A well laid-out marketing strategy is one of the most elusive assets in an MSP’s portfolio today. What are the marketing challenges MSPs typically face and how to get around them?
The cookie is crumbling. And we don’t mean the stuff your grandma bakes over the weekend.
Brands have used online cookies to track visitors to their website for years. But now with browsers cracking down on third party cookies — Firefox and Safari had already done it and Google announced it will do away with them on Chrome by 2022 — what does that mean for you as a Managed Service Provider (MSP)?
If you are an MSP who has been thriving on third-party or individual data for pinpointed online audience targeting, this is big-time bad news.
In fact, it’s not just the cookies, but the pie is getting smaller and the table more crowded for MSPs when it comes to marketing — be it the new technologies and innovations that have opened new options for customers, or the ongoing digital revolution which has accelerated many times over since the pandemic.
A well laid-out marketing strategy is one of the most elusive assets in a MSP’s portfolio today.
“For the longest time, channel marketing was the poor relative of all marketing branches, cookie-cutter campaigns and activities, and very little focus on the end customer experience. Meanwhile, the B2B landscape is shifting dramatically, and buyers now expect high-quality digital services when making a B2B purchase,” says Ayan Adam, Founder of CX Atelier.
So what are the marketing challenges MSPs typically face and how to get around them?
1. Identify your strengths and customers
Marketing for MSPs requires a different approach and a deep understanding of the industry and technology trends.
An ideal MSP marketing strategy should be two pronged — identifying your strengths and weaknesses, and creating your ideal customer profile. It’s important for MSPs to know what they specialize in so that they can focus their energies and expertise on solutions, resources and funding around those areas.
Businesses hire MSPs to provide the right solutions for their fast-changing, developing needs. Since a significant number of these are small- and medium-sized businesses (SMB), every deal matters. Taking on a job and not doing it right could lead to disastrous results for your client.
It’s equally important for MSPs to say, “no” to clients that don’t need their expertise. When you try to serve everyone, you end up serving no one, says Vendasta Chief Customer Officer George Leith.
By chasing or trying to serve people who do not fit your ideal customer profile, you not only hurt your client’s business, but also your own reputation because your solution simply may not work for everyone.
By understanding and focusing on your customer base, it helps you to build more customized products and solutions, and develop stronger relationships with existing customers.
2. Build a collaborative model
But then, you don’t always have to say, “no” if you can’t do something. Your business model should be built around reliable partners that provide the expertise, tools or resources to increase your potential revenue streams.
“As an MSP, if I didn’t know something, I admitted it. But then I quickly went out to find who I needed to talk to and bring them on board. It was all about partnerships — leveraging your partners with your brands or manufacturers, your software providers and knowing who to bring into those conversations to add value,” explains Andrew Down, director of sales, IT channel, Vendasta.
Down is an expert in this space. Before recently joining Vendasta, he spent many years serving the VAR/MSP/IT channel space and empowering local businesses. “My whole career is built based on relationships — knowing who to go to, when to go to them, and what to ask,” he says.
It’s okay not to know something, admit rather than make it up on the fly, and then do a bad job of it. “But be sure to convey that you are going to get back to the client as quickly as possible with accurate information and the right resource to bring value. Always remember, business moves quickly and business owners need answers, not necessarily this second, but definitely the same day if possible,” he says.
Therefore, it’s important for MSPs to have a reliable network for the right tools, resources and support to meet the developing and changing needs of their client ecosystem.
Leith throws in an interesting statistic — 95 percent of MSPs have less than 10 employees. “They know that having staff is a challenge. So, they developed this model of approaching subject-matter experts when they get a job they aren't great at. But they got the job because they have the brand and the trust. This is like a curated marketplace of solutions that are ready to be consumed with all the marketing material and all of the FAQs," he says.
3. Upskill your team
Upskilling human resources has always been an important part of a company’s growth, but never more critical than in these fast-transforming times. Ensure your team gets the required training — both as part of a corporate mandate as well as on their own — for handling new business landscape needs as well as work-from-home (WFH) environments.
Keeping your team up to date on market trends also ensures they have the ability to proactively and regularly approach clients — existing or potential — with tips and new offerings. They should be equipped to listen to and understand client pain points and expectations, and quickly adapt and customize offers.
The ability to create a flexible product portfolio serves customers better, and helps grow your business and reputation over time.
As Leith says, true entrepreneurs, who go to work every day to grow their business, train all the time because the things they sell need constant training to stay updated on all components.
