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The art and science of selecting the right IT services partner

Your cheat sheet to vetting and selecting the right IT partner, and an introduction to Mainstay Technologies

The laments of business leaders everywhere

“Response times from IT are way too slow.”

“IT doesn’t really lead us strategically and help us know how we could leverage technology better.”

“IT has so much turnover that I feel like I’m talking to a new person every time.”

“Every time I get a new computer, the process takes forever.”

“IT says our security is solid, but we’re constantly getting phishing emails and other threats.”

“IT is always asking us to spend money, but doesn’t help us understand our options or the pros and cons.”

Your success as a business leader depends on great IT

Business leaders can’t afford to suffer through bad IT service because, in 2024, there’s too much at stake.

In the past, technology could be thought of as a part of a business, the way we might think of the carburetor as part of a car engine. But technology is not a part of the engine – it is the engine of business.

The happiness of your people, the efficiency of your operations, the security of your data, and your success as a leader depend on it.

IT is one thing you have to get right.

Why you keep suffering with bad IT

Why is it that business leaders all too often select an IT partner lacking in quality?

It’s often for two reasons:

  1. The IT partner vetting process relies too heavily on “gut feeling” or the likeability of the vendor’s salesperson, and not enough on objective measures of quality: Too much art, and not enough science.
  • The decision is made on only a few bottom-line data points, such as price, and doesn’t take into account key subjective measures of quality that will indicate the long-term success of the partnership: Too much science, but not enough art.

Here’s your cheat sheet!

Vetting IT service providers can be an intimidating process, so here’s a cheat sheet to make the process easy.

Simply gather the objective measures of quality (i.e. the science) and the subjective measures of quality (i.e. the art) outlined below.

The science of vetting IT: Objective measures of quality to review

  1. Awards they’ve won
    1. Recognize that some awards are pay-to-play, but others, such as Best Companies to Work For, are judged by independent 3rd parties.
  2. References
    1. Rather than simply reviewing the list they gave you, ask one of their references if they know any other companies they work with.
  3. Response times andResolution times
  4. Don’t just ask about how long it takes to respond to service requests, but how long it takes them, on average, to resolve those requests. Better to wait an extra 20 minutes, but get your problem resolved in half the time!
  5. Employee retention rates
    1. It’s almost impossible for IT companies with high turnover to also provide a great experience to their clients. Quality comes from staff that stick around and really know their clients.
  6. Client retention rates
    1. People’s beliefs are best indicated by their actions. If a company has great client retention rates, that’s one of the best indicators that their clients are having a great experience and wanting to stay with them.
  1. Markups on software and hardware
    1. Ask specifically what their markups are for various types of hardware and software.
  2. Extra charges for onsite visits
    1. Are you incentivized or disincentivized from requesting the IT company come onsite? If you’re billed for every onsite visit, you’ll be less likely to have IT really get to the bottom of issues, when necessary.
  3. Extra costs for installing new computers
    1. If you’re being charged extra labor costs for every new computer installed, this will disincentivize you from keeping a proper computer replacement schedule.
  4. Technology standards/requirements
    1. Do they have a set of standard technologies they support, or do they tout being “flexible” and “vendor neutral”? While the latter sounds good on the surface, it often indicates a lack of intentionality, security standards, and focused R&D.
    2. Technology standards improve efficiency, business continuity, security, and lower cost.
  5. Planning and budgeting process
    1. Ask for sample budget or IT strategic planning documents.
    1. How intentional, thoughtful, and consistent is their process?
    1. Who owns and is involved in the process? Is it a team approach or driven by one person?
  6. Employee compensation and incentives
    1. Are their employees given commission or bonuses? If so, for what?
    1. How their employees are incentivized tells you a tremendous amount about what’s important to their company, what will be important to their staff, and how sales-driven they are.
  7. Agreement clauses
    1. Are their “gotchas” that show up in the Agreement documents, such as onerous cancellation clauses, unreasonable service exceptions, extra charges for typical service, etc.?
    2. Pro tip: have other IT companies review the Agreements – they’ll be motivated to make sure you’re aware of any gotchas, and they’ll review it cheaper than an attorney! ; )

The art of vetting IT: Subjective measures of quality to review

Remember that the goal of good executive decision making is to make decisions out of a “data-informed gut”.

Vetting an IT services partner is unique in that you’re both selecting a provider that’s going to deliver technology solutions, but also that you’re going to have a close working relationship with.

IT is not like a janitorial services company that just comes into the building on the weekend. You’re both looking for someone who has experience and knowledge, but a team you truly enjoy.

You don’t select other close relationships only based on cold data, so you shouldn’t with this either!

