wary of providers who will make more money the more often you experience problems. 

5. How Fast Is Your Typical Response Time?

Obviously, faster is better. When you're dealing with an IT crisis, you want someone who will respond quickly. After all, the longer your IT issue lasts, the longer it affects your productivity and customer satisfaction. Both are critical to long-term success, so it is important to have a partner you can trust.

Pro tip: You should be able to find guaranteed response times listed in your Service Level Agreement. And remember — these agreements are often negotiable! 

6. How Will We Collaborate?

The best IT service providers understand that they're not only providing a service, they're becoming a vital part of your team. Instead of just telling them what you want, your IT provider should be able to look at your business's unique situation and make suggestions to accommodate your requirements. It shouldn't be just a one-time thing, either, but rather an ongoing process.

Pro tip: One giant red flag would be a provider that uses the same solutions for every client, or only wants to do things their way. At Marco, we provide regular Client Business Reviews to make sure we’re providing the best value, that your technology is aligned with your goals, and that you always have our best recommendations to help you plan ahead. We also have a dedicated technical account manager (TAM) assigned to every managed IT client. We do partnerships a little bit differently, but in the end, we think it’s worth it for our clients. 

7. What Is Not Included in My Agreement?

Picture this — you get your monthly bill and find out that a service call you made last month cost you extra. It may not be a large expense, but it’s unexpected. These small additional charges can add up over time, particularly when you're not prepared for them. 

Pro tip: Ask exactly what is included in the service you’re paying for, and what will cost extra. 

8. Is Your Help Desk Outsourced or In-House?

help desk support team

The help desk is key to keeping your employees productive. Instead of getting frustrated and struggling with an issue, the help desk should be able to develop an understanding of your business and technology, allowing them to answer any questions your employees may have in a timely manner. 

However, if this resource is outsourced, your employees will often speak with a different technician each time they call, providing inconsistent results. Your provider might also not get alerted if one of your solutions is causing more than its share of issues. 

Pro tip: A provider should be able to provide you with some statistics about their help desk’s performance. Outsourcing help desk support to a provider can offer a number of benefits! But those benefits start to disappear when what’s outsourced gets outsourced again. 

9. What Happens if Your Relationship Isn’t Working?

If you don't like the level of service you're receiving, how can you modify, or, if necessary, discontinue your agreement? Are there any fees for early termination of any contract you have in place? What kind of advanced notification do you have to give? 

Pro tip: Be wary of any providers who include excessive fees if you should need to get out of your contract.

10. What Industries Are You Familiar With? 

technology conversation in factory

A provider might be able to offer you significantly more value if they’ve worked with a number of clients in your industry. They’ll already be familiar with your overarching challenges and any evolving regulations that might affect your business, and they’ll know what products and solutions have worked well for businesses just like yours. 

Pro tip: If you’ve ever wanted to get a sneak peek into what your competitors might be doing, this is your chance!

Want More Red/Green Flags? 

If you’ve read this far, it’s clear that you care deeply about your organization, and you’re willing to put in the work to understand an industry that has a certain reputation for being…well…tough to get to know. Sorry about that! 

You shouldn’t have to understand all of our industry's ins and outs just to make sure you’re making a smart choice. We’ve put together a more comprehensive guide — including common red and green flags — that you’re welcome to download or read online. 

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Topics: Managed IT Services