When a VAR decides to sell managed services, it has to anticipate that some customers won’t buy into the new business model, which makes finding new clients a must. Todd Molloy, director of sales and marketing at Portland, Maine-based MSP Systems Engineering says four to six percent churn is typical. What Systems Engineering and so many other successful MSPs have discovered is that marketing plays a vital role in the transition process. “If you want to grow your portfolio 15%-plus each year, you’ll need to communicate well with your existing customers while attracting new ones,” he adds. “Our company uses content marketing and thought leadership events to serve this dual purpose of retaining clients and finding new growth opportunities.”
If marketing isn’t a current strength in your organization, you’re not alone. An IT service provider study conducted by Barracuda MSP a few years ago revealed 46% of respondents felt only “somewhat” or “not confident” their marketing activities would help them reach their business goals.
The good news is you don’t have to be a marketer to learn the fundamentals of marketing and build a strong campaign. Here are 7 tips garnered from top MSPs that will help optimize your marketing strategy:
1. Start with Your Technology Services and Automation Vendors
One of the most significant obstacles to marketing for many MSPs is their lack of marketing resources, which makes it difficult knowing where to start. Don’t forget about the companies that understand your technologies better than you do and have a vested interest in your success – your IT vendors. Besides the ones that help you automate and manage your MSP business (e.g., your professional services automation and remote monitoring and management vendors) each technology service vendor likely has some marketing resources you can use. In fact, here are a couple of marketing-specific IT vendor value-adds you may be overlooking:
- Sales and Marketing Collateral. As an MSP, you understand the benefits of a backup and disaster recovery solution; however, your salespeople may struggle to convey those benefits to a customer or prospect. Instead of creating marketing collateral from scratch, contact your BDR vendor for assistance. There’s a good chance they’ve already done much of the legwork for you and can provide you with sales and marketing collateral that you can easily modify and even co-brand. Ask specifically for success stories that highlight how their product/solution solved a business challenge that will resonate with a prospect you’re talking to.
- Marketing Assistance. Besides helping your company with collateral, many vendors will help you get that information out to prospective customers – whether it’s through email blasts or newsletters, direct mail or even in person at a lunch-and-learn, for instance. Market development funding is another way a vendor can complement your marketing efforts.
2. Highlight What Makes You Different from Other MSPs
A common trap MSPs can fall into is trying to be all things to all companies, which makes it difficult to highlight your strengths. To avoid this pitfall, your brand must focus on the highest business value and most important customer experience your company delivers. An excellent place to start could be an award (from a customer, vendor or association) your company won for implementing a specific solution or solving a particular business challenge. If you have expertise in a vertical market, that can be another differentiator you could leverage in your marketing message.
3. Highlight What’s In It for Them: Benefits vs. Features
One of MSP trainer Gary Pica’s most famous sayings to MSPs is that they should “sell the cake, not the ingredients.” In other words, when you walk into a bakery and ask for a chocolate cake, you wouldn’t expect the baker to hand you a basket of ingredients, he adds. “Would it be less expensive? Yes. Could you use them to make your own cake? Perhaps. But when you go to the baker, you expect to pay for more than the ingredients. You expect that you’ll pay for the baker’s unique recipe, along with their experience and expertise.”
Pica’s analogy is a good one to keep in mind when selling – and marketing – your managed services. Although we break out the 40+ services (i.e., the ingredients) on our website, such as Antivirus, Firewall Management, Patch Management, when it comes to engaging customers and prospects it’s more useful to show them the big picture (i.e., cake) you’re offering them, which in this case is protection of their data and business continuity. By presenting your offerings in this manner — as opposed to an a la carte approach — it moves the conversation away from features and toward benefits for the client. This approach makes it easier for end users to understand the value of the solution, which results in fewer instances of clients asking to swap out your AV product for one they think is better/cheaper, for example.
4. White Label Your Managed Services
Another common practice among MSPs is highlighting their vendors’ logos on their websites and in their marketing literature. Similar to the previous tip, this practice can make it more difficult for a prospect to tell you apart from your competitor. To differentiate your MSP, consider white-labeling your IT services offerings. Not only does this put your customer’s focus on the specific type of service you’re selling (e.g., business continuity, service, compliance), it helps brand your company as the expert providing the service instead of a particular IT vendor. Another benefit of white labeling your services is that should you decide to switch out a specific vendor, the process can — and should — be transparent to your customers.