  1. Pay attention to how the salesperson makes you feel
    1. This may be indicative of a “vibe” that your team may end up feeling from them, as well.
    1. Are their indicators of pridefulness or arrogance? This can be evidenced by speaking in acronyms, subtle scoffing at your current technology or your current IT provider, etc.
  2. Discuss other topics beyond the service they’re providing
    1. Look for other clues about their vision, and perspective on life and business.
    1. Ask them about their life outside of work, or their thoughts on other business or life topics that interest you.
  3. Push them to provide evidence of quality and pay attention to their response to that push
    1. Do they seem to want you to only treat the vetting process as an art instead of a science? This may indicate that they don’t pay enough attention to those quality metrics.
  4. Perceive their partnership approach
    1. Are they seeking to be a true partner, integrated into your business, or does it seem like a more transaction approach?
    1. Do they speak solely about technology, or do they seek to understand your organizational goals?
    1. Do they speak only about themselves, or seem genuinely interested as you as a person and the particulars of your business?
  5. Review what they say outside of the sales meeting
    1. Understand their worldview and their perspective by reviewing what they say online:
      1. Articles or blog posts they’ve written
      1. Personal and business social media voice, tone, and content
  6. See what others are saying about them
    1. What do their Google reviews say?
    1. What do their employees say about them on GlassDoor?
    1. When have they showed up in the news, and what does that indicate?

Who’s going to do all this research?!

One of the main reasons IT partners are not vetted appropriately is because the leader assumes they have to do all the work. However, think “Who, not How”! Who else in your organization can be tasked with doing this digging?

When you identify the person in your organization to help, don’t simply have them send you a series of emails with their findings, but instead request a spreadsheet that compares each of the categories noted above side-by-side.

Selecting the right IT services structure

Before you can properly vet the right IT partner with the cheat sheet outlined above, you first have to select the right IT services structure, and it’s not one-size-fits-all.

Here is a summary of the general categories of IT service structures, and each of their pros, cons, and costs:

  1. Internal IT
    1. Pros
      1. Provides a physical onsite presence 
      1. High level of internal company-specific knowledge 
      1. Cons
        1. Poor business continuity
          1. Overly reliant on one or two people, and all of the firm-specific knowledge goes away when they leave 
        1. Support limitations
          1. Employees take vacations, breaks, are busy working with other people, and have limited availability after hours, holidays, and weekends 
        1. High amount of IT staff turnover 
          1. There’s almost 0 unemployment in the IT industry, as well as a high level of geographical flexibility, so it’s very difficult to keep a quality internal IT person 
          1. If you get a good quality person, they’re less likely to stay long-term due to other opportunities, more training, more team engagement, upward mobility, etc.
        1. Requires internal ability to manage an IT department
          1. Most business leaders do not have the technical knowledge or experience to train and hold IT professionals accountable
        1. High cost for a true internal IT department
          1. Multiple staff required, and multiple internal systems (ticketing systems, monitoring, etc.)
      1. Costs
        1. IT manager – salary and benefits: $85 – 120k 
        1. IT support specialists – salary and benefits: $40 – $70k
    1. Outsourced IT
      1. Pros
        1. Business continuity 
          1. Mindshare and firm-specific knowledge is being built up by the IT partner as a whole, rather than being dependent on one or two transient individuals 
        1. Onsite availability whenever needed 
          1. Can be either scheduled to be onsite when needed, or can come onsite when onsite reactive support is needed 
        1. 24/7/365 support 
          1. Support availability is not limited by vacations, sickness, holidays, etc., as you have full team availability 
        1. Ability to scale up or down 
          1. If the company grows, the provider can simply increase support without you having to hire 
          1. If the company comes on hard financial times and contracts, your costs go down without having to lay off employees or carry unnecessary costs 
        1. Technology sophistication 
          1. Depending on the size of their team, the IT company can provide expertise in multiple areas of technology management 
        1. Security sophistication 
          1. If your IT partner has cybersecurity and information security sophistication, they can help increase security and decrease the likelihood of data breaches, as well as supporting regulatory compliance requirements
      1. Cons
        1. Potentially higher costs, depending on the quality of the firm
        1. Potential of misalignment of the company’s approach and your organization (this risk mitigated by using the cheat sheet above)
        1. Not having the same direct control over IT staff
      1. Costs
        1. Wide range based on quality, but typically between $125 – $175 per user/mo
    1. Hybrid – Internal IT plus outsourced project shop
      1. Pros
        1. Provides option for internal IT team to escalate to more experienced technicians/engineers
        1. Retains the onsite physical presence from internal IT staff
      1. Cons
        1. Too many chefs in the kitchen, leading to: 
          1. Less accountability for all parties 
          1. Opportunities for confusion and lack of clarity on expectations 
          1. Difficulty in clarifying areas of ownership 
          1. Confusing for staff when service requests are submitted and responded to 
          1. Increased chance of security incidents or breaches  
            1. Shared responsibilities may increase the chance of a security hole and the resulting incident or breach 
        1. Redundant costs, as you typically end up paying both parties for overlapping work
      1. Costs
        1. Generally, expect a 30 – 70% cost increase over internal IT or outsourced IT alone. Costs depend on how many supplemental services are being provided, and the quality of the firm.