4. Stay tuned to changing customer behavior
Acceleration seen in the B2B and technology spaces over the past few years requires people to catch up with current trends a lot faster.
“The challenge (in the marketing space) used to be a lot more sheltered in terms of keeping up,” Adam says.
An experienced leader in the B2B IT industry, Adam has designed recognized brands and delivered high-impact marketing and branding campaigns.
It was a lot easier a few years ago to navigate the landscape as marketers based growth on referrals and things like that. In a post-COVID world of WFH and virtual meetings, SMBs need all kinds of digital solutions to stay relevant and drive businesses.
“It was an industry that has been relying heavily on trade shows, face-to-face meetings, and in-person events. Now they not only need to go whole-hog digital, but also need to know how to constantly keep their customers engaged or updated. It’s super interesting what’s happening right now in this space,” she explains.
Adam, however, maintains all of this necessarily isn’t about marketing. “Marketing is only a means to an end. I know what the clients are interested in — growth and sales. So, it’s really about how marketing can help you achieve your goals.”
Remember, what worked earlier, even a year ago, may not work now because customer needs and behavior have changed as has the market. So, focus on marketing solutions and messaging that help your clients reach their goal.
5. Know how to retain your customers
Research shows that acquiring a new customer is five to 25 times more expensive than retaining an existing one. While your selling success to an existing customer is between 60 percent and 70 percent, it is only 5 percent to 20 percent with a new prospect. It is also true that on average 65 percent of a company’s business comes from existing customers, but most only spend 21 percent of marketing budgets on them.
It’s always a good idea to focus on your existing customers. This may sound easy, but according to a Bain & Company study, 60 percent to 80 percent of customers who describe themselves as satisfied do not do more business with the company that initially satisfied them.
How can that be if they claimed they were satisfied in the first place? Often, this is due to lack of customer connection later on.
Therefore, build close rapport with existing customers and stay in close contact once you have closed a deal. This includes delivering current projects in a satisfying manner and giving them tips and tricks on how to improve their business.
It’s important to not do any hard-selling during these rapport-building exercises. As Leith observes, everything isn’t about dollars; just aim to become a trusted expert within the community you serve. Being an expert means listening to customers and their ecosystems, and staying up to date.
6. Adopt marketing automation tools
Did you know marketing automation drives a 14.5 percent increase in sales productivity and a 12.2 percent reduction in marketing overhead? Or that 76 percent of companies that implement marketing automation generate a full return on investment (ROI) within the first year?
Marketing automation refers to software platforms and technologies designed for marketing departments and organizations to more effectively market on multiple online channels (such as email, social media, websites, etc.) and automate repetitive tasks. Marketing automation tools and platforms can help organizations streamline sales and marketing by replacing repetitive manual processes with automation. While this saves time and costs, it also reduces the likelihood of manual errors.
Download the guide on Agency Marketing Through Automation
Marketing automation helps with lead generation, nurturing, and scoring, and measures overall ROI on campaigns. Such systems are designed to scale alongside your business.
Marketing automation solutions were already gaining popularity before the pandemic because they provided businesses with a way to become competitive and cost-efficient. Now, choosing the right automation solution is critical in order for MSPs to stay relevant and competitive. Automation tools help gather intelligence about how customers respond to online experiences, who are coming to their websites, and assessing how they’re engaging with marketing content.
You can create online ads, social posts or email marketing campaigns specific to new customers vs returning customers. You can also begin to understand, based on purchase histories, opportunities to cross-sell or upsell specific customer segments without manually sorting each one by one. This data-driven approach is particularly important for local businesses.
Don’t be just the ‘break-fix’
Whatever you do, don’t be seen as a break-fix service provider. As Down says, the term break-fix could be the worst moniker in the industry and break-fix is often perceived as low-value work. “When something breaks, you are called to fix it. So, you’re only dealing with fires — servers are down, emails are blocked, or people can’t access their files,” he says.
A successful MSP needs to be proactive. As a managed services partner, the best thing you can do is solve a problem before the client even knows it exists.
The trust that MSPs have with their partners and customers is staggering — they are often given the passwords and access to client data. That level of trust is paramount to a strong relationship and being perceived as the trusted local expert.
“Everybody wants to move to this space where I am seen as the trusted advisor, I am the one that is core to your business success because I make sure everything just works,” Leith says. That kind of trust takes a lot of effort to build, and brings with it a great deal of responsibility.
The future is flush with opportunities that MSPs just need to reach out and grab. The key is their ability to overcome and successfully understand the demands of customers, and they navigate for themselves and their customers the complexities of the post-pandemic business landscape.