5. Do More Showing and Less Telling in Your Marketing
Blogs and other thought leadership articles are an effective means at telling prospects who you are and what you do, but if you want to create a compelling brand, you also need to show your audience that what you’re saying is true. One way to show your company’s success and help support your brand awareness is through customer success stories and testimonials. People tend to trust brands that have success stories and testimonials from their customers because it proves that the product’s validity and other customers’ satisfaction. If you’re an Amazon shopper, you can attest to this yourself by recalling the times the supplier/manufacturer followed up with you asking for positive feedback. It’s one thing for a retailer or manufacturer to tout its greatness, but it’s a whole other thing when customers say positive things about them.
6. Influence Prospects (Consistently) on Social Media
In less than 10 minutes an MSP can create multiple social media accounts. But, just having those accounts doesn’t do much good if you’re not consistent or only reposting other company’s content. You have to engage with your audience to reap the benefits of social media. Stay on top of what is trending in your industry and share your thoughts and opinions on these topics. You don’t have to post daily but being consistent is vital. It’s also imperative to monitor responses, and anything said about your brand, so you can prevent negative comments from spreading and capitalize on positive feedback (e.g., use positive social media feedback in other marketing materials). A few tools that can help you track, follow, and respond to what is being said about you on a variety of sites are Hootsuite, Buffer, Sprout Social and Zoho Social.
7. Follow SEO Best Practices
Because more than 80% of people looking for B2B IT services begin their journey with an online web search, it only makes sense that MSPs should optimize their website, press releases, links, landing pages and online content. In fact, a 2017 Hubspot marketing survey found that 61% of marketers say improving SEO and growing their organic presence is their top inbound marketing priority. Because the majority of MSPs are regionally focused, it makes sense to focus SEO efforts on local searches. Look at your ranking in local search results near your city and zip code. If your website isn’t appearing in these results, you’ll want to delve into finding out why. Start with the most obvious things: For instance, make sure your city and geography are included on your website pages so that small businesses in your area can find you. You can also get your business listed on third-party sites like Google Business, Bing Places for Businesses pages, Yelp, Yellow Pages, and your local Chamber of Commerce’s website.
You should also focus on your website and various sub-pages to ensure they’re helping your SEO ranking. During your page review, look for areas where vague terms are used to describe products and services. One example is using too many acronyms throughout your site. Even though your staff is comfortable with words like MSP, BDR, AI, BI, IoT, SaaS, etc. it can be a turnoff to prospects – and Google’s search engine. When in doubt, be specific and spell terms out.
Once you’ve worked on improving these three areas, track your website traffic and other KPIs (key performance indicators) to see if it’s working. When you see more organic traffic coming to your website, you’ll know that your optimization efforts are paying off.
3 Quick Start Steps for Designing, Funding and Executing Your Marketing Plan
The primary role of marketing is to set up the sales team with warm leads, so they aren’t wasting time chasing leads that aren’t a fit for your business or focusing on prospects who aren’t looking to buy any time soon. With that in mind, think about the kinds of leads you’re looking for and the different types of activities you could do to attract those leads. Here’s some additional advice from Jason Bystrak, VP of worldwide channels and distributions at eFolder:
Set lead goals and expectations. List specific marketing activities (e.g., webinar, email campaign, customer survey, lunch and learn) you’re considering, plus the cost of the event and the number of leads you expect to generate.
Before you can enter accurate figures, you’ll need to know two things: How many leads do you need per month and what is your lead conversion rate? If you’re not sure about your conversion rate, assume it is 10%, which is the industry average. To answer the other question, you’ll need to know your average contract value. For example, if your average customer is a 100-person shop and your solution costs $10 per seat, then the average contract value would be $1,000. If you need to sell 10 new solutions per month, then you’ll need to generate 100 leads a month.
Determine your funding sources and budget. Once you add up all the costs of the activities that will help you meet your lead goals, you’ll need to determine how your costs align with your budget. Typically, the money you need for your marketing plan will be more than what your available budget allows. Don’t assume that means you need to compromise your marketing plans; there are other options you should consider first. Your vendor or aggregator partners may have marketing co-op funds available. Having a detailed marketing plan is an essential first step to be considered for any available funds. Some vendors/aggregators offer sales and marketing tools designed to help VARs and MSPs build and track their marketing and sales activities. Check with your vendor/aggregator partner to find out whether they any of these tools and programs before buying marketing software.
Manage the execution of your plan. One of the main reasons you should track the details of your marketing plan is to help you make informed updates over time. For example, maybe after a couple of months, you discover that one type of marketing activity is outperforming all the others. Take the opportunity to assess what’s working and what’s not and adjust accordingly. With enough data points, it becomes much easier to identify areas you need to address.