IT company types and typical costs

If outsourcing IT likely makes the most sense for your organization, here are the most common types of IT companies, their pros, cons, and typical costs.

  1. “Mom & pop shops”
    1. Definition
      1. Typically smaller IT companies, anywhere between 1 – 15 staff
      1. Generally more reactive in their approach
      1. Often bill hourly, rather than through a flat cost Agreement
    1. Pros
      1. Knowledge of your company, staff, and technology concentrated into a small number of people
      1. Lowest cost option
    1. Cons
      1. Lack of business continuity. All the institutional knowledge is wrapped up in a couple people.
    1. Costs
      1. Around $125 – $150 per user/mo
  2. True managed IT services
    1. Definition
      1. Proactive IT services, properly planned, managed, and monitored
    1. Pros
      1. The economic model is aligned with your company’s interests. The IT company does well when things are working, properly budgeted for, and root causes are identified and resolved quickly.
    1. Cons
      1. Higher cost than smaller, reactive IT
    1. Costs
      1. $150 – 175 per user/mo
  3. “Project shops”
    1. Definition
      1. Generally project shops work with internal IT departments on infrastructure projects or selling individual services, such as network monitoring, software licensing, etc.
    1. Pros
      1. Great for a well-tooled internal IT department that just needs some occasional project support or reselling individual services
    1. Cons
      1. Tend to be transactional, sales-driven organizations
      1. Typically utilize a variety of contractors, so consistency of staff is much harder to come by
    1. Costs
      1. Typically between $185 – $350 per hour, depending on the service offering

Why Mainstay Technologies is worth considering

The cheat sheet and outline above will be helpful for any IT company you’d like to review. If you’d like to know how Mainstay measures up to the questions in the cheat sheet, here’s a quick overview!

  1. The science – Objective measures of quality
    1. Recent awards
      1. 2024 – Best Companies to Work For Hall of Fame – Business NH Magazine
      1. 2023 – Best Companies to Work For – Business NH Magazine
      1. 2022 – Best Companies to Work For – Business NH Magazine
      1. 2021 – Best Companies to Work For – Business NH Magazine
      1. 2020 – Best Companies to Work For – Business NH Magazine
      1. 2019 – Best Companies to Work For – Business NH Magazine
      1. 2024 – Best of Business Award for Managed IT Services – NH Business Review
      1. 2023 – Best of Business Award for Managed IT Services – NH Business Review
      1. 2022 – Best of Business Award for Managed IT Services – NH Business Review
      1. 2021 – Best of Business Award for Managed IT Services – NH Business Review
      1. 2020 – Best of Business Award for Managed IT Services– NH Business Review
      1. 2019 Coolest Companies for Young Professionals – Stay Work Play NH
      1. 2019 Company of the Year – Greater Concord Chamber of Commerce
      1. 2019 Best of Business Award for Managed IT Services – NH Business Review
      1. 2019 Rising Star Award – CATCH Neighborhood Housing
      1. 2018 Best Companies to Work For – Business NH Magazine
      1. 2018 Torch Award for Business Ethics – Better Business Bureau
    1. Response times
      1. Priority 1: 15 minutes
      1. Priority 2: 33 minutes
      1. Priority 3: 43 minutes
      1. Priority 4: 68 minutes
      1. Priority 5: 13 minutes
  • Resolution times
  • Employee retention rates
    • 98.7% over the last 3 years
    • Client retention rates
      • 91% over the last 3 years
  • The art – Subjective measures of quality
    • Mainstay’s worldview and approach
      • We are committed to never selling Mainstay and always ensuring ownership stays local and in the team
      • We seek to be a 100 year company that seeks long-term, trusted partnerships with our clients
      • We have zero debt and no outside investors. This keeps us from being beholden to any outside financial interests so we can stay focused on being a genuine blessing to our team, clients, and the broader community.
      • Blog post about life-work balance
        • Points to our perspective on the importance of life-giving work, and how we believe that defines our work at Mainstay. Helps provide an indicator of why people love working at Mainstay.
    • The Mainstay culture/vibe
      • Doing the right thing for the right thing’s sake
      • Extreme ownership
      • Careful, intentionality around everything we do
      • Balance of warmth and competence


Although vetting and selecting the right IT partner takes intentionality, it’s well worth the effort. IT is the foundation for operational maturity, security, and efficiency in your business. Get IT right, and business success will inevitably follow.

Ryan Robinson is a Senior Director at Mainstay Technologies, the largest independently owned IT and Information Security services firm in New Hampshire.  

Anyone interested in a free, highly valuable IT, Security, and AI Assessment for their organization can reach Ryan on LinkedIn or at rrobinson@mstech.com