N-able CEO Gavin GarbuttQuestion: When do you know a technology industry is starting to grow up? Answer: The technology vendors themselves begin to offer vendor-neutral business education. The latest case in point involves N-able, which has launched online training tools called Business e-Training Essentials. Here's a bit more about N-able's move based on a phone chat with CEO Gavin Garbutt (pictured), and the broader MSP education market.

First, I'm not suggesting that vendor-developed education will replace managed services associations and organizations like CompTIA (Computing Technology Industry Association), MSPAlliance and MSP Partners. Those associations remain critical gathering centers for MSPs to learn and share best practices.

But as technology vendors grow up -- and reach a critical mass of partners and customers -- they're inclined to push beyond technology training to offer business training. The reason: As technology tools mature, true business expertise will help the best MSPs differentiate from tech-centric competitors.

N-able's e-Training Essentials

The latest case in point involves N-able's Business e-Training Essentials. According to an N-able press release:
"Available now as part of the Web-based N-able Resource Center, the new Business e-Training Essentials is offered at no cost to new and existing N-able partners and provides an easy-to-follow, step-by-step online reference guide to developing and enhancing their managed services practice."
A key point: Although the education tools are for N-able partners, the tools are all about driving your business rather than using N-able's products. So the content is essentially vendor neutral -- but the audience isn't.

Is N-able serious about business training? Let's put it this way: N-able CEO Gavin Garbutt demonstrated some of the new online training tools to me about two weeks ago. The demo didn't involve a product manager or a hired hand. Rather, Garbutt drove the system as if he'd designed it himself -- with the help of N-able's most successful partners. (And not by coincidence, N-able has launched the MSP Elite Partners program to honor its best partners.)

Other Options

N-able's online business training tools looked pretty comprehensive during Garbutt's demo. Plus, the tools track your progress through sessions and courses.

But N-able isn't alone when it comes to MSP business education. A few other examples:
  • When you enter ConnectWise's offices in  Tampa, Florida, the first gathering area is a training room for ConnectWise's customers. And that education often includes business best practices.
  • When I attended the Autotask Community Live conference in March 2009, much of the conference content involved business education rather than Autotask product training.
  • The current Kaseya Connect road show focuses mostly on Gary Pica's experiences building a highly successful managed services business.
  • And during the annual Ingram Micro Seismic conference, most sessions focus on marketing, sales, PR and other business strategies. In fact, I think this is the best example of a vendor-led event that contains zero (or nearly zero) product pitches.
  • Did I miss any examples? List them in the comments area below.

Same Concept, Different Industry

Based on the examples above, I think the MSP industry is "growing up."

During the 1990s, I heard from Cisco, Microsoft and other big technology companies that wanted to offer more and more "business" education to their channel partners. More recently, Cisco has launched an annual Velocity Summit, which helps VARs and channel partners to master new marketing tactics.

Clearly, N-able and other MSP industry leaders are now applying similar tactics to the managed services universe -- through face to face and online events, online training and online communities.